Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Young Adult vs. I Melt With You, two films about reunion season bringing out the worst (and reinspiring youthful vices) in some basically rather unlikable characters.
Premise In Young Adult, Charlize Theron plays Mavis, a teen-lit writer who, following her divorce, returns to her small Minnesota hometown in order to regain the heart of her high-school flame, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), who’s now married with children. This is more difficult than she anticipated, but happily, she also reconnects with Matt (Patton Oswalt), another former classmate who may actually be interested in her. This is one of those trailers that kind of makes us feel like we’ve already seen the whole movie, but oh well. As for I Melt With You, we certainly can’t improve on the synopsis on Wikipedia, which may have come from the film’s Sundance run: “Former high school friends reunite for a summer reunion but it leads them to face the apparent disillusionment that defines their lives. After tragedy strikes the friends at a party one night, one of them has a realization. In response they decide to resurrect a former pact by which to live and die, thus creating a new world order.” Judging by the trailer, this new world order seems to be dominated by mountains of cocaine, but we’re not complaining—this film looks like it has the strong potential to take a fast track to crazyville, and we are weirdly excited to come along for the ride. Advantage: I Melt With You
Cast Charlize Theron is billed in Young Adult as “the girl you hated in high school,” which is sort of promising! We wish she was in more stuff; she hasn’t been very active in the last few years, though she’s got a couple of big projects (Prometheus, Snow White and the Huntsman) in the works for 2012. In fact, we’re going to go ahead and say her presence anchoring Young Adult balances out all four leads of I Melt With You—Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven, Rob Lowe, and Christian McKay. She’s an Oscar winner, while the four I Melt With You guys are best known, lately, for their work on TV. (We do really, really love Rob Lowe in Parks and Recreation, though; we’ll admit that.) So it comes down to the supporting casts: Carla Gugino and Sasha Grey in I Melt With You, or Patrick Wilson and Patton Oswalt in Young Adult? It’s almost too easy. Advantage: Young Adult
Destructive Acts So who’s more destructive, Mavis in Young Adult or the I Melt With You boys? Mavis puts up a strong fight: she returns to her hometown with the express goal of breaking up a family in order to get her high-school boyfriend back, for one thing; she drinks a lot; and she seems pretty callous. (“Mavis, I’m a married man!” “I know! We can beat this thing together!”) We certainly wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her. But that said, we wouldn’t want to get on any side of the I Melt With You guys: the trailer opens with them snorting a load of coke and almost crashing a red sports car, and it just takes off from there. They, too, drink a lot, and dance (and tongue-kiss) with random ladies, and take pills—and then there’s some kind of ritualistic talk that suggests they maybe made a suicide pact once upon a time, and then they’re rolling down a dune, and sand’s sifting through an hourglass, and cops are running down the road, and what is this movie about? We’re still not sure. Advantage: I Melt With You
Director Young Adult‘s Jason Reitman has built up some pretty impressive clout considering that he actually hasn’t directed that many movies—Young Adult is his fourth feature, after Thank You for Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air. Whether you love his stylized, snappy directing style or hate it, it’s pretty undeniable (after four Oscar noms, especially) that he’s a Hollywood force at this point. (We’re semi-optimistic about his adaptation of Simon Rich’s very funny Elliot Allagash, too.) I Melt With You director Mark Pellington has been in the business longer. He was directing a Ben Affleck/Rachel Weisz movie called Going All the Way back when Jason Reitman was basically still in diapers (or, okay, when he was studying at USC). But his career is a little more scattered: Arlington Road, The Mothman Prophecies, Henry Poole is Here. Unfortunately, he just doesn’t have Reitman’s cachet. Advantage: Young Adult
Surprising Producers One of our favorite little things to watch out for as armchair Hollywood-biz analysts is famous people acting as producers on projects they otherwise have little to do with. Young Adult and I Melt With You each has one: John Malkovich in the former case, Neil LaBute in the latter. They’re roughly comparable, so neither wins this category, but still—weird, right? Advantage: Tie
Setting We’re strong proponents for specificity in screenplays; it takes a lot to pull off Archetypes as Characters/Anytown as Setting, and while someone like Terrence Malick does it beautifully, most directors are not Terrence Malick. So it’s refereshing to know exactly where Young Adult takes place—a small town in Minnesota—even if its specific scenes are in more universally relatable locations like dive bars and shopping-mall chain stores. We’re thrown off by the setting of I Melt With You. The house where the four friends have their reunion is clearly near some kind of ocean or sea, but that’s about all we can tell. And frankly, they might as well be on another planet when they’re romping around on those dunes. We’ll ask it again: What is this movie?! Advantage: Young Adult
The Verdict Okay, so we’re sort of cautiously giving I Melt With You the benefit of our interest: it looks like it could be a spectacular train wreck, but maybe at least an interestingly spectacular train wreck? With Young Adult, we feel like we know a little better what we’re getting into—and in this case, at least, that’s a very good thing. Winner: Young Adult