Have you seen the trailer for Young Adult yet? You know the movie I'm talking about, don't you? It stars Charlize Theron as a divorced ex-prom queen in her 30s who returns to her sleepy hometown in hopes of picking up where she left off with her high school boyfriend -- never mind the fact that he's a happily married new dad. It's dark, I know, but what else can you expect when Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman team up? Last time they got together, half the liberals in America ended up rooting for two high school kids to buck the abortion lobby and donate their baby to Jason Bateman.
Anyway, I was really struck by the tag line of the movie: "Everyone gets old. Not everyone grows up." It's meant to refer to Theron's character, Mavis Gary -- who took a wrong turn somewhere on the road to maturity and landed in "a self-created hell of reality TV, fashion magazines, blind dates, and booze," as Cody recently put it -- but I think it does a fairly accurate job of describing someone else I know -- or, more precisely, everyone else I know. I'm talking, of course, about the United States of America.
America isn't that old, by country standards, but we're not very young either, especially if you consider the age of other governments. Sure, England has been a constitutional monarchy since 1215, but France only became a republic in 1789, China established Communism in 1949, and Spain didn't get democracy until 1975. Seen in that light, it's clear our 235-year-old representative democracy is no spring chicken.
And can anyone really deny that we've proven rather resistant to the idea of growing up? In politics today, we see one party desperately trying to find a good clown to run for president so it isn't stuck with the competent but boring guy, and the other still holding its breath and shouting "No fair! It's not my fault!" at every opportunity.
As for the rest of us, we're outraged -- outraged! -- that life hasn't turned out exactly the way mommy and daddy said it would. We want to stop the flow of jobs overseas, just as long as we can afford all the high-tech toys our little hearts desire, and we want something done about the deficit, as long as we don't have to turn over any more of our lunch money to Uncle Sam.
But I'm not here to make you feel bad about our great nation. I'm the entertainment guy, so it's my job to make you feel good and distract you from your troubles! In that spirit, here are five ways that America isn't like Mavis Gary, the beautiful but utterly reprehensible protagonist of Young Adult.
1. America doesn't pour all of its anger and insecurities into young adult novels published under a pseudonym. Charlize Theron's Mavis Gary is under contract to write the final installment in a series of young-adult novels, and she's not shy about adapting her own escapades into adventures for her underage protagonist. America does not do this! Although, to be fair, she has been known to channel her sublimated anxieties into movies and TV shows. Have you Netflixed "Breaking Bad" lately? Yep, Americans are pretty worked up about health care and the drug trade. Not really sure how to deal with those issues. And "Mad Men"? Could it be any more obvious that we're still uneasy with feminism and really could use a smoke right about now?
2. America doesn't stalk her exes or break up their marriages. At the beginning of the movie, Mavis receives an email containing a photograph of her ex-boyfriend's new baby. Somehow, she interprets this to mean that the ex in question, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), is trapped inside a nightmare world of diaper-changing and bottle-warming. So she decides to "rescue" him, using only the power of her (considerable) beauty. America would never do something so rash -- unless of course the ex in question happened to be sitting on a few trillion dollars in oil reserves.
3. America didn't go to high school with you and then forget that for four full years you had the locker next to hers. That's what Mavis does to Matt Freehauf, a nerdy local guy (played by Patton Oswalt) who becomes her confidant and binge-drinking buddy during her visit home. She was popular, he wasn't - is it really that surprising that she never knew he existed? America does not have a locker, so she's safe on this count. Although, honestly, does this one make anyone else think of Canada?
4. America does not use its beauty as a weapon. Mavis knows how to get her way, and it ain't pretty. On second thought, it totally is. Her lethal combination of form-fitting designer clothes, plunging neck lines, glossy hair extensions, and high-priced beauty treatments renders would-be adversaries powerless against her charms -- until she starts pouring back shots and acting really nutty, at which point everyone just wants her to go away. America has actual weapons -- the most powerful and expensive in the world -- so we don't have to rely on anything as superficial as perfume and makeup to get our way, although foreign nationals have been known to covet our clean streets and manicured lawns.
5. America does not make it to the end of the movie without learning a lesson. One of the brave and wonderful things about Diablo Cody's script for Young Adult -- SPOILER ALERT -- is that it resists the temptation to redeem Mavis. She comes perilously close to becoming a better person, but in the end she remains exactly who she has always been -- a deeply unhappy goddess with a plastic smile and a heart of stone. America, meanwhile, always learns a lesson: Vietnam taught us never to fight another meaningless war; 9/11 taught us not to be so darned superficial; and the financial crisis taught us not to treat the global economy like a giant, multi-trillion-dollar game of roulette.
Well, I hope this little exercise has brightened your day, and persuaded you once and for all that, for all her blemishes and imperfections, America has nothing whatsoever in common with the scheming, stalking, self-medicating and superficially stunning main character of Young Adult.
As for the sex addict played by Michael Fassbender in Shame, well, that's another blog post for another day ...
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