In Young Adult, anti-heroine Mavis Gary returns home to reconnect with old flame Buddy Slade, despite knowing he’s married and a new Dad. As disgusted as views are with Mavis’ homewrecking goals, they cannot help sympathizing with her.
Audiences feel a mixture of disgust and pity for her from the beginning. They’re disgusted with how she lives: she neglects her dog Dolce, ignores calls from her editor and drinks a lot. And yet we pity her situation: she’s lonely, which is demonstrated by the fact she sleeps with a guy she doesn’t connect with, her email and a phone message reveals she’s only one book away from ending a series she’s been writing for years and not by her choice. Then she gets an email from Buddy Slade announcing the birth of his daughter. The photo of a baby, audiences later learn, that could have been hers and Buddies almost two decades earlier if she hadn’t miscarried, and probably spurs her decision to get Buddy back.
Mavis doesn’t delay once she’s made her decision. She packs and leaves with her lover still asleep in her room. Once she’s checked into her hotel, she calls Buddy and leaves a message that lets him know she’s in town and would like to meet up. She then goes to a bar, where she runs into former classmate Matt, whom she’d never given the time of day to in High school. She confides her plan to Matt and the following conversation ensues:
MAVIS. Buddy Slade and I are meant to be together and I’m here to get him back.
Matt laughs, assuming this is a joke.
MATT. Really? Awesome. Buddy Slade, huh?I’m pretty sure Buddy’s married. With a kid on the way.
MAVIS. No, the kid’s here. She had the baby. I don’t care though. I have baggage, too, you know?
MATT. Wait, are you not joking?
MAVIS. I know people won’t understand, but things like this happen. They do happen. Usually they happen in slow-motion. Like, two people are meant to be together and then they slowly get rid of what’s keeping them apart. They get divorced, they reconfigure. And everyone’s cool with that, right?Society’s okay with that–if you take your time like a god damned emotional glacier.
Again audiences are disgusted with Mavis but must admire her ability to go after what she wants and sticks to her guns when someone tries to discourage her. How many times has an audience member given up on a goal because of an obstacle or discouraging word and envies Mavis’ fortitude?
Another trait Mavis has that audiences admire is that she doesn’t get flustered. This is beautifully shown when Mavis is checking into her hotel. Instead of getting flustered when she gets caught in a lie, she remains unaffected.
FRONT DESK GIRL. Is that a dog in your bag?
She’s surprised by her own lie.
FRONT DESK GIRL. We actually allow small pets with a cleaning deposit.
MAVIS. In fact,I do have a dog, but he’s in my vehicle.
The bag wriggles wildly, betraying Mavis instantly.
FRONT DESK GIRL. Okay. I’ll put that you have a dog.
We see her calm again when she’s caught writing in a book at a bookstore.
ASSOCIATE. Are you writing in there?
MAVIS. I’m the author. I’m signing it.
The associate still looks concerned that his merchandise is being
ASSOCIATE. You’re Jane MacMurray?
MAVIS. No. Jane MacMurray just created the series. I wrote the book. I’m Mavis Gary. Crane. See?
She points to the flyleaf, which does indeed read: “Story by Jane MacMurray. Written by Mavis Gary-Crane.”
Although audiences may not use her nonchalance for different reasons than Mavis, they can imagine how much embarrassment they could have saved themselves if they’d had Mavis’ ability to remain unflustered.
As the story progresses, the audience sees evidence that Mavis may be mentally ill. In one scene Mavis tells Matt about her date with Buddy:
MAVIS. Good, good. It was eye-opening though. Buddy–he’s clearly not happy.
MATT. He told you that?
MAVIS. He implied it. You can tell he’s suffering. He looks completely exhausted. He told me he feels like a zombie.
Mavis takes in Matt’s childhood bedroom. A twin bed.A record collection. A desk strewn with Testor’s hobby glue, paint, and disembodied toy figurines.
MATT. I was there, and I suspect he was being flip.
MAVIS. It’s a pretty strong statement to make. A zombie is a dead person, Matt.
The audience can assume she’s purposely misconstruing what he said to further her belief that she and Buddy could get back together. A more aware audience member may suspect something else is going on or that she didn’t misconstrue but simply doesn’t understand the true meaning of the saying. Either way, the former suggests an obsession with Buddy. The latter suggest a lack of societal awareness. In another scene, Mavis is at Buddy’s house, visiting his wife Beth. During the visit Mavis asks about a chart with various expressions on it:
MAVIS. What’s that chart?
BUDDY. Beth teaches special needs kids.
BETH. A lot of my kids learn emotions cognitively. It doesn’t come naturally to them the way it does for you or me.So we need to show them: This is what happy looks like. This is what
anxious looks like. And so on.
Mavis is fascinated with the chart.
MAVIS. How about, like, neutral? What if you don’t feel anything?
BETH. That’s kind of how they are a lot of the time, so. Yeah. Don’t need to teach it.
This allows the audience to infer that Mavis frequently feels neutral and that is like the children Beth teaches. This revelation in no way excuses Mavis’ behavior but it does deepen her character in a way that softens her, especially when she confesses to her parents that “I think I’m an alcoholic” and confesses to Matt, “I’m depressed,” and both parties disregard it. At one point, Matt even jokingly tells her “You’re mentally ill.”
Despite the implications in such scenes, author Diablo Cody do not make excuses for what Mavis says and does. Their is no apology presented when Mavis asks her mother mother, “Have you seen it? Up close?” The it being Buddy Slade’s daughter or when Mavis tells the Macy’s employee she needs an outfit to make an impression on the wife of her “former flame.” They show Mavis how she truly is, which is part of her appeal.
Mavis Gary is unlikable and her goals despicable. Their is no reason to like Young Adult. However, due to some admirable traits in the character, some hints in the story and a blunt characterization, audiences can sympathize with anti-heroine Mavis Gary.