There is a theory that a person’s musical taste ossifies in their teens and is pretty much set as they enter their 20s. Going by my own experience and that of many of my friends, that may not exactly be the case, but that may be because two formative films for me in understating the adulthood (or middle age) are Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” and “Young Adult”.
The two came out in 2009 and 2011, just as I was entering the real world, and their two developmentally stunted, yet weirdly glamourous protagonists defined a lot of my expectations of myself. Indeed, I watched in awe how Ryan Bingham, the itinerant “downsizing consultant” in “Up in the Air” was hopping between hotels and conferences, and decided to enter a similar line of work. While it was clear in the film that Bingham’s life choices are not to be emulated, they still looked appealing: a life-long adolescence, without any of the nasty parts of life (pain, disappointment, boredom) with a veneer of comfort and prestige.
The appeal of “Young Adult” was similar. While Bingham’s worldly success (over-)protects him from reality, Mavis Gary does not enjoy those comforts, but has to rely on her fantasy and panache (or psychic illness) to escape facing the reality of adult life. Indeed, had Gary managed to have a successful career, one could imagine her bumping into (and probably hooking up) with Bingham. Unlike Bingham, however, she only has her great looks and memories of past greatness – or rather past promise of greatness – to go against reality of the impending middle age.
That, of course, makes “Young Adult” more jarring and painful.
I remember watching it with a friend in London. We both grew up with that difficult moniker of “promising young people” and by the time we were acquainted with Mavis – formerly promising “psychotic prom queen bitch” – we both hit a few snags in what we thought was a straight path from adolescent precocity to adult success and happiness (professional rejections, realisation that professional life is not as engaging, romantic difficulties). We loved it, especially as we were into indie and could “buy” Mavis’ and Buddy’s love of the ‘Teenage fanclub”. We were 23, and Mavis’s delusions and misfortunes came off as funny although at some points they did hit hard. While objectively “Up in the Air” was a more complete, pleasant watch, “Young Adult” was by far a more memorable and visceral experience.
In the decade and a bit since then, as the allure of travel was eclipsed by notifications of former flames’ marriages and new born children, I found myself remembering Mavis much more than Ryan.
A few months before I was to definitely move into Ryan’s and Mavis’s age bracket of 35-45, I heard a hilarious episode of “The Perfume Nationalist” which dealt with “Young Adult” and decided to re-watch it.
The experience was painful.
Having come out of the Pandemic feeling that that key parts of my life and some of the best years were snatched away from me, I had to pause several times during the film’s short run time not to be overwhelmed with Mavis’ bitterness at her own losses and disappointments.
The snark and delusions with which she decides to unleash herself onto her hometown are weapons that I have experience wielding. Finally, I could not be awed by the fact that, despite her setbacks, she still manages to push forward, fuelled with that combustible mix of alcohol and the need to be still considered amazing.
As I was watching, I remembered a piece of advice from Sanja Vuksanović, a female chess grandmaster, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing.
“What separates a good and a great chess player is the ability to recognise the precise moment when their strategy is no longer working, and to adjust what they are doing accordingly. The problem for many people later in life is that they are stuck in what they were and how they managed to get by”.
Then I remembered a refrain of a Stoja song that grew on me in the past few months, which my young adult self would have hated. “My heart should never grow old, I am still hungry for love and song, my body’s aflame, my blood is hot – who would be crazy grow old?” I decided to leave it on repeat.