The irony of the title "Young Adult" hits you with a sledgehammer. The beautiful heroine is neither "young" nor an "adult."

Mavis does indeed write high school novels in a young adult series. ("YA is industry speak" for the genre, she confides to us, thinking it's important to know.) But she isn't exactly young (she's played by 36-year-old Charlize Theron) and she certainly isn't an adult.

One epithet that seems to fit Mavis perfectly comes from one of her old classmates in the town of Mercy, Minn.: "psycho prom queen bitch." Another you might well guess from the movie's Oscar-winning star, Theron, is that she's just another species of "monster" from the gorgeous actress who won universal acclaim and every award in sight in "Monster" playing serial killer Aileen Wuornos.

Much weight gain and butching up were involved in playing Wuornos. We were, as well, led to believe her face was coming to us nude, sans makeup. What Theron does playing with delusional mega-narcissist Mavis is the psychological equivalent of gaining weight and butching up with T-shirts and D-A haircuts.

We now know that this is what Theron does. And it's uncommonly interesting that she refuses so adamantly to let her looks determine her career. She won't give an inch. Every movie she makes could be called "Deconstructing Charlize."

She is as beautiful as any actress working. I once wrote that I thought that if they ever made a movie about the gods on Olympus, Theron would be the best casting ever for Aphrodite.

There is a catch to her beauty and always has been. To steal a wonderful wisecrack about an earlier beauty from the great actress Elsa Lanchester who famously played the title role in "Bride of Frankenstein," she "looks as though butter wouldn't melt in her mouth -- or anywhere else."

It's an alabaster beauty that looks cold to the touch. She looks like a woman who wants to be worshipped, not one to have a long, close dance with on the balcony of a summer night.

And now she's giving us a portrait of a self-obsessed goddess from writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman, the same team that gave us "Juno."

Our girl Mavis is the exact opposite of Juno, the adorable little pregnant teen who thought that being ultra-clever was the same thing as being wise -- and proceeded to prove it hopelessly untrue until her final decision where she fully became a "young adult." You pay for life wisdom. In "Juno" we watched the price. It's why people fell in love with the movie.

Head over heels.

Head and heels will remain steadfastly fixed at "Young Adult." It's the sort of movie whose final integrity critics admire but audiences don't -- until years later. Cody and Reitman resist all temptation at the end of "Young Adult" to give Mavis some sort of sentimental Judd Apatow reclamation to put her on the road to namby-pamby, la-di-da movie "virtue."

But there's a problem there. The comments I overheard from those exiting the advance screening weren't good.

I like the movie a good deal. It's hilarious at times, terribly sad at others and its final integrity is what's good about both Cody and Reitman (whose film "Up in the Air" didn't exactly give us any phony-baloney climactic la-di-da either). The screw gets turned. Tight. That's why the opening credits tell you, before everything else, that "it's a film by Jason Reitman" (who went on Jay Leno alone, celebrity-style, to plug it on Tuesday).

But audiences, I think, are not going to want to get so up close and personal with a "psycho prom queen bitch" no matter how beautiful or well-performed or well-conceived.

So Mavis may have to share her alcoholic, self-worshipping, delusional, charmlessness with only a chosen few.

The woman we see driving a zippy Mini Cooper never quite falls asleep at night. She drinks until she passes out fully clothed on her bed with reality TV still going -- "Kendra," "The Kardashians."

The world she wakes up to demands her latest prattling "YA" book. When she gets, in the mail, a notice that her old boyfriend just had a baby with his wife, her delusion snaps. She decides to drive her Mini Cooper back to Minnesota and steal him back.

Which means re-entry into a suburban franchise world of Chili's, Hampton Inns, KFC's, Taco Bells, etc. (all exposed to product placement in the movie, but all used snobbishly to convey horror at banality).

She meets with old boyfriend Buddy. To the audience, he's an excruciatingly dull nice fellow of no other apparent magnetism (Patrick Wilson, perfectly cast). She spends her downtime at the local spots for knocking down Maker's Mark with a disabled accountant (Patton Oswalt) from her old high school who was once beaten to near death by the school's jocks because they mistakenly thought he was gay.

He is, without question, the most interesting character in "Young Adult." He's our touchstone for humanity and brains.

But he's only in the movie to give Mavis a sounding board -- another smart adoring mirror when all those others don't give a hoot that she's still the fairest of them all.

Reitman and Cody treat him, ultimately, with all the superiority and veiled contempt that Mavis does. He's a plot convenience, cleverly sketched but of no real interest to the people who made the movie.

Sometimes integrity, too, comes at a heck of a price.




3 stars (out of 4)

STARRING: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Jill Eikenberry

DIRECTOR: Jason Reitman

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes

RATING: R for language and sexual content.

THE LOWDOWN: An author returns home to try to break up the marriage of her old boyfriend.