The script features an eight-minute intro illustrating Mavis' sad existence — nursing another hangover, Mavis drinks straight from a liter bottle of Diet Coke and makes a pathetic attempt to exercise with her Wii Fit. The scene features little dialogue, a change of pace for both Cody and Reitman, two filmmakers who have become defined by their rat-a-tat conversational style.
In "Young Adult," the emphasis is on more natural dialogue — or none at all. Rather, Cody wrote in very specific stage directions — the kind of dog Mavis owns, the type of car she drives, that she sends fake texts from her phone while waiting for her ex-boyfriend to show up at the local cheesy sports bar.
"I remember writing those little things into the script and feeling like this is great because I've been pigeonholed as somebody who only writes a certain kind of dialogue," said Cody. "To do all these things that require no dialogue is freeing for me."
After making a fruitless tour of the studios, "Young Adult" launched into high gear after Reitman came aboard. Cody had shown Reitman the script early on but it wasn't until his scheduled next project, "Labor Day," was delayed and he could nab Theron for the lead that he agreed to make the $12-million movie.
Reitman also signed on comedian Patton Oswalt to play Matt Freehauf, the local boy who was crippled by the high school jocks because they thought he was gay. Freehauf serves as both Mavis' moral compass and the person who understands her best.
"He's the secret weapon of the film and he's the reason it works," said Reitman. "The audience watches the movie through Patton. He's saying the things they want to say."
Once the cast was in place, Cody and Reitman spent two weeks sharpening the script, eliminating any of Mavis' self-doubt, turning her into a modern-day monster who subsists on alcohol, mani/pedis and the Kardashians. "Yeah, I went darker," admitted Reitman. "If we are going to do a high-wire act, then let's get rid of the net."
Similar to Reitman, Theron signed on because of a third act she had never seen before on-screen. To say more, though, would ruin the surprise of the ending.
"In the third act of every movie, you learn this big lesson and then you change," said the South Africa-born actress. "But how many of us have experienced that in life? My life hasn't worked out that way. I'm still waiting for the third act to hit."
How audiences respond will be an interesting test. Paramount Pictures, the distributor of the movie, has been aggressively priming fans via a series a pop-up screenings around the country and through an online push that includes an expletive-laced clip of Mavis becoming completely unhinged.
The filmmakers hope it will make the conclusion of the film a bit more palatable.
"I'm leaving the audience at a crossroads in the middle of the desert," said Reitman. "It's not a simple ending. It's not going to have a simple feeling. I know the audience is going to walk out a little bit unsure about how they are supposed to feel…. It's a little scary to do that."
Sperling reported from Los Angeles. Horn reported from White Plains, N.Y.