(Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany - 2011)
The first half of the film presents what's possibly the most awkward wedding reception in film history, as Justine (Dunst, who won the Best Actress award at Cannes) realizes early into the reception that she doesn't really want to be with Michael (Alexander Skarsgard). Von Trier plays things close to the vest, and it doesn't take long, judging from the couple's interactions and family reactions (horrible mom Charlotte Rampling delivers the most uncomfortably bitter wedding toast ever), to see that Justine is severely depressed and mentally ill to a significant degree. The second half of the film takes place some time later (weeks, maybe months) as Justine, who's worse than ever, is staying with her devoted, long-suffering sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), her rich husband John (Kiefer Sutherland), and their young son Leo (Cameron Spurr) at their ludicrously expansive mansion (they have their own 18-hole golf course) as Melancholia, a planet long hidden behind the sun, has gone off course and is set to pass--or possibly collide with--Earth.
Dunst is a revelation here, but as great as she is, Gainsbourg is the driving force and central character throughout MELANCHOLIA. Both deserved Oscar nominations (probably Sutherland as well) and I can only conclude that von Trier's big mouth stopped that from happening. Gainsbourg allowed herself to be put through hell on von Trier's ANTICHRIST (2009) and does it again here, albeit to a lesser degree. Gainsbourg has always been a fine actress, but von Trier brings out the absolute best in her. It's interesting to consider the horror stories that actresses have in regards to working with von Trier, but the stars of his films with women as central characters--Emily Watson in BREAKING THE WAVES, Bjork in DANCER IN THE DARK, Nicole Kidman in DOGVILLE, Gainsbourg and Dunst--have turned in some of the most moving, haunting, unforgettable performances in film in the last couple decades. In short, MELANCHOLIA is a stunning experience, filled with von Trier's usual sense of cynical misanthropia, but there's a focus and a maturity to it that was lacking in some of his past work, especially the experimental and over-the-top DOGVILLE and its disastrous follow-up MANDERLAY. But it's also got more humor than usual (a long limo unable to make it up the sharp turns of John's twisty driveway; Udo Kier as a bitchy, drama queen wedding planner who refuses to look at Justine when she and Michael are late to the reception). Also with Stellan Skarsgard, Brady Corbet, Jesper Christensen, and John Hurt. One of 2011's best. (R, 135 mins).
(US - 2011)
And even despite that, she's still a profoundly unlikable person who still thinks she's better than everyone else, which may be the biggest reason this didn't catch on with mainstream audiences who demand likable protagonists. Mavis is likely going home not just for Buddy, but also because, anonymous professionally as well as personally in the big city, Mercury is the one place she's still "somebody." The film takes no pleasure in Mavis' misery and impending breakdown, nor does it let the outcasts off the hook, as in the revelatory scene where Matt's sister (Collette Wolfe) still resorts to kissing Mavis' ass in a pathetic, 20-years-past-high school attempt to win her favor. Theron and Oswalt are both terrific. Between this and the equally squirm-inducing BIG FAN, Oswalt has evolved into a gifted character actor. YOUNG ADULT is funny, tragic, devastating, angry, and bleakly depressing in equal doses. One late plot turn doesn't ring entirely true and the finale seems entirely too rushed (at just past 90 minutes, this actually might've felt more complete if it was 10-15 minutes longer) but this is the kind of film, like an EMPIRE RECORDS or a DONNIE DARKO, just to name two films that initially fell through the cracks only to be discovered some time later on VHS or DVD, that speaks to a certain age group at the time of its release and is embraced as something very personal and meaningful to them. And it's a film that will have staying power and be able to find new viewers who get to the right age to relate to it, and who may find themselves pushing 40 and nowhere near where they wanted to be in life. YOUNG ADULT was sold to the JUNO crowd, but it should've included the caveat "Give it 20 years...you'll get it then." (R, 93 mins)