Young Adult: Everyone gets old…not everyone grows up

Posted: December 13, 2011 by John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. in Comedy, Drama
Tags: , , , , , ,

The movie poster to the left certainly fulfills the old saying: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But let’s put some words with the picture anyway, by way of the synopsis of the new “dramedy” Young Adult: “Soon after her divorce, a fiction writer returns to her home in small-town Minnesota, looking to rekindle a romance with her ex-boyfriend, who is now married with kids (IMDB).” Sounds like wholesome family viewing, doesn’t it?

Director Jason Reitman (son of Ivan Reitman, director of the classic Ghostbusters) has made a few interesting films on the subject of “growing up.” In his movie Juno, a 16 year-old has to grow up quickly when she finds herself pregnant out of wedlock. In the movie Up in the Air, George Clooney plays a middle-age man who has never grown up, staying “in the air” literally and relationally. Now, the young Reitman’s newest film chronicles a “young adult” who is neither young nor an adult. She has become older (age 36), but has never grown up.

Now it’s bad enough to be treated to a slew of movies about irresponsible high schoolers or immature college kids year after year. But the latest trend seems to be films depicting grown adults acting like immature and irresponsible teenagers. Sure, we can understand stories about middle-age adults going through mid-life crises. But these recent movies (Hangover, Grown Ups, etc.), including Young Adult, introduce us to characters in their 20’s and 30’s who simply never matured past high school. They acted like utter fools in high school, even more foolish in their fraternities and sororities, and are now seemingly permanently stuck in their folly as adults.

There is no question that immaturity in adults makes for great, mindless comedy (my personal favorite: Dumb and Dumber). But unfortunately, these stories are reflecting a troubling trend in American culture. Cue the history lesson music! Up until just over a century ago, there were only two recognized “major” life stages: childhood and adulthood. Nearly every culture had a defining moment/rite where a child entered adulthood (i.e. the Bar Mitzvah). Then, thanks to a couple of psychologists who shall remain nameless, we had the invention of “adolescence” (circa 1900) where older children could remain foolish and rebellious until between the ages of 18 and 21. Then, they finally emerged as adults. But today, developmental psychologists are pushing for a fourth major life stage that some have labeled “emerging adulthood.” The addition of this stage pushes back “true” adulthood until at least the age of 30! Thus, according to this new stage theory, the social scientific gurus are openly declaring that it is unrealistic for us to expect our “young adults” to act as real, mature adults.

So in this paradigm, it makes total sense for Mavis (Charlize Theron), the bum-like heroine of Young Adult, to see her high school flame’s new baby on a social networking site and commit herself to breaking up his marriage. Rekindling their love for each other is such a realistic fantasy. Can’t you see…it’s just high school all over again! Add to that immoral, irresponsible behavior her foul language, self-centeredness, regular drunkenness, and yep, we’ve really never moved past high school. You may have not met someone exactly like Mavis, but I guarantee you know some 30-something that is still living like an adolescent!

Unfortunately, Young Adult also brings to light another related and more troubling trend in our society: Adults reconnecting with high school sweethearts through social media sites like Facebook. We counselors are seeing more and more cases (even in the church) of adulterous affairs between old flames that started innocently with “friending” on Facebook. I wouldn’t go so far to tell you that Facebook is hazardous to your marriage; yet, I think it is wise to resist the impulse to add old teenage girlfiends or boyfriends to your “friends” list!

This leads us to the main theological question of this movie: What is true maturity? What makes the difference between just getting older and truly growing up? The Apostle Paul teaches us the Biblical process of maturity: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28) True maturity begins when we begin a relationship with Jesus Christ, continues as we are immersed in the gospel, and it is ultimately marked by a life of wisdom. And we know from the Book of Proverbs that wisdom is grounded in the fear of God. Thus, the main reason we are seeing the growing trend of delayed adulthood is not because of increased brain problems or some deep psychological issues, but because of “heart” problems. As the past several generations have moved their hearts away from the Lord Jesus, they have produced more and more immaturity in their lives.

In Young Adult, Mavis’ sinful heart and body “matured” over the years, leading her to believe that it was okay to break up a marriage to fulfill her own fantasies. In other words, her inner evil heart had ripened and matured because her thinking was stuck in childhood. This reminds me of the Apostle Paul’s exhortation in I Corinthians 14:20, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” While growing up may not be as fun (or funny) than remaining in a permanent state of irresponsilibity; growing to maturity is the only way to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!

  1. pkethridge says:

    NPR aired an interview this morning with the writer, Diablo Cody. I was impressed with her insight on “emerging adults” right around the 6 minute mark, and better understood where she’s coming from with this film.

    Here’s a link to the audio:

  2. […]  Young Adult: Everyone gets old…not everyone grows up […]

  3. […] Young Adult: Everyone gets old…not everyone grows up […]

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