Thankfully, Diablo Cody’s ‘Young Adult’ screenplay lacks the smartass, too cool for school tone that so fully characterized her writing on ‘Juno’, and as a result it feels more muted and observational.

It also pulls off a neat trick by presenting a lead character who is at once sympathetic and despicable. Further aided by a beautifully crafted and emotionally truthful performance by Charlize Theron, the young adult of the title never goes mushy, yet you feel her vulnerability in every frame, and recognize the facade she constructs to mask it.

The complexities and shadings in Theron’s performance accentuate the often weak work from her confidant throughout the film, played by Patton Oswalt. He isn’t quite fully lived in, and at key moments his performance beats feel just a step above amateurish.

Director Jason Reitman does show a terrific instinct for nailing the most delicate and awkward of character moments. But there’s still an unfortunate holdover from his work in ‘Juno’ – a kind of flippant arrogance in the tone of his direction – from which Cody has already matured.