NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Leah0066.
Young Adult begins with a shot of the exterior of an apartment building. We can hear a young woman crying and pleading with someone. Cut to the interior of the apartment, and we see that the young woman is on a reality TV show that is playing while Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) lies face down in bed. Mavis wakes up and stumbles into the bathroom to brush her teeth. She grimaces and reaches under her shirt to pull out a silicone breast-enhancing pad that is still stuck to her chest. Then she goes in to the kitchen to chug a 2L bottle of Diet Coke. Her fluffy little dog barks at her, and she lures him onto the balcony with a can of dog food and shuts him outside. He barks silently through the glass as she sits down at her laptop.
The laptop screen displays a word document with the heading “Chapter 1," and nothing written beneath. Mavis looks at the shelf above her laptop, which is full of young adult books in the “Waverly Prep” series. Mavis writes the first sentence, which describes the protagonist of the series, Kendall, who is a fabulously popular and beautiful high school student.
Mavis pauses to check her email and sees that someone has sent her a baby announcement. She stares at it for a minute, then prints it. The printer is low on ink, so she spits on the cartridge and the announcement comes out with lines all over it and half the colors missing. She goes out on the balcony to look at the announcement some more. She also listens to a phone message that is clearly from someone at the publishing house, asking for her draft of Waverly Prep #178.
Cut to Mavis eating lunch with her friend Vicki. Mavis is complaining how rude it is to send a birth announcement to an ex-girlfriend you haven’t spoken to in years. She says that she pities her ex, who is still trapped in their small town with a wife and a baby. She says that she and Vicki are lucky they got out.
Back to Mavis’ apartment, where she is watching another reality TV show, “Keeping Up With The Kardashians." Then off to Office Depot where Mavis is shopping for a new ink cartridge for her printer. Two teenage Office Depot employees are talking about boys. One of the girls says that she and her boyfriend have “text chemistry." Mavis smiles and writes the phrase down in a notebook. She goes home and works on her Waverly Prep draft, mentioning how Kendall and her ex-boyfriend have “textual chemistry."
Cut to Mavis at a restaurant, clearly on a first date. Her date is describing how he volunteered overseas for six months. Mavis is disdainful of this, but she takes the guy home anyway. She wakes up smooshed under his arm. As she glances to the right, she can see her purse with the birth announcement sticking out of it. She squirms out of from under the guy’s arm so as not to wake him, and starts packing her suitcase. She reaches into a box on the upper shelf of her closet to retrieve a mix tape with “Buddy” written on it.
Mavis starts driving, and sticks the mix tape in the cassette player of her car. She rewinds to a particular song, and sings along. She plays the song again and again as she drives.
Mavis pulls up the Hampton Inn. A surly-looking receptionist checks her in. Mavis’ carry-on bag is sitting on the counter, and the sound and movement of the little white dog emanate from within. The receptionist asks if Mavis has a pet with her. Mavis says no. The receptionist says, “We actually accept a small pet with a cleaning deposit.” Mavis says, “That’s great, because I actually have a small dog in my vehicle.” Then she asks the receptionist for two room keys. The receptionist says, “Expecting someone?” Mavis just stares at her.
Mavis carries her bags and dog up to the hotel room. Once inside, she calls directory assistance. She names the small town she has come home to, Mercury, Minnesota, and asks for the listing for “Slade." Then she buys a pint of ice cream and comes back to the hotel room to watch more Kardashians.
Mavis calls Buddy Slade and leaves him a message. She says she is in town for a real estate deal, and asks if he wants to grab a drink, catch up. Then she dresses and gets back in the car. She is still listening to the same song on the mix tape, singing along. As she drives through Mercury, she can only find trashy franchise restaurants like KFC and Appleby’s. She finally pulls into the parking lot of “Woody’s Village Saloon."
As she gets out of the car, Buddy (Patrick Wilson) calls her back. He is in the midst of pouring pumped breast milk into a baby bottle in his kitchen. Mavis says, “If you’re feeling spontaneous, why don’t you come meet me at Woody’s in 15 minutes?” Buddy says that spontaneity isn’t really a part of his life now that he’s a dad he sets a date for the following evening at “Champion O’Malley’s” instead.
Mavis still goes inside Woody’s, and orders a drink. As she drinks, the chubby guy on the barstool next to her (Patton Oswalt) keeps staring. Mavis finally says, “What?” He says that he thinks they went to high school together. Mavis says, “At the same time?” He says, “I’m Matt Freehauf. We had lockers right next to each other, all through high school.” But he’s not really surprised she doesn’t recognize him because she was very popular and he wasn’t at all. He remembers that she was voted “Best Hair.” She asks what he was voted. He says nothing, because there are only about 15 categories and they give them all to same 5 people.
The camera pans across the bar in front of Mavis and Matt, which is now littered with empty shot glasses. Matt says that he read in the newspaper that Mavis is a successful YA author. Mavis suddenly realizes that Matt is “that Hate-Crime guy." Matt says yes, a bunch of jocks thought he was gay and jumped him with a crowbar. It was big news until people found out he wasn’t really gay, and then it wasn’t a hate-crime anymore, it was just a fat kid getting beat up. Mavis asks if his penis still works. He says, sort of.
Now that’s she’s drunk, Mavis wants to confide the real reason she’s in town. She insists that Matt follow her outside to hear it. When he gets up to follow her, we see that he still walks with a cane. They go out behind the pub and Mavis tells him that she is in Mercury to reconnect with Buddy because they are meant for one another. Matt mentions that Buddy is happily married with a new baby, but Mavis doesn’t care. She says that Buddy and his wife would inevitably break up anyway, but she’s 37 and she doesn’t have time to wait for that, so she’s going to expedite the process. As Mavis gets in a cab, Matt yells, “Buddy Slade has a life!” Mavis yells back, “No, he has a baby, and babies are boring!”
Mavis wakes up in her hotel room, face smeared with last night’s makeup. She chugs some more Diet Coke. Then she goes outside to work on her Waverly Prep novel. Her main character Kendall is in her senior year of high school. She is pining for her ex-boyfriend who has inexplicably taken up with a “frumpy new girl." Mavis listens to another voice message from her publisher, who is concerned about the late draft.
Cut to Mavis receiving a pedicure, shaving her legs, and applying her makeup. She drives herself to Champion O’Malleys, a sports bar. She’s dressed to kill in an extremely low-cut cocktail dress, while everyone else is in jeans and t-shirts. She sits at a table to wait for Buddy, and when the busboy tries to bring her cutlery, she says she won’t be eating. She orders two shots of Jack instead. While she waits for Buddy, she pretends to be texting on her phone.
Buddy walks into the sports bar. He’s a little scruffy, and is dressed in a plaid shirt and jeans. He hugs Mavis. Mavis tells him that she ordered their old drink, Jack. Buddy says he doesn’t drink much anymore. He tells Mavis that he still works at General Mills, in the ad sales department with his dad. He offers to pick up their shots to save the waitress a trip. Mavis says, “So chivalrous,” and stares after him longingly.
Matt steps in front of her, blocking her view. Mavis asks what he is doing there, and Matt says that he does accounting for the bar. As Buddy returns, Matt pointedly congratulates him on the new baby, saying “What a wonderful permanent commitment to make!” Mavis mouths “F*$% off!” at Matt. After he leaves, Buddy mentions that he feels sorry for Matt. Mavis says Matt isn’t even gay.
Mavis and Buddy chat about Mercury, which Buddy says isn’t such a hick town anymore they just got a new Chili’s at the mall. Mavis says, “Yeah, and I saw there was a new Kentaco hut,” her slang term for a combination KFC and Taco Bell. Buddy says, “You sound like one of your crazy characters.” He asks Mavis about Alan, and Mavis says she is divorced now. Buddy says he’d better get back home.
As Buddy walks Mavis out to her car, he explains that his wife is the drummer in a mommy band. Mavis says, “The drummer? How embarrassing.” Buddy says the band is playing the next night, would Mavis like to come? Mavis says sure. Buddy asks if she would mind signing a book for his niece, who is a Waverly Place fan. Mavis says her name isn’t really on the books, she is basically a ghostwriter for the series, but she’d be happy to do it. As Mavis gets in her car, Buddy tells her it’s so nice to see her because they can always pick up right where they left off. Everyone from high school has changed, but she looks exactly the same. He says it casually, but Mavis obviously takes his compliments very seriously.
Back at the hotel, Mavis sits on the bed watching reality TV. As she watches, she pulls out a few strands of hair from behind her ear. She has a small, raw bald patch, and the comforter is already covered in strands of blond hair. Mavis telephones Matt and tells him he “didn’t see what he thought he did” at Champion O’Malleys. She says the situation is far more complicated than he could understand. Then she asks if he wants to get loaded.
Mavis drives to Matt’s house, and his sister Sandra answers the door. Mavis doesn’t recognize her, even when Sandra reminds Mavis that in high school Sandra made Rice Crispie squares for Mavis’ birthday and left them in her locker. Sandra tells Mavis that Matt is in his “cave."
Mavis goes out to the garage, where Matt is blaring rock music and welding something. Mavis sees that he has set up an elaborate distillery where he makes aged bourbon. He gives her some 8-year-old bourbon to sample, and Mavis gulps it down.
They go inside the house, and Sandra eavesdrops as Mavis tells Matt that Buddy is clearly not happy. Buddy told her he feels like a zombie, and she explains to Matt what a horrible metaphor that is. Matt says, “I’m a fat geek, I know what a zombie is.” Mavis says, “The question now is who’s going to make the first move?” Matt says, “I’m thinking it will be you.” Mavis examines Matt’s custom-made GI Joe figures. Matt obviously spends a lot of time alone.
Mavis tells Matt she needs to go check on something. She invites him to come. They pull up in front of Buddy’s house, eating cookies. They stare at his house and car, and Mavis says it’s ironic that Buddy drives a Jeep Liberty since he “has no liberty." Matt says, “You are mentally ill.”
Cut to Mavis shopping for a new outfit at Macy’s. The saleslady asks if she needs any help. Mavis asks if they have Marc Jacob, the saleslady says no. Mavis says that she needs something dazzling because she is trying to reconnect with an old flame. The saleslady says, “You need to show him what he’s been missing,” and Mavis says, “Oh he’s seen me, he knows. But his wife hasn’t seen me in a while.” The saleslady is shocked, and she says she is about to finish her shift and someone else will have to help Mavis.
Cut to the bookstore. Mavis is looking for the Waverly Prep novels, and the bookstore employee leads her to the clearance table. He says the books used to be popular a few years ago, but not anymore. Mavis grabs one of the books and signs it. The employee asks what she’s doing, and she says that she is the author. He’s confused because her name isn’t on the front of the book, and in any case he doesn’t want her to sign the books because then they can’t send them back to the publisher. Mavis says, “Why would you send them back?” He says, “Because they’re probably not going to sell. The series is done.”
Cut to Mavis receiving a manicure, then to her writing again. Her character Kendall is planning to steal her ex-boyfriend back from the “rebound girl." Kendall only wants to make sure that her utter perfection doesn’t intimidate her ex too much. Cut to Mavis preparing for her date. She has a fake hairpiece that she applies to cover her bald spot.
Mavis drives to Buddy’s house. As he comes out to meet her, she gives him the Waverly Prep novel she signed. She reminds him, “It’s for your niece,” and he says, “Oh yeah.” She tells him there is a character in the novel, Ashby, who is based on Buddy. Just then Buddy’s wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) comes out of the house, carrying the baby. She is dressed in a plaid shirt like Buddy, and she greets Mavis kindly and shows her the baby. Mavis follows them into the house, bragging about her success as a novelist and talking about old times with Buddy. She reminisces about how she used to sleep in his t-shirts and boxers, and says she still has some of the t-shirts. Beth just smiles and says that she still has some old t-shirts from her exes too.
Mavis notices a chart with various faces on it. Buddy explains that Beth is a special-needs teacher. Beth says the faces represent emotions, which the special-needs kids sometimes have a hard time understanding. Mavis says, “What if you don’t feel anything?” Beth says, “That’s how they are most of the time, so we don’t have to explain that one to them.”
Mavis, Buddy, and Beth drive to the sports bar for Beth’s concert. The other rocker moms are shocked to see Mavis there with Buddy. They call her a psychotic prom queen bitch behind her back. Matt is also seated at one of the tables, and Mavis points him out to Buddy, implying that Matt is John Wayne Gacy crazy. Buddy asks if Matt has any clown suits in his closet.
The lead singer of the band introduces the group as “Nipple Confusion” and says this is only their second show. She says the first song is dedicated to Buddy, from Beth. The song starts, and it’s the one that Mavis has been playing over and over in the car. Beth is smiling and singing the song directly to Buddy. Mavis looks devastated. Matt watches her, sympathetic.
Mavis pulls herself together and leans over to Buddy. “Remember when we used to make out to this song?” she says, “I think it was playing the first time I went down on you.” Buddy laughs it off, and Mavis glares at Beth playing the drums.
After the show, Buddy compliments the band. The lead singer turns to Mavis and says, “It’s so interesting to see you hanging around again.” Mavis gives her a fake smile and says, “I was so impressed that a single mom could be so confident up on the stage.” Buddy says he and Beth better get home, but Beth doesn’t want to leave yet. Mavis offers to drive Buddy home.
Buddy is pretty drunk and he stumbles a little as Mavis walks him to his door. He tells Mavis that he loves his new daughter. Mavis says, “You’re such a good man, you do so much, sometimes you do too much,” and they kiss. They are interrupted by the babysitter, who says the baby needs attention.
Cut to Mavis hanging out at Woody’s with Matt. Matt glances over at the pool table and sees a guy in a wheelchair playing pool. Matt says he hates that guy because he’s the “happiest cripple in Minnesota." Mavis says he’s her cousin, and she hates him too. The cousin rolls up to their table and he is extremely enthusiastic, telling them about his 6 year wedding anniversary and his recent adventures in rock climbing. Mavis and Matt respond with sarcasm until he leaves them alone. Mavis muses that her cousin got a lot of attention after his car accident. It almost ruined her Sweet 16. Matt says the guy ruined his high school experience because Matt always suffered by comparison to the “popular cripple."
Mavis drives back to the hotel. As she parks, she crashes her car into a light post. When she wakes up the next morning, she sees the damage to her car and swears. She walks to the nearby KFC/Taco Bell to do some more writing. As she eats, she overhears two teenage girls talking about their boyfriends. One girl says that her boyfriend is her “sun, moon, and stars." Mavis adds that to her story. As she finishes eating, Buddy calls Mavis and invites her to his daughter’s naming ceremony that weekend.
Mavis is walking down the street when a woman rolls up in a car. Mavis looks in the window and says, with no enthusiasm, “Hi Mom.” Mavis gets in the car, and they drive to her parents’ house. Her mom says it has been a long time, and asks why Mavis didn’t come to stay with them. Mavis says she needed a quiet place to write - she is still pretending her books are wildly successful. Her mom asks why Mavis didn’t use her aunt for the real estate deal she thinks Mavis is doing. She says her aunt’s feelings are hurt.
At her parents’ house, Mavis hugs her dad. She goes up to her old room, which is still full of all her belongings. She looks through her old nail polish, photos, and cassette tapes, and puts an ancient scrunchie in her hair. She takes Buddy’s old high school sweater down from the top shelf of the closet and smells it, then puts it on.
As she walks down the hall of her parents’ house, she sees her old wedding photo is still hanging on the wall. She shakes her head. Sitting down in the kitchen, her parents ask if she is eating well. Mavis says, “I think I’m an alcoholic.” They laugh as if she were joking. Mavis is tugging on her hair, and her mom says, “Are you still pulling your hair?” Mavis asks her parents to take down her old wedding photo, and her dad says, “But Alan was such a nice guy.” Mavis tells her parents that she went to see Buddy. She says, “It’s funny how those initial instincts can be so right.” Her mother says that Buddy’s baby is cute. Mavis says, “Have you seen it up close? Buddy used to say we would make the cutest babies.” Her parents don’t respond to this, and she asks if they still have her old car.
Mavis drives the old car to Matt’s house and asks him if he wants to get hammered. They go to the high school football field, and wander around in the woods behind the school. Mavis says the woods used to be “Hump City.” Matt asks how the “master plan” is unfolding with Buddy. Mavis says, “There’s still so much unspoken, but he’s involving me in his child’s life,” referencing the invite to the naming ceremony. Matt says that Buddy is a happily married man. Mavis tells Matt about her kiss with Buddy. Matt says that Mavis looks insane wearing Buddy’s sweatshirt around. Mavis retorts that Matt uses his “accident” as an excuse to do nothing. Matt says, “Accident? Those jocks that you used to blow shattered my legs, mangled my brains, and mutilated my dick, then left me for dead.” Mavis says, “What’s done is done, it’s in the past.” Matt says, “Are you crazy? You’re trying to score with a married man.” Mavis says that if Matt’s personality was better, people wouldn’t care about his cane. He says that she should stick to her stupid books, because she doesn’t know shit about being an adult.
Cut to Mavis writing. She writes that everyone is jealous of Kendall, and Kendall needs to look after herself. “Sometimes to heal, other people need to get hurt.”
Cut to Mavis at the salon, getting her lip waxed, then to her dressing and beautifying herself for the baby naming ceremony.
On the way to Buddy’s house, Mavis stops at the baby store to buy a gift. She wanders through endless aisles of fluffy cutesy baby stuff, then grabs the first thing she sees, a package of plain burp cloths.
At Buddy’s house, Mavis greets Buddy’s mom and hugs her. Buddy’s mom is clearly not happy to see Mavis. Mavis gives Buddy the baby gift and asks to speak to him privately. The babysitter and the other rocker moms stare as Mavis and Buddy head upstairs together.
Buddy leads Mavis into the nursery to talk. He asks, “What’s going on?” Mavis says, “There are so many things we both want to say. I’m feeling everything you’re feeling.” Buddy is confused. Mavis quotes the teenage girls from KFC, saying, “You’re my sun, my moon, and my stars.” She tries to kiss Buddy, and Buddy pulls away saying, “What are you doing?” Mavis says, “Come to the city with me like we always planned.” Buddy says, “What the hell are you talking about, I’m a married man! You’re better than this. I think you should leave.”
Buddy goes downstairs and picks up his baby. Mavis follows him down and chugs a few shots. Everyone gathers outside the house for the unveiling of Buddy’s surprise gift for Beth. Beth sees Mavis standing there and asks, “Are you okay?” Mavis says, “I would be if I could get a decent drink.” Beth grabs a glass of wine for Mavis, but when she turns to give it to her, she accidentally spills the wine down the front of Mavis’ silk blouse. She apologizes, but Mavis screams “F$%&! F@#$ you!” Beth stares at Mavis in shock, as do the guests, and Mavis laughs. “You should see your face.” She starts ranting, telling Beth that she could have had Buddy’s baby. When she was 20 she got pregnant, and they were going to keep the child and have a naming ceremony and a playpen and all the things that Buddy and Beth have. But then at 12 weeks, she had a miscarriage.
Right in the middle of this revelation, the garage door opens to reveal Buddy with a bright green drum set. Buddy bangs the drums and yells “Ta da!” He doesn’t understand why everyone is just staring at him in silence. He asks Beth, “What’s wrong?” Beth says “Nothing.” Mavis yells at Beth, “What’s wrong with you, are you like one of those kids with no feelings?” Mavis’ mother tries to quiet her, saying that Mavis is drunk, and Mavis yells, “I’ve been drunk since I got here, and nobody cared until Ms. Prissy here got all upset.” Mavis turns to Buddy and says, “Why did you invite me?” Buddy says, “I didn’t. Beth did. She feels sorry for you, we all do. You’re obviously having some kind of breakdown.” Mavis says to Beth, “Do you hate me now? It should be easy, because I sure hate you.” She says to Buddy, “I came back for you. I hate this town, I hate it.” Then she gets in her car and drives away.
Mavis heads over to Matt’s house and tells him, “I screwed up. No one loves me. You don’t love me.” Matt says, “Guys like me are born loving girls like you.” Mavis pulls off her stained blouse and skirt, so she is standing there in her pantyhose and silicone breast-enhancement pads. Matt says, “I’ll get you a shirt.” Mavis asks for the shirt he’s wearing. Matt takes off his shirt. Mavis says “Hide me,” and he hugs her. They lay down on the bed and Mavis pushes down Matt’s pants, revealing the scars all over his legs. They have sex.
Cut to Mavis and Matt lying in bed. Matt asks, “Why Buddy?” Mavis says, “He’s a good man, he’s kind." Matt asks, “Are other men unkind?” Mavis says, “He knew me when I was at my best.” Matt says, “You weren’t at your best then. I saw you every day. You had this little mirror in your locker shaped like a heart, and you looked at that mirror more than you ever looked at me, and I was at my best.” Mavis looks in Matt’s eyes and touches his face.
Mavis wakes up smooshed under Matt’s arm. She quietly sneaks out of the bed and puts her stained clothing back on. She goes up to the kitchen where Matt’s sister Sandra is standing in her work scrubs. Mavis offers her coffee and pours herself some. Sandra asks, “Do you still write those books?” For the first time Mavis tells the truth and says, “No, the series got cancelled. I’m writing the last one right now.” Sandra says, “What happens?” and Mavis says, “I don’t know.” Mavis asks if Sandra knows Beth. Sandra says yes. Mavis asks “What do you think of her?” Trying to please Mavis, Sandra says, “I don’t really like her. You’re way prettier than she is.” Then Sandra asks, “What happened to your dress?” Mavis starts to cry. She says, “It’s really difficult for me to be happy. For other people, it seems so simple. I need to change.” Sandra says, “No you don’t. You’re the only person in Mercury who could write a book or wear that dress. They wish they could be like you. When I have a slow shift at work, I picture you in the city in your cool apartment doing amazing things. Everybody else, it doesn’t matter what happens to them. They’re nothing. They might as well die. F$&% Mercury.” Mavis says, “Thank you. I needed that. You’re right, this place blows. I need to go back to Minneapolis.” Sandra says, “Take me with you.” Mavis says, “You’re good here Sandra.” She leaves Sandra looking devastated.
Mavis goes back to her hotel room and cuddles her neglected dog. She starts writing the end of the last Waverly Prep novel. It’s graduation day, and Kendall is musing over the sudden unexpected death of Ashby and his new girlfriend, who were lost at sea.
Mavis checks out of the hotel. The sullen receptionist sees Mavis eyeing a plate of donuts on the counter and tells her that the donuts are only for prestige guests. Mavis stares right at the receptionist while she takes a donut and sticks it in her mouth.
As Mavis drives away from Mercury, we hear the voiceover of the last page of the Waverly Prep novel: Kendall is clearing out her locker, pondering how her best years are still ahead of her. She’s ready for the world, it’s time to look to the future. “Life, here I come.”