Whether you’re clutching a hamburger phone in anticipation of the next Diablo Cody effort, or would rather strangle yourself with its cord than patronize another Juno, it’s hard to not be tickled by the poster for Young Adult, the new collaboration between Cody and director Jason Reitman. Aptly titled, the film focuses on a teen-lit writer (Charlize Theron) who’s a young adult herself, at least in terms of emotional maturity. The poster, a terribly clever merger of media cover art, gives a nod to YA fiction while emphasizing the 30-something lead character’s hangover-riddled regression, a pure/impure juxtaposition of the Bad Teacher sort. Aided greatly by a color scheme right out of the early-’90s (when purple and green were rampantly, ill-advisedly used for things other than Easter and The Joker), it’s an image that’s catnip for late-Gen-Xers and Millenials, whose backpacks were loaded with similar-looking novels by folks like S. E. Hinton. For better or worse, Cody is very much a voice of that demographic, ever-increasingly a female answer to the Apatow brotherhood. Through her work, she channels the pop culture staples that saturated her youth, and given its subject and marketing, one might see Young Adult as a precursor to a future Cody project: an adaptation of Sweet Valley High.
The details are what make the poster so terrific, from the dog-eared corner to the “Bargain Price” sticker. The designers took the liberty of combining an out-of-the-bookstore cover with that of a school-issued book, resulting in a kind of doubly effective nostalgia. The edge of the spine implies a book that was bound in that laminated, reinforced manner intended to withstand student abuse; however, such a book likely wouldn’t have a price tag, nor would it be slapped with a Caldecott Medal-style sticker of approval (which here is superbly used to promote Reitman and his previous films). Altogether, it looks like something you’d buy on the bargain rack at a school library’s spring-cleaning sale, or in a college bookstore that carries it for budding fiction writers. It’s sad, used and in the process of being recycled, which helps this image further reflect the nature of Theron’s beaten-by-life character, who’s heading back to her hometown to break up her high school sweetheart’s marriage.
There’s a lack of illustrated movie posters these days, and in taking this throwback approach, the design for Young Adult tips its hat to both the book world and the great film-ad illustrators, like Drew Struzan, who thrived in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s an image that’s keenly aware of its target audience, which is surely comprised of adults, as the references won’t resonate so directly with younger viewers. The entire package emits an irony that seems very shrewdly intentional, and it affords the film a lot of promise, if we can indeed connect at least some creativity from ad to finished movie. Perhaps what’s most ironic about the design is that the illustration is about the last thing that’s considered, since the surrounding details offer so much fun reminiscence. Alongside the unfortunately generic tagline and the low-life cliché of passing out in your party clothes, the drawing offers a few teeny-tiny ambiguities. Is that Coke or a 40 dangling from Charlize’s fingers? What might a Pomeranian have to do with all this? The poster’s biggest achievement among many is it actually makes you want to find out.