Of all the wacky stories in this year’s Oscar race, perhaps none is more unlikely than the fact that America’s bard of nerddom, comedian Patton Oswalt, finds himself a very serious contender to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor—one of this year’s most competitive categories—for his role in Young Adult, the new film from the Juno duo, director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody. But after years of mocking Hollywood’s foibles as a stand-up, and leading a band of ill-shapen misfits from the sidelines, Oswalt, the cherub-faced comic, may very well have earned himself a seat at the Oscars ceremony against other possible contenders no less notable than Christopher Plummer, Max Von Sydow, Nick Nolte, Ben Kingsley, and Kenneth Branagh.
Before an audience of his friends, fellow comedians, and family in a screening room on the Paramount lot for a first peek at Young Adult, a humbled Oswalt stood in front of the assembled to introduce this major leap into the world of Serious Acting. Addressing the crowd, he said, “Young Adult will open nationwide on Dec. 9. Tonight sit back and enjoy Human Centipede.” Pause. “I need you to see the film the way I saw it.”
The character in question may go down as the most nuanced and heartbreaking portrayal of the nerd dilemma ever committed to film. Oswalt plays Matt Freehauf, a man festering in the literal and psychic wounds of high school, an experience that ended with his being beaten by a group of jocks, leaving him permanently disabled. Wallowing in his resentments while living within sight of his tragedy, Oswalt slams into Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), his high school’s former prom queen and doyen of his tormentors. As obsessed by her youth, in her way, as Matt is, Mavis has returned home to reclaim her now happily married high school boyfriend.