Director Jason Reitman listens during the news conference for the film ''Up In The Air'' at the 34th Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto
Director Jason Reitman listens during the news conference for the film ''Up In The Air'' at the 34th Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto September 12, 2009. Reuters

Paramount has been sneaking screenings of Young Adult, Jason Reitman's droll new film that could be a black comedy, but then again could be an outright tragedy merely punctuated with moments of hilarity.

The sneaks are probably a good idea, because this is not the kind of film that you just want to throw out there. It's certainly darker than any of Reitman's previous work, including the ingeniously misanthropic Thank You For Smoking, and as noted, it's kind of hard to categorize.

But it's daring. The film, written by Diablo Cody (Juno), is the story of the narcissistic and needy Mavis Gary, played by Charlize Theron, who heads back to her small hometown of Mercury, Minnesota to reclaim the heart of her high school flame (Patrick Wilson).

Except: he's happily married and a newly-minted father. Mavis doesn't care, or even much notice. So basically Reitman invites you to hate his main character, and Theron plays the heartless, hollow Mavis without flinching. She drinks whiskey incessantly, and manages to make even hate crimes pale in comparison to her crisis of self-absorption.

The movie screened on Tuesday night to a jam-packed crowd of curious cinephiles at the New Beverly theater in West Hollywood.

They'd been invited to a secret screening and the secret was soon out: Reitman was there, as was star Theron, chewing gum and towering over the guy everyone was really talking about, Oswald Patton.

Patton plays a crippled high school acquaintance of Mavis named Matt, and gets most of the laughs in the film for being the truth-teller and voice of conscience. Namely, Matt keeps reminding her to stop trying to ruin the marriage of the happily-married Wilson. She ignores him, but meanwhile Matt is her only friend.

Patton had the entire audience in stitches during the Q&A after the screening. recounting the first table reading where Theron took her unlikable character to the mat.

Reitman and Theron both shocked the room by noting that his direction at one point consisted of telling his lead actress to produce a c----ier face. (You're just going to have to figure that one out. Can't even write it.) Diablo Cody seemed to get a charge out of the whole thing. And she admitted that Mavis is at least partially based on her.

In a season where there's been few clear front-runners for the Oscar race, Young Adult may have an interesting journey. The film is probably on the dark side for many Academy voters, but Reitman is an undeniable talent who is building a body of work of smart, accomplished films that have something to say. This is another one of those.

Let's hope Young Adult gets to make its way to maturity.