The character played by Charlize Theron in "Young Adult" is so unlikeable as to turn you off to the entire film.

That would be too bad.

It's a testimony to Theron's acting ability that she can infuse audiences with such disdain.

That said, "Young Adult" is thrown off balance because of a lack of equal-weight casting opposite Theron.

Remember, Theron received an actress Oscar for "Monster," in which she had Christina Ricci, a very strong actor, to play off against.

Here, it's Patton Oswalt, as Matt Freehauf, a former high school classmate. Oswalt holds his own opposite Theron. However, the role he's playing is a bit off-center to the plot.

Theron plays Mavis Gary, who returns to her home town, Mercury, Minn.

Mavis, now a successful ghost writer of "young adult" books and living in Minneapolis, is on a mission. She wants to reignite her high-school flame, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). Except, he's married to Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) and they have a newborn.

Mavis is such a larger-than-life character that she totally dominates "Young Adult," especially in the convincing way Theron plays her. That doesn't leave much breathing room for others on the screen.

While Wilson is fine as Buddy, a more dynamic actor in that role might have given Theron as good as she gives.

Theron gets that and more from Oswalt, who plays a loner in a dignified and sympathetic way. His role as a likeable loser, is polar opposite from that of the bi-polar Mavis, who is a hateful winner.

Noteworthy in a supporting role is Collette Wolfe as Matt's sister, Sandra.

"Young Adult" is directed by Jason Reitman ("Up in the Air," "Juno," "Thank You for Smoking"), who again wrings the wry from any situation. Reitman examines persons in conflict and gets at their inner conflicts.

In "Young Adult," Mavis's outward glamour and success masks a severely insecure person.

Reitman reteams with screenwriter Diablo Cody (2008 original screenplay Oscar for "Juno"; "Jennifer's Body," TV's "United States of Tara"), who can charm the quirk out of any character. Cody has an ear for dialogue and closely-observed trends. They have "text chemistry," a female teen says of her boyfriend.

"Young Adult" is a tragic-comedy look at a female Peter Pan who doesn't want to grow up, not unlike the characters she creates in her novels. She is, perhaps forever, a "Young Adult," forced to relive teen-age angst over and over.

Look for an Oscar actress nomination for Theron and an Oscar supporting actor nomination for Oswalt.

"Young Adult," MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian) for language and some sexual content; Genre: Comedy, Drama; Run time: 1 hour, 34 minutes; Distributed by Paramount Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Some scenes in "Young Adult," which is set in Minnesota, were filmed in Massapequa Park, Long Island, and Nanuet and White Plains, N.Y.

Box Office, Jan. 6: "The Devil Inside" opened at No. 1, $34.5 million, dropping "Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol," to No. 2, $20.5 million, $170.2 million, four weeks, after two weeks at No. 1.

3. "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," $14 million, $157.4 million, four weeks; 4. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," $11.3 million, $76.8 million, three weeks; 5. "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked," $9.5 million, $111.5 million, four weeks; 6. "War Horse," $8.6 million, $56.8 million, three weeks; 7. "We Bought a Zoo," $8.4 million, $56.5 million, three weeks; 8. "The Adventures of Tintin," $6.6 million, $61.8 million, three weeks; 9. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," $5.7 million, $10.4 million, five weeks; 10. "New Year's Eve," $3.2 million, $52 million, five weeks; 15. "Young Adult," $1.3 million, $14.7 million, five weeks

Box Office, Dec. 30: "Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol," continued for a second week at No. 1, $38.3 million, $141 million, three weeks. "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" stayed at No. 2, $26.5 million, $137 million, three weeks.

3. "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked," $21 million, $97.4 million, three weeks; 4. "War Horse," $19.2 million, $45.2 million, two weeks; 5. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," $19 million, $60 million, two weeks; 6. "We Bought a Zoo," $16.5 million, $44 million, two weeks; 7. "The Adventures of Tintin," $15 million, $50. 8 million, two weeks; 8. "New Year's Eve," $7.7 million, $47.4 million, four weeks; 9. "The Darkest Hour," $5.2 million, $14.2 million, two weeks; 10. "The Descendants," $4.2 million, $40.3 million, seven weeks

Unreel, Jan. 13:

"Contraband," R: Mark Wahlberg stars as a former drug smuggler who heads to Panama to protect his brother-in-law from a drug lord. The drama also stars Giovanni Ribisi, Kate Beckinsale and Ben Foster.

"Joyful Noise," PG-13: Choir members coach a team in a national choir contest. The comedy stars Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton.

"Beauty and the Beast," G: A 3D re-release of the 1991 animation musical classic.

"The Divide," No MPAA rating: Nuclear attack survivors wait in a basement of their apartment building in the science fiction thriller.

"Loosies," PG-13: Peter Facinelli ("Twilight" series) stars in the comedy romance about a young man and his life in New York City.

Read previous movie reviews at www.tnonline.com. Email Paul Willistein at: pwillistein@tnonline.com and on Facebook.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of five Popcorn Boxes