We've written before about how the Palm Springs International Film Festival tends to stick very closely to the presumed template of surefire Oscar contenders when picking their honorees. So they've at least gone slightly out on a limb by handing their Vanguard Award for "outstanding creative ensemble" to Jason Reitman's "Young Adult" -- a film already on the fringes in the three awards categories it's aiming for, and one far outside the Best Picture conversation. Reitman took the same award four years ago for a far more broadly popular film, "Juno"; "Little Miss Sunshine" is another previous winner.

I'm not sure how exactly the festival organizers define "creative ensemble," though I do hope the award covers more than just the director, writer and two principals. There's smart supporting work, for example, from Elizabeth Reaser as the homely, unwitting romantic rival of Charlize Theron's protagonist; on the technical front, as I wrote yesterday on the category's Contenders page, the elegantly character-defining costumes by David C. Robinson are thoroughly worthy of recognition.

The film, meanwhile, continues to gnaw away at me: as I suggested in my review last week, even the problems it runs into are more interesting than the ones faced by most American comedies. It's a spikily imperfect work, and probably won't feature on my Best of 2011 list next week, but the conversations and arguments I've had about it with colleagues are just part of the reason I'm glad it's around. Going by the literal definition of a Vanguard Award, it's a more worthy recipient than most.

The edited press release:

Palm Springs, CA (December 13, 2011) – The 23rd annual Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) will present the film Young Adult with the Vanguard Award recognizing its outstanding creative ensemble. Cast members from the film including Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt, director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody will attend to accept the award. Presented by Cartier, the Awards Gala will be held Saturday, January 7, at the Palm Springs Convention Center. Hosted by Mary Hart, the Awards Gala will also present awards to previously announced honorees George Clooney, Glenn Close, Michel Hazanavicius, Octavia Spencer and Michelle Williams. The Festival runs January 5-16.

This is the second Vanguard Award for Cody and Reitman, who first received the honor in 2008 for Juno. Reitman recently garnered the 2010 PSIFF Best Director Award for Up in the Air, and Theron previously earned the 2006 Desert Palm Achievement Actress Award for North Country.

“What is more bittersweet than realizing that your glory days, particularly those in high school, when everything was possible, may truly be a thing of the past,” said Film Festival Chairman Harold Matzner. “In Young Adult, a writer of teen literature gets a major reality check when her plan to reclaim a former high school sweetheart goes awry, but leads her to forge an unlikely bond with a former classmate who is similarly time warp-challenged. It is a particular pleasure for the Palm Springs International Film Festival to present the 2012 Vanguard Award to Young Adult, a truly unique and utterly enjoyable film. The filmmakers and cast represent the some of the best and most exciting filmmaking work of the year and have delivered a biting black comedy as deeply poignant as it is funny. It’s a pleasure to welcome for an ‘encore’ the film’s screenwriter Diablo Cody, director Jason Reitman and accomplished star Charlize Theron, all previous winners at the Festival, who continue to demonstrate the scope of their cinematic talents.”

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