Thirty-seven year old Mavis Gary seems incapable of happiness. She has had one failed marriage with no romance in her immediate horizon. She ghosts writes a young adult series of books, which has just been canceled due to low sales. She is in the process of writing the last book, with which she is having a mental block. She lives vicariously through Kendall Strickland, the teenaged female heroine in her books, as like Kendall she believes her high school years were the best years of her life when she was the prom queen. When she receives news that her high school beau, Buddy Slade, and his wife, Beth Slade, have just had their first child, Mavis takes it as a sign that she and Buddy are meant to be together. As such, she devises a false pretense to travel from her Minneapolis home back her her old hometown of Mercury, Minnesota to reclaim Buddy from Beth. As Mavis slyly or not so slyly does whatever she can to hang out with Buddy, even in Beth's company if need be, she also runs into ... Written by
Greetings again from the darkness. Writer Diablo Cody and Director Jason Reitman reunite for the first time since their breakout hit "Juno". In that fine film, we were treated to many optimistic and sarcastic life lessons from a very likable, and easy to cheer for, teenage girl. This time around we get the caustic, childlike self-centeredness of a mid-30's alcoholic sadly trying to recapture the magic of her high school years as the prom queen dating the coolest guy.
Ms. Cody and Mr. Reitman deserve much credit for steering clear of the Hollywood traditions of redemption, remorse, and turning over a new leaf. In fact, we probably dislike Mavis (Charlize Theron) even more as the movie ends than we did in the film's first 5 minutes, if that's even possible. It takes courage as a filmmaker to have a lead character who is disliked through the entire movie, not just by the people in her life, but also by the audience. It also takes a special actress to pull this off. If you saw Theron in her Oscar winning role in "Monster", believe me when I say that she is equally unsympathetic here ... though she does commit fewer actual crimes.
This film is erroneously marketed as a smart comedy. While there are some funny elements, it's difficult to find much humor in someone who is so unstable and narcissistic. Wisely, the script provides us with Matt (Patton Oswalt) as the voice of reason. He sees through the Mavis mask and speaks directly in his attempts to divert her from her plan. That plan is to break up the marriage of her high school sweetheart (Patrick Wilson). Oh yeah, he just happens to be happily married (Elizabeth Reaser) with a newborn baby.
The best scenes of the film are between Mavis and Matt. She is oblivious to her negative effect on others, while he shoots her straight while avoiding his own harsh reality. See, Matt was the victim of a vicious hate crime, which left his leg (and other things) mangled. His own view of life is why he can see right through Mavis and her issues. While I so admire the basis of the script, I just believe there is a missing element. The element of hope and optimism. Heck, even when Mavis admits she "might be an alcoholic", her parents shrug it off and change topics. Sometimes crying out for help just isn't enough.
The film is worth seeing for the performances of Theron and Oswalt, as well as for the unique script. Just don't get tricked into believing it's some laugh riot with a fairy tale ending. Mavis is a ghost writer for teen novels, and she writes the latest as she lives this nightmare of a trip back home. My only real question ... is she mature enough to write for teens?
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