YOUNG ADULT C
USA (94 mi) 2011 d: Jason Reitman Official site
Oh where, Oh where has Charlize Theron gone? Since winning the Academy Award for Best Actress in MONSTER (2003), she has all but dropped off the face of the earth, barely seen since then, working in such low profile films that many haven’t seen her at all since then. She is back in a role that is pretty much written around her part, aka: confessions of a psycho bitch from Diablo Cody, who is attempting to glean untold truths from the safe and secure mediocrity of the heartland. Theron as Mavis is on the rebound after her failed marriage, one of the few who left her small town of Mercury, Minnesota to make it in the urban metropolis of Minneapolis, affectionately known as the Mini Apple, a place that few in Mercury ever see. Mavis is the author of teen stories that are no longer in vogue, yet she’s busily typing away on her computer trying to complete the series, which is a running narrative throughout the film which mirrors the real life issues surrounding Mavis. This is largely an opportunity lost, as the book characters offer no fresh insight into real life, but remains lost in a superficial wish fulfillment haze of self-centeredness that defines Mavis’s own world. And therein lies the real problem with this film, as it’s stuck in a vacuous emptiness from which it rarely escapes. Post divorce, Mavis is on a mission, to return to her hometown and reclaim her high school boyfriend Buddy (Patrick Wilson), even though he’s happily married with a newborn. She makes this clear while throwing down tequila chasers in a bar one night, confessing her plan to a guy she went to high school with, Matt (Patton Oswalt), perhaps the most refreshing character in the film, seen as a loser in high school, a guy whose locker was next to hers but she never gave him a second look as she was a high school beauty queen that rarely thought of anyone except herself. Nothing has changed in that department, while others around her have matured and become more responsible citizens, which she ridicules endlessly as a town full of losers.
Mavis’s answer to everything is to fill herself full of liquor, which she does pretty much every day, falling face first into her bed at night without ever crawling under the covers. Like Reese Witherspoon in LEGALLY BLONDE (2001), she has a tiny dog that you can carry around in the palm of your hand that she all but ignores. Matt becomes her regular drinking buddy, where he conveniently has a homemade whisky still in his garage and the two commiserate about his loser life in high school and her narcissistic intentions with a married man that seem wacko. The excessive amount of liquor consumption is a fairly standard device in the movies these days, which doesn’t seem to find alcoholism the least bit offensive or obnoxious, treating it as an opportunity for the characters to get more chummy and honest. In Matt’s case, this may be true, as he’s strictly a side character whose role becomes more relevant due to his genuine earnestness, while Mavis never for a single moment stops thinking of herself, like a smug and pampered rich bitch that treats everyone around her like crap, thinking their lives are little more than boring and miserable, where their freedom is typically hampered by having annoying babies. Her plan is to swoop in and rescue Buddy from this dreaded fate, knowing he would drop everything to run away with her. This is a strange take on the American Dream, which Mavis has appropriated as doing whatever she wants at everyone else’s expense.
While there are a few comical gestures, mostly in the exaggerated MEAN GIRL (2004) cruelty of Mavis’s derision of others, spoken mostly when drunk, as if this actually opens up possibilities for speaking candidly, but most may be surprised at how quietly unfunny this film actually is, as it’s more awkward and uncomfortable than funny, like watching a train wreck waiting to happen. Had there been more revelations, one can endure plenty of uncomfortable moments, but this film is as vacuous as it seems, where the empty-headed character who spends all her time accessorizing with manicures and pedicures and buying new clothes for herself really never gets below the surface, as she’s pretty much the same vain egotist she was in high school, where her good looks have allowed her to get away with anything. The way she stuffs herself with junk food and candy, not to mention plenty of alcohol, it’s a stretch to believe she never gains any weight. But this is Charlize Theron we’re talking about, who dons several different flirtatious and beguiling looks and still looks terrific when hung over in the morning. All in all, little happens, little is learned, and little changes, where the movie is basically a window into small town America as seen through the eyes of an overly pampered Barbie doll with a love for booze and spewing venom about the wretched and miserable lives of others, all the while blind to how pathetic her own miserable life has become. She is a perennial user, a blood sucker, a parasite, the kind of girl who survives by manipulating others to get what she wants. In the end all we can ask is so what? Why should we care?