After her divorce, Young Adult fiction writer Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) decides it would a great idea to return to her hometown in “nowheresville” Minnesota.
Not perhaps a terrible idea, we all like to return to something we know during times of uncertainty and stress. However, Mavis has a plan which involves rekindling her long lost flame with her previous sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson).
The fact that Buddy is very happily married and enjoying his new born infant, is no impediment to her crazy, flawed master plan. Mavis is also teetering perilously close to full blown alcoholic status, which adds another random element to the mix.
To provide the audience with a window into her thinking, the story brings Mavis together with another old classmate, the school nobody. All those years ago, Matt (Patton Oswald) was only lockers apart but light-years away, all but invisible to Mavis. Matt was beaten viciously at school and left with a dodgy leg and impacted nether regions.
Mavis quite enjoys Matt’s company, they hangout and he proves a disbelieving sounding board for her mad schemes. He also rather conveniently, knows how to make moonshine, a skill that a borderline alcoholic values highly. Bedecked in a series of mostly dowdy mismatching outfits, Mavis depletes his stock and self esteem, leaving only to wake up in a face down stupor in her own hotel room.
The film follows the increasingly odd schemes that Mavis employs to entrap her beau. Despite the seeming indifference from Buddy, Mavis sincerely believes he is hiding his real feelings from her.
Maybe as a comedy this might have worked but the film is largely played straight and increasingly one begins to wonder about the mental stability of Mavis. The fact that her unlikeable character does not grate too badly, is a testament to the acting skills of Theron. Yet again she plays ugly, no mean feat, in a role that is downbeat and far from showy.
Wilson does well to continue his ambivalent attitude in the face of the onslaught, his wife (Elizabeth Reaser), also plays a crucial role in the story. Patton Oswald perhaps has the most identifiable role, being amused, confused, critical and attracted, in equal measure. Without his character, the story would fail to work at all.
Certainly, this is no knockabout comedy, quite what target audience is being aimed at, is difficult to judge. Whilst Theron again proves her acting worth, there is an all pervading feeling of sadness around the story and character. The screenplay makes no attempt to dissipate this feeling and refuses stubbornly to follow expectations
Some might argue this represents a voyage of self discovery, with Mavis attempting to find her own place in the world. Cast adrift in the deep end, the audience can decide whether to believe she makes it safely to the other side.
Directed in a no-nonsense natural style by Jason Reitman of “Up in the Air” fame from a screenplay by Oscar winner (Juno) Diablo Cody.
Worthwhile but in many ways difficult to like, despite the best efforts of the acting talent on display.