Here’s a new comedy from Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, the writer/director duo behind ‘Juno’. But don’t go expecting another happy, warm hug of a movie: this is much less of a charmer, trailing a juicy waft of sourness behind it. Charlize Theron gives her best performance in years; she’s properly funny (who knew?) as Mavis Gary, a train-wreck who crashes into her hometown to reclaim her high-school sweetheart, Buddy (Patrick Wilson). What, Buddy’s happily married? Devoted to his new baby? Like Mavis gives a damn. She’s angry, self-obsessed, immature, stalkerish, possibly alcoholic… and we’re kinda gunning for her.
The film’s writer, Cody is one seriously funny woman – and one of Hollywood’s most in-demand writers. With Mavis, it’s like she’s given life to a less-successful, less-together evil alter ego, a terrifying what-if. Mavis, 37 and divorced, is also a writer – of young adult fiction (industry-speak for teen novels). And she displays all the emotional maturity of one of her characters. I can’t remember a heroine so triumphantly and spectacularly messy. Back in Mercury, Minnesota, an old classmate, clearly traumatised from their high-school days together, spies her across a bar and hisses (almost without realising): ‘psychotic prom queen bitch’.
Mavis isn’t stupid – she can see that Buddy loves his wife, but downing another shot of whisky blanks it out. Cody draws her characters with absolute precision. Is Mavis slinking back to have a breakdown? There’s an empty loneliness threatening to swallow her up, and that keeps on side even when she’s at her meanest. Here’s Mavis on Mercury: ‘People here are so happy with so little. It’s like they don’t even care what happens to them.’ There is a raw honesty here rare in movies, and it’s very funny too – excruciating at times.