Saturday, December 17, 2011

An Unlikable Writer of Children’s Books Learns a Lesson or Two

Three and a half stars

Mavis (Charlize Theron) is a burned out queen bee, who was popular in high school. She is now a writer of a semi-popular young adult series of novels. One day, she gets an e-mail from her old flame announcing the birth of his child. She’s probably on some mailing list of his but I totally get why it gets to her. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s hearing about people’s successful lives through e-mail or Facebook. That’s not to say Mavis is likable. What she does in the film, is return to her old town, and tries to rekindle her relationship with her old high school flame. The problem is that her old flame, Matt (Patrick Wilson) is married with a new born. That’s not very nice of her. When she arrives back she checks into a hotel with her dog in her purse, goes to a bar and reconnects with Buddy (Paton Oswalt). She at first doesn’t remember who he is than she notices he walks on a crutch. She remembers him as the hate crime guy who got severely beaten up by a bunch of jocks in high school because they mistakenly thought he was gay. She spends the rest of the film meeting up with her old boyfriend, his wife and getting drunk with Buddy, who shows up everywhere she is.

Buddy serves as the moral compass of the film, constantly playing against Mavis. Paton Oswalt is very good in this film, and moves it along. He constantly is there to remind Mavis what being an adult means. Mavis doesn’t seem to want to grow up throughout the film. She says many uncomfortable things to Matt. She brings up little things about their high school past. Mavis is a perfect example of what a lot of people go through. Not getting over high school. She may have been popular in high school, but her life didn’t turn out the way she really wanted it to. She figured that Matt and her should have been together. What she fails to notice is that she is different then the people in her small, rinky dink town.

She has moved onto the big city of Minneapolis, and is a sort of success. She has her own condo. She’s a professional writer. So why would she want to go back to her old, small town and try to get back her high school boyfriend? I guess the film answers that question in a way. The thing about all these characters is that they are still stuck in their high school form, and I guess in a way, we all can relate to that. No one ever completely gets over their high school role but we all do move on. The only person in this film who knows how to be an adult is Buddy. Matt is still a boring hometown guy, who tells her that they are expanding the mall, and that way they won’t be a hick town anymore. Mavis is still obsessing over her teenage years.

Something I really did like about this film is its cynicism. In one scene, Mavis’s cousin who is in a wheelchair rolls up to Mavis and Buddy in the bar. Buddy groans and says “Here comes the happiest cripple in Minnesota”. Mavis’s cousin gives a speech about how happy he is, how he can do anything, and how being disbled means he can do more than a able body person because his passion for life is recharged. There’s no reason to be happy for people being more successful than you, and there’s reason to celebrate life’s screw over’s. Here’s a film that doesn’t do that.

Charlize Theron is very good as Mavis, and Mavis is definitely a character we aren’t supposed to exactly like. This is the second collaboration between Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman since ‘Juno’. They keep the quirky nature of their partnership alive throughout the film. In a way, this is an interesting character study because they don’t present a main character who we are cheering for. She is immature and can be totally over the top. At the same time, we kind of get reasons of why she is the way she is. Another thing I liked about this film was the constant little narrations we get from that trashy teen novel she is writing. She may be writing for teenagers, but she, herself, is no longer a teenager. She discovers that maybe she has no reason to be jealous. Once she learns to accept herself, than she can start to grow up. And write that ending to her book.

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