Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, a writer of young adult novels, which Cody has an abiding passion for (she was signed to write a movie on the Sweet Valley High series). As the film opens, we see that she is a sad and lonely person, as she lives in a messy but chic apartment, has meaningless sex, and her only companion is a lapdog. When she gets an email that her ex-boyfriend has just had a baby, she gets the absurd notion that if she goes back to her podunk hometown she can win him back, and thus will solve all her problems.
This seemed a lot like the Julia Roberts film My Best Friend’s Wedding, and that, believe it or not, was a much better picture, with Roberts at least informing her role with a zany questful nature. Theron, in this film, is a tissue of psychoses, and at no point in this film will anyone be rooting for her. I will give Cody credit for the audacity of allowing her character to have a breakthrough, but then having another character, in a big speech, reinforce her insanity and send her off in a haze of delirium. I wonder what Cody’s intention was for us to think about as we put on our coats–that people who live in small towns really are fat and dumb, and that living in a big city is better, even if we are mentally ill?
Theron’s ex-beau is played dully by Patrick Wilson, who is oblivious to her intentions. Her confidante is Patton Oswalt, who might have been the subject of a better movie. He was viciously beaten in high school by jocks who thought he was gay. He now hobbles around on a crutch, makes his own bourbon, and paints comic book hero miniatures. Roberts sidekick in My Best Friend’s Wedding was the gay Rupert Everett, and while Oswalt’s character is not gay, he might as well be. Cody makes a big mistake by allowing these characters to sleep together.
I really don’t think there’s anything I liked about this film. Reitman’s films are known for their over-reliance on qurkly direction, (he really goes wild in Thank You For Not Smoking and Juno) that I have enjoyed, but here his heart doesn’t seem in it, and he lets the script just play out. That is a mistake, for this script isn’t particularly witty (I think I laughed once, but I forget at what) or emotionally resonant. The attempt to have Theron’s work in progress, about a high school girl who is so popular (she has the yearbook dedicated to her, even though there was another student who died) is band-aided on and laughably amateurish.
Theron gives a technically fine performance, and manages to look beautiful and off-putting at the same time, but I don’t think any actress could have made this work.
My grade for Young Adult: D+