Charlize Theron gives an impressive performance as Mavis Gary the recently divorced and soon to be unemployed ghost writer. A hung over Mavis pounds away on her mac book pro in her dirty apartment, while avoiding calls from her editor for the pages of the last book in the “widely popular” young adult series. Mavis ignores the strict character guidelines set-up by the creator of the series, and bases characters on her past and borrows lines from teenaged girls in line ordering extra crispy chicken and Pepsi at the Kentucky Fried Chicken/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut that she dubs the Ken-Taco-Hut. This lame moniker confirms that Mavis is not a clever, frustrated writer who has taken easy work to support her higher pursuits of writing the great American novel. Mavis probably used her good looks and charms to land the writing job. Years of hard living are beginning to show their wear and tear, so it may be the best gig that she will ever have. After receiving a birth announcement from her high school boyfriend, Mavis packs up her bags and heads home to the small lake town where she is still revered as prom queen and the girl with the best hair. Her plan is to win back the old boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson).
Before she has a chance to meet up with Slade, she bumps into Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt). A young man she barely remembers. He reminds her that while he was looking at her from his adjacent locker, she was looking at herself in her heart shaped mirror. Oswalt often finds himself cast as the doughy outsider, because he plays it so well. They bond over bourbon. She guzzles it. He distills it, even blow torching his own oak barrels. Sadly it seems that Matt was just one tragic bullying story away from escaping the fishy smelling small town to pursue a more interesting life.
Mavis doesn’t really take the time to see who Matt has become, but even though he can’t quite stomach Mavis’s intentions, he succumbs to the attention she is giving him. Writer Diablo Cody has created a complex character in Mavis. Throughout the film she’s given plenty of chances to show concern and caring for others, who truly deserve it, but remains focused on herself. An insight to why is shown when her cry for help to her icy parents, is easily dismissed.
One shouldn’t expect the combination of Director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) and Cody to give us a triumphant ending, where each flawed character overcomes their shortcomings. Instead, the viewer may cringe as we watch Mavis peel back the layers on a few of hers.
As with any film where the characters attempt to recapture their youth, the cassette tape soundtrack is important. More important to the women than men, it would appear, as the same song has special meaning to both Mavis and Buddy’s wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) who covers the song with her band.
Although revealed in the trailer, Louisa Krause (Martha, Marcy Mae, Marlene) makes the most of only a few lines as the hotel front desk worker, who holds her own with the manipulative Mavis.
Although there are some exterior shots of the Minneapolis skyline, Mercury looks nothing like a small lake town in Minnesota. The small town shots lacked the inevitable corn field adjacent to what would most likely be a brand new Staples store, having sprung up long after Mavis’s departure. Movie goers looking for a comedic take on a tragic situation will be disappointed in this film, as none of the characters are as witty as writer Diablo Cody. But for a drama focusing on internal conflict, which may make you consider how your own life may or may not turn out, it hits the mark.
This film is rated R and runs 94 minutes.