Messed-up Mavis Gary (Theron), divorced, alcoholic author of adolescent fiction, heads for her home town hellbent on reclaiming ex-boyfriend Buddy (Wilson) from his inconvenient wife and newborn baby. Mavis' reputation as the beautiful mean girl at high school endures as she follows her self-absorbed path of destruction.
The reunion of Jason Reitman, who hasn’t put a directorial foot wrong yet, with Academy Award-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody proves that Juno was no fluke. And this definitely is not Juno 2, but a scabrously funny, tragi-comic portrait of a pathological queen bitch who won’t grow up.
What a piece of work is Mavis Gary. Mavis is the eternal, unrepentant mean girl and one of those people incapable of self-editing. She just opens her mouth and says whatever she’s thinking, like great boors of today who erroneously confuse being obnoxiously rude with being honest and genuine. Mavis is not that stupid, but she is heedless. Our better angels are gasping in horror or wincing in embarrassment while she says the most awful things, but our inner meanies are savouring remarks some of us might think but few of us would ever dare to utter.
Charlize Theron, in possibly her best performance yet, does a remarkable job with this potentially odious, decidedly delusional woman. While she won her Oscar for uglying up as Monster’s tormented serial killer Aileen Wuornos, her Mavis is getting slovenly but is still pretty outside — a knockout when she meticulously dolls up for a date with a mani-pedi, maquillage and dress-to-impress ritual as practised as a warrior’s preparations for battle. Inside she’s in a depressed, slobbish decline she can’t acknowledge, even as we see her unconscious hair-twiddling tic is making scabby bald patches in her scalp. We first see Mavis sprawled prostrate on the morning after the night before, flat out where she obviously fell down drunk. She’s hopelessly late with what is to be the last in a past-it series of girlie novels, and she’s indifferent to the needs of her itsy dog Dolce, who is required only fitfully as an accessory. And then her email delivers a new-baby announcement that energises her with purpose. She will rescue the old love of her life (an endearingly innocent, easygoing Patrick Wilson) from the domesticity into which he has contentedly settled.
The entire ensemble is spot-on, from the women who knew Mavis in her horrid high-school heyday to her uneasy parents. Comedian Patton Oswalt delivers a breakout turn as the classmate Mavis never noticed, a sardonic, scarred soul beaten and left permanently disabled by the kind of boys Mavis hung out with and the only one to whom she can turn now (for his garage-brewed bourbon more than his pointed insights).
Some of the choicest moments are Mavis’ solo but hardly soul-searching scenes, like her solitary road trip as she zooms from Minneapolis to the burg of Mercury, rather like the Wicked Witch Of The West in her grim determination but caterwauling along to the ’90s mix tape erstwhile beau Buddy once made her. Theron’s face is an encyclopaedia of trapped-in-dolescence reactions, from giddy rapture to the “who just passed gas?” grimace of distaste. Then there are the moments she spares to work on her trashy teen opus, nonchalantly eavesdropping on gabbing girls in fast food joints for on-point titbits. What parallels there are between Mavis and Diablo Cody, also a Minnesota girl, is anybody’s guess, but Cody’s facility with real-sounding dialogue suggests she’s all ears to other people’s conversations herself. It’s a performance that easily could have been pathetic, bathetic or simply annoying, but Theron is so unbridled and yet so perfectly nuanced — and Reitman’s direction so direct and so tightly calibrated between the blackly comic and the seriously sad — you can’t have enough of her. At a safe remove.
Smart, honest, sickeningly funny and supremely well judged in the writing, direction and acting.