I always wondered what happened to that girl from high school. You know the one, her locker was right next to yours for four straight years, but she never knew your name. She spent more time staring into the pocket mirror attached to the inside of her locker than at any of her classmates. She was homecoming and prom queen, she was socially above the common man, and all she wanted to do was see your small town in her rearview mirror as she escaped to the big city after graduation. Luckily for us, director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody have reconnected (they first worked together on Juno) to let us know exactly what happened to that girl from high school.
Mavis (Charlize Theron) is now 37, lives in Minneapolis, and is a ghostwriter for a young adult series (think Sweet Valley High) whose popularity is in severe decline. She wakes up every morning severely hung over from the night before, ignores her pocket-sized dog, and always has a dating website open on her web browser while she attempts to writer her next chapter just in case she gets a notification of a potential match. In other words, Mavis is not doing very well. An unexpected e-mail shakes her out of her stumbling stupor one morning when a birth announcement arrives from her long ago high school ex-boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson); he is now the father of a brand new baby girl.
Events are now set in motion as Mavis impulsively packs a suitcase, drives a few hours to her old and small hometown, and aims to break up Buddy and his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser). With no evidence whatsoever, Mavis just knows Buddy is unhappy in his marriage and longs to be rescued by the one girl he was meant to be with, Mavis. She considers the institution of marriage as a disease, a problem which can be cured through a quick divorce. Mavis also brings her old habits back to town with her; she continues to wake up slobbering drunk every morning, wears revealing clothes which would not only seem out of place in Minneapolis, but downright foreign in small town America, and whether intentionally or just plain out of habit, talks down condescendingly to anyone who never left town the way she did.
While guzzling one of her many double whiskeys at a local dive bar one night, Mavis runs into Matt (Patton Oswalt), a guy who she barely remembers from school. Matt reminds her his locker was right next to hers for four years and through a combination of proximity and drunkenness, Matt becomes Mavis’s confidant concerning her plans for Buddy and her overall expositions about love and marriage. Matt repeatedly attempts to point out the blatant flaws in her thinking, but there is no getting through to Mavis when she is on a chosen course.
As expected from a Diablo Cody screenplay, the dialogue is smart and snappy although Mavis is far from Juno. Juno was a realist who made sense of her confusing and difficult situation through sharp diatribes pointed at those around her. Mavis is a dreamer bordering on bipolar whose diatribes are more intentionally harmful than witty. Charlize Theron is wonderful at bringing to life Mavis’s shifting emotional phases from ecstasy when thinking about her future with Buddy to devastated when her wistful façade is accidentally punctured by reality now and then. Patton Oswalt is also effective as a wounded sounding board and fellow tortured soul.
Mavis’s life peaked in high school when she was the most popular girl in school and was the most popular she would be in her entire life. However, Mavis never realized high school ended, people moved on, and her popularity changed. In her mind, nothing has changed in 20 years and she is still the town’s prima donna. This makes for amusing scenes between her and the local town’s people, but it usually turns awkward quickly for anyone in a conversation with Mavis which lasts for more than the standard “Hi, how are you?” Something is not right with Mavis and it may be more than the alcohol problem and lonely Minneapolis life.
Following Mavis’s (mis)adventures to an endpoint is fascinating wondering how far she will go to win back her man and whether or not she will learn anything from her visit home. Please go check out Young Adult for a sharper and truer version of the big city person goes back home motif and also find out really happened to that impossibly popular girl from high school.