The film stars Charlize Theron as the unfortunately-named Mavis Gary, a ghost writer responsible for a series of young adult novels that sound a great deal like the Sweet Valley High books of years past. But even this is a huge success story compared to the rest of the redneck town she sprang from, Mercury, Minnesota. You would think that the snooty urbanite living in a monolithic high-rise apartment building couldn’t care less about her backwater hometown, but she hops in her Mini Cooper straight away after receiving a baby announcement from her high school beau, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) – and his wife.
As we ponder the likelihood of a Mini Cooper equipped with a tape deck, we are treated – or perhaps tortured – by an overlong credits sequence played in front of what is almost magnetic tape porn. Seriously, someone involved in this film must get hot watching tapes do their thing. That, and Mavis keeps rewinding her favorite song, Teenage Fanclub’s “The Concept,” so we get to listen to that over and over again too. It is a semi-important point later in the movie…but still.
Eventually Mavis makes it from Minneapolis to Mercury and we discover the true purpose of her journey – to somehow seduce and win back the happily married and newly-minted father. It is insane and gets insaner.
Patton Oswalt’s character, Matt Freehauf, exists largely to remind us of what we can plainly see…Mavis has a screw loose. One of the many people from high school she doesn’t remember, Matt was the victim of a brutal beating that left his leg – and more importantly his cock – crippled. In fact, this is the only way Mavis remembers him at all, as the kid who got the shit beat out of him. Over a few drinks, the two broken people form a broken bond over what I can only assume is the fact that they are both broken. Mavis spills to Matt that she plans on retaking Buddy and isn’t the least bit deterred when Matt tells her she’s a lunatic.
Things obviously spiral from there, but it never gets crazy enough or the dialogue snappy enough to truly be entertaining. Mostly it’s an uncomfortable sit-through as you begin to realize Mavis isn’t just misguided, she’s full-blown sociopathic. Little things like finding Slade’s high school hoodie and then wearing it in public or going to a Macy’s and telling the saleswoman point-blank that she’s trying to steal a married man just lead up to the massive crescendo of awkwardness that is the “baby naming ceremony” in which Mavis drops the pretense of idle flirting and tells a horrified Buddy straight-up that she wants him to run away with her. This goes about as well as you might expect, climaxing in her telling the entire assembled party that she miscarried Buddy’s child years ago which might explain the whole crazy thing…but certainly doesn’t excuse it.
Predictably, Mavis and Matt end up in each other’s arms for a night of crooked, self-loathing pleasure. Mirroring a scene earlier in the movie, Mavis sneaks out the door the morning after only to run into Matt’s sister. They strike up a conversation over the kitchen table and Mavis finally realizes she has some serious fucking problems. But the sister – who clearly idolized Mavis in high school and still does – steers her away from the life-changing epiphany and insists she’s fine the way she is, which is about the only surprise in the whole film. Mavis departs Mercury the same way she arrived, a twisted, self-absorbed psycho.
And considering that the film has none of the wit or spark of some of writer Diablo Cody’s other screenplays and you can scarcely root for any of the characters, we leave the same way we came in – looking for a good movie to watch.