Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is Diablo Cody’s excuse to punish the popular girls of her youth. Time has passed since High School and she’s still as vain and shallow as ever, while struggling to come to terms with her hollow existence. Predictably she is at last to grow, though this development is understated and delayed. For the most part she is thoroughly unsympathetic, and that’s what the film’s mechanics operate about.
Upon the announcement of a former flame’s (Patrick Wilson) newborn child, she packs her bag (and dog in the bag) and heads to her “hick” hometown to, we soon find out, win him back. Destroying a marriage is just collateral damage. While there, she runs into some other schoolmates who clearly don’t have fond memories of her, one of whom (Patton Oswalt) is a neat device for the protagonist to exposit to – the difference between this being a short and a feature.
Some neat storytelling here and there raise this above the feeling of having heard this one before in a bad sitcom, while the performances are solid, especially Oswalt who brings great presence. Most interesting for me, the protagonist (herself a writer of High School-set fiction) inevitably begins to reflect the writer, of Juno and Jennifer’s Body fame. For director Jason Reitman, it’s a step down after the greatly more complex Up in the Air, but a good film as a stepping stone is no great crime.