If you saw stupendously gorgeous Mavis Gary (played by stupendously gorgeous Charlize Theron) out on the prowl in the big city, fully made-up, and draped in a cocktail dress, you’d probably step aside in awe. A woman like that must have an amazing life. Shoot, she carries herself like she has an amazing life. But, some days she wakes up, face-down, fully dressed, drooling on her bed after a late night bender. Other mornings she has to slither out from under the arm of another date. She guzzles 2-liter bottles of Diet Coke for breakfast, lives in a high-rise sty, and has writer’s block, which is bad for a writer (“I’m an author!”), even if the books are ghost-written teen novels.
Mavis gets an email blast from the past from her ex-boyfriend, the love of her high-school life. Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) and his wife are happy to announce their new baby! She stares at the baby picture blankly, slightly inquisitively, as though she is looking at the picture of an alien. She decides right then and there that Buddy needs to be rescued from his obviously dismal life, trapped in small town, Minnesota. Trapped by the wife and kid. Trapped by working at the same factory as his father. There is no way he can be happy. Determined, Mavis hops into her Mini, high-school mix-tape on repeat, on a quest to reunite with her true love.
OK, can I just say that this movie made me really uncomfortable. A black, black comedy, I wasn’t sure when and where I was supposed to laugh. Charlize, to her credit, is a spot-on selfish bitch. If she was slapstick and over-the-top, it would be easy to mock her. But the truth is, in her beauty, she has power. She may have kind of a pathetic life, but her cool terseness can make a shopping mall cashier quake, and an ex-schoolmate (who once had snuck cookies into Mavis’ locker as a tribute), still drools at Mavis’ seemingly inherent coolness.
What we all know is that being the Queen of High School doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter when you are an adult… right? But the most wince-inducing moment in the film involves Mavis, drunk, flipping out when Buddy’s wife spills a drink on Mavis at the baby shower. Mavis, in a couture outfit, looks out of place among the jeans, flannel, and squealing kids running around on the lawn. But when she flips out and screams, “You BITCH!” to the shock and horror of the guests, she may as well be Voldemort shooting bolts of fire from her eyeballs. Mavis, just because of her confidence and beauty, still has such inherent power over the peasant-folk, that they can’t help but cower at her rage, even as they pity her.
And that’s kind of how I felt about the whole movie. I’m not sure who the intended audience is. Mavis is too scary for the nerds to completely point and laugh at her. And she is still to confident (even if her confidence is self-delusional) for the beautiful (who rule the earth) to see that Mavis is actually being mocked.
All I can say is, thank goodness for Patton Oswalt, bless his heart, for being in this film. Oswalt plays a chubby ex-classmate of Mavis’. He is hobbled physically and mentally after being gay-bashed in high school (the “joke” was that he wasn’t even gay!). He is jaded enough to have gotten over his fear of the popular girl, which allows them to become sort of friends… or at least drinking buddies. He is the only one who brings out a glimmer of humanity in Mavis, and the only one who calls her out on her fucked-up plan. Whenever sweet Matt is not on screen, the movie’s soul drains as quickly as a nerds’ confidence in the presence of the Queen Bitch of High School. So when Matt says to Mavis, with self-depreciating humor, “Guys like me are born loving women like you.” I wanted to scream, “Yes, Matt! But you can do better! Soooo much better!”