Charlize Theron was the popular girl in school, but that was many years ago. She now finds herself at age 37 recently divorced, and although she’s largely responsible for the success of a series of teen Goth romance novels, it’s basically as a ghost writer. She has writer’s block, is an alcoholic, obsessively pulls her hair, and oh yeah, she’s a self-absorbed bitch. Then one day she receives an email from her former high school flame (Patrick Wilson), wanting to inform her of the little bundle of joy he and his wife (Elizabeth Reaser, ironically a “Twilight” alum) have just had. Theron is so overjoyed for them that she decides to race back to her hometown (where it appears she’s the only one who left) and get her hooks back into Wilson. Because they are meant to be together, apparently. She finds, however, that Wilson is happily married and Reaser is a warm-hearted, nice woman who even tries to be friendly towards Theron. Not that Theron will be deterred, I mean how could Wilson possibly enjoy married life or being a dad? That’s her way of thinking at least. Meanwhile, Theron runs into former high school social outcast Patton Oswalt, who was once beaten up because people thought he was gay, and still has the unfortunate wounds to show for it. Perhaps sensing she’s as lonely as he is, Oswalt does his best to warn Theron against what will surely be embarrassment for herself. Collette Wolfe plays Oswalt’s bored sister, Jill Eikenberry is Theron’s mother, while Mary Beth Hurt plays Wilson’s mother.
There’s some interesting stuff in this 2011 black comedy from director Jason Reitman (the excellent “Up in the Air”) and writer Diablo Cody (the nauseatingly ‘hip’ indie darling “Juno”) about the depression, regret, and disappointments of post high school life. It’s something a lot of people can relate to, myself included. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Reaser and her fellow mums rocked it out in a musical performance where you could see the characters were clearly having fun and possibly reminiscing about pre baby-making life (or at least escaping it for a few minutes). Unfortunately, there isn’t a single laugh in the entire film and spending 90 minutes with a truly horrible, selfish lead character didn’t do a whole lot for me. Understanding somewhat where a character is coming from and sitting through their selfish, rather unpleasant behaviour are two totally different things. In fact, she’s clearly got issues (including alcoholism and a weird habit of pulling out her hair- clearly there’s some psychological issues at play) and is just as selfish at the end as she is in the beginning, if perhaps happier. Good for her, not so good for everyone else. By the close, at least one person deserves an apology from Theron and doesn’t get it, one person is basically loved and left (but Theron feels better for it), and another begs Theron to do something for them and she refuses. I was especially miffed that after a rather affecting and refreshingly real love scene of sorts, practically nothing is made of it subsequently.
The film seems to lack a real ending, to be honest, and as I said, Theron’s character is tough to be around. But that might be because she’s got psychological issues and so by the end of the film, having not really dealt with those issues shouldn’t be a surprise. That doesn’t mean it makes for a satisfying conclusion, however. Still, unlikeable as it is, it’s not uninteresting material, and certainly better than “Bad Teacher” (though it’s probably better to compare it to Cody’s “United States of Tara”, given the obvious instability of Theron’s character).
Theron is merely OK in the lead, Oswalt, Reaser, and the underrated Wolfe (not in the film enough) are even better, though Oswalt’s character is probably a bit too unfortunate. I mean, he was a high school loser, the victim of a school gay hate crime (despite not actually being gay), has an unfortunate injury, lives with his sister, and has a typically geeky action figure collection. Did he really need all of those things? Patrick Wilson, meanwhile, still manages to find work despite being the cinematic equivalent of beige wallpaper. Actually, that’s an insult to beige wallpaper, which at least serves a purpose. Why would one woman, let alone two be interested in him? At least in “Watchmen” he was in tight rubber and some chicks are into that.
It’s not a terrible film by any means, but wasn’t there meant to be, y’know, laughs? I barely cracked a smile. I’ll blame this one more on the overrated Cody than the talented Reitman (then again, Reitman directed “Juno” too). I suppose it’s kinda bold to have a rather unlikeable character at the centre of what is essentially a romantic comedy, but it results in no laughs and an unsatisfying conclusion. It just doesn’t come off.