Charlize Theron's new movie, "Young Adult," serves as seasonal cinematic mouthwash, clearing away the leftover holiday spirits. The element of surprise makes it more bracing, because it comes packaged as an innocuous romantic comedy.
As Mavis Gary, a ghostwriter of preppy romances aimed at teen girls, Theron seems as successful as a blonde, beautiful, well-off denizen of the fairly big city of Minneapolis might expect to be. But her life is like that box of chocolates: under the smooth exterior, there's a mix of bad choices, outdated tastes and nuttiness that might crack a molar.
When me meet her, she's leaving her cleanly minimalist apartment, packing her lapdog into a designer bag, and driving her Mini Cooper out on the highway to a land of a strip malls and super stores. In other words, she's headed to her smallish, all-American hometown.
The only discordant note is that her car is still equipped with a tape player. And Mavis keeps hitting rewind to replay "The Concept" by Teenage Fanclub. For those whose memories have blurred, the refrain is, "I didn't want to hurt you oh yeah... I didn't want to hurt you oh yeah."
As it develops, Mavis' marriage ended in divorce and now the series of gossipy, girlish fantasy novels that she churns out for the original creator is also coming to an end. The previous books are on the remaindered table even as her publisher keeps calling to demand the final volume.
Like the millions or billions of others whose GPS of life missed a few turns and led someplace unexpected, Mavis is trying to retrace her steps back to where things were good. That would be the 1990s in general and high school in particular. Like the principal character in her work-in-progress novel, Mavis is caught up in the idea that she belongs with her soulmate. In this case, that's her high school-college beau, Buddy.
There's at least one problem. Buddy, the well-cast Patrick Wilson, is happily married with a new baby daughter. His cheerful wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) is no shrinking violet. Her idea of a night out with the girls is playing drums in a rock band, whose other members are less than enthralled to see that "psychotic former prom queen" in the audience.
For her part, Mavis can mouth the socially appropriate words about Beth and baby, but the belief withers on her lips. When another character describes the child as adorable, Mavis is truly shocked. "Have you seen it?" she demands. "Up close?"
For this princess is used to stories where everything works out for girls like her. Knocking back bourbons, wearing stiletto heels and slinky tops that somehow manage to reveal more cleavage than Theron actually has, Mavis feels empowered enough to publicly discuss her plans with another old school chum.
Well, not chum exactly. Short, rotund Matt Freehauf had the locker next to hers throughout high school, although Mavis only remembers him as "hate crime boy." Some jocks horribly beat Matt under the mistaken impression that he was gay, and he still suffers with a crutch and brace.