A high-school prom queen, Mavis (Charlize Theron) having ‘escaped’ from her small-town roots and gone to live in the city as a writer of teen romances, ghost writing for an established series that is about to be cancelled, has a shitty life, writer’s block and seems to be depressive, watching daytime tv and lacking any connection to people, her only companion one of those little yappy dogs that are used as fashion accessories. She receives an email from her school sweetheart, Buddy (Patrick Wilson) proudly showing off his new baby, and decides that Buddy is the missing thing in her life and sets off back to her old home town to ‘free’ him and win him back; they were obviously ‘meant’ to be together.
This basic plot, whilst not exactly romantic, is not far removed from many of the rom-coms we’ve seen over the last few years, in which basically stalkerish behaviour is presented as somehow adorable. The difference here is that Mavis’ behaviour is always shown as obsessive and borderline mentally ill – but we are still encouraged to empathise with her even though we’re by no means intended to approve of what she’s doing. Part of this is through her growing friendship with Matt (Patton Oswalt), a boy she totally ignored at school (along with 90% of those other kids who were too uncool for her then) and who was left permanently disabled after being attacked by ‘jocks’ under the misapprehension that he was gay. Matt has a somewhat sour outlook on life (understandably) made worse by the fact that his moment of fame as the victim of a hate crime was then ignored when it transpired that he wasn’t, after all, gay – as if his victimhood had been devalued. Matt is a scabrous conscience here, telling Mavis the truth but not actually sabotaging her deranged plans.
I found myself comparing this film to Bad Teacher, the totally unfunny ‘comedy’ last year and realising that it was the total lack of reality or characterisation in that film that left its supposed ‘darker’ elements just leaving a bad taste and the lack of empathy for the characters that made its jokes so flat. This film is not riotously funny but it is has frequent laughs, and is also often quite moving, shifting between scathing and sentimental as its characters do quite convincingly.