This film, produced by Juno director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, stars Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary who was a prom queen at her school in Mercury, Minnesota. Twenty years on she is a writer of children’s books. She is a divorcee, an alcoholic, and she pulls hair out of her head. She meets up with a former student, Matt Freehauf played by Patton Oswalt, who’d been beaten up on the mistaken assumption that he was gay. He is the plump nerd who worships the prom queen. Theron’s scheme is to win back her former boyfriend Buddy, played by Patrick Wilson. He is happily married and has a child. Theron causes embarrassment at the christening…
This is about the potentially hazardous business of the nostalgic return to earlier life. Theron is dissatisfied with her situation and she wants a triumph, to snatch her ex-boyfriend from his wife. She is so confident of her ability to do that, one is persuaded that arrogance and vanity are beside the point, it’s something that has to happen. Theron’s cheekbones don’t seem that high, so it’s the nose and eyes, right? She treats (plump nerd) with polite disdain, then a sort of friendliness as she learns what happened to him. This film spurns the chance to be a direct comedy of manners, it lacks wit and perception. Theron should be the charismatic gang leader and trend setter who everybody wants to be with, the sort of superbitch whose jokes everyone laughs at, and whose cruelty everyone wants to preen themselves on her reflected glory, but here she’s a psychological accident zone and ends up looking petulantly sad. Apart from the amiable Patrick Wilson, you wouldn’t want to spend too much time with any of these people, they are stuck in a provincial rut and don’t care to leave it. Minneapolis is the big city they dream of.
When a person returns to their alma mater, what can happen is either embarrassment, revenge, expiation, or appeasement. Ironically, the embarrassment comes from the ex-prom queen but the characters whose lives are mundane, see no reason to apologise for anything. Revenge is a non starter since no-one has done her any harm. Expiation is not in order, though Theron should apologise for her behaviour. Appeasement is unnecessary since there are no outstanding concerns. Theron presumably blames Wilson for not guaranteeing her present happiness, but was he expected to wait? There don’t seem to be any Sliding Door moments in this film, no painful entering into a fateful decision. It’s all well enough acted but there’s the feeling of a missed opportunity.