Though obviously still very attractive, she’s pushing 40, and the bloom is off the rose. It’s been a long time since she was the high school beauty queen, and yet, emotionally, she can’t seem to get herself unstuck from there. Career-wise, she’s moderately successful, as a ghostwriter for a “young adult” series, which are thinly-disguised romance novels for pubescent girls, but the series has already run its course, even though she’s still working on the last installment. After this gig is over, she has no idea what she’ll be doing.
Which is part of the reason she finds herself journeying from the big city Minneapolis, back to her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota, laptop thrown in the back of her Mini Cooper, checking into the Hampton Inn and trying to re-connect with her old high school flame, Buddy (Patrick Wilson). The trouble is, Buddy is a happily married man with a baby girl. Mavis has no problem with openly and blatantly going after him. But while “getting up the courage” in the local bar, she meets up with another guy from high school, somebody who wasn’t her buddy at all. In fact, back then she wouldn’t even give him the time of day, though her locker was right next to his. It seems that Matt (Patton Oswalt) is, by his own description, a “fat, crippled dork” who was famously the victim of a high school hate crime: He got beat up by some cruel football players for being gay. The irony is that he wasn’t gay. But he was permanently disfigured. And not a little self-pitying because of it.
Mavis and Matt form a strange friendship, based on caustic wit, sarcastic humor, searing honesty and absolutely no personal attraction. In fact, they pretty much despise each other, except as a drinking buddy and somebody to “vent” with, not seeming to realize how close they both are to pathetic (writer Diablo Cody’s dark wit at work). They both enjoy making fun of everyone else, including each other. Matt makes no secret of his loathing for Mavis’ shameless play on the unsuspecting Buddy. Mavis figures Buddy’s a big boy, he can make his own choices, and who is Matt, anyway, as a guy who’s still obsessed with Star Wars action figures, to advise her about relationships? Yes, they’re both amazingly emotionally stunted for their age, having never developed beyond post-high-school blitz drinking and insipid social isolation. Both are quick to retreat into their personal fantasy worlds, she with her writing and he with his painting, and both are much better at belittling others than interacting constructively with them.
There’s an incredibly awkward, embarrassing scene when a rejected Mavis makes a fool of herself in front of Buddy and everybody else, and flees in abject confusion, to the waiting arms of….Matt? Yes, and that’s even more awkward.
There’s no “happily ever after” here. The story could hardly be called uplifting. And yet the combination of self-absorption, buffoonery and dark social commentary somehow make the interaction between these two main characters vivid enough to be memorable. If not exactly laudable.
Ronald P. Salfen is interim pastor at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.