In real life, nobody learns anything very quickly and people rarely change. That's one reason we go to movies, to see the unreal modeled as though it were attainable. I believe that scenario to be less pathetic than aspirational, by the way.
If real life functioned like it does on screen, humanity would evolve quickly, getting better and better every single day, learning from cathartic, dramatic experiences or life-changing summers and road trips. Which is why I'm happy to report that in this new film from Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, movie logic gets its clock cleaned. Sort of.
It worried me, going in, that the Juno resolution bug would bite it and, after 100 minutes of people who all talk like Diablo Cody got finished zinging one-liners at each other, an incandescent epiphany would afflict Charlize Theron and the young adult of the title would finally grow up. But...
Theron plays a high school prom queen, now 37, divorced, alcoholic and about to lose the job she has ghost-writing a popular YA series of books in the vein of Sweet Valley High (guess who's planning to write the movie version?). She goes home to her small Minnesota town for one reason: to steal back her ex-boyfriend (Patrick Wilson), a happily married new father. But she stumbles over speed bumps in her quest to destroy his relationship with an exceptionally cool Breeders T-shirt-wearing woman who drums in an all-mommy band called Nipple Confusion. Everyone else has moved on with their lives, so Theron wanders into a sad-sack, drinking-buddy relationship with Patton Oswalt, the depressed, clear-thinking, disabled nerd who still lives with his sister. Nothing's going like she wants it to, the old rules don't apply anymore and she's cozying up to the high school loser. It's Molly Ringwald's character from The Breakfast Club dropped into the bad-luck world of her character in 16 Candles.
As you follow the movie to a place it seems pretty confident taking you, questions about Theron's character surface. For starters, if she's so unrepentantly not-thoughtful and unwilling to be observant of the human condition, how is she a successful novelist, even of a series with a strict "character bible" she has to follow? How has she resisted any intrusion into her brand of narcissism? She's the kind of insane caricature of a woman you'd see on the reality series You're Cut Off more than a reality-based human. How do we take this person's actions seriously at all? The movie may be a warning against her type of personality, but its central character feels less true than everyone else surrounding her. That warning sometimes feels beside the point.
And just then, the movie does something you're not expecting. I guess this will count as some kind of spoiler, but I'll try to keep it as mysterious as I can. As Oswalt's pain-wracked side character steps in time after time to drag the plot back into cold truthfulness, after you've gotten fed up with Theron and you wonder what's going to come along to tenderize everything, you get left hanging. And it feels like just the right thing.
Or not. Maybe you'll want a nicer, neater resolution. It's fine if you do. Especially when a movie flirts this much with warmth and gently happy endings, it may be more of a harsh slap than you want. But I'm not that person. I don't need it. And if Theron's messy monster of a high school princess had been a little less of a now-too-familiar and stereotypical mean girl, it would be great instead of good. I would have bought the whole thing.