Charlize Theron plays a different kind of monster in this darkly comic reunion for director Jason Reitman and Oscar-winning writer Diablo Cody, aka 'Team Juno'. She's Mavis Gary, a deluded former prom queen who returns to her dull hometown to lure her old boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) away from his wife and newborn baby. TV funnyman Patton Oswalt is the nerdy ex-classmate who tries to prevent the inevitable emotional car crash. But how do you deal with a homecoming queen who won't go away?
After winning an Oscar for getting under the skin of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Charlize Theron proves you don't have to fatten up and ugly down to play a monster.
Meet Mavis Gary - sexy, independent, and pretty successful as the ghost-writer of a book series aimed at 'young adults'. Or so it would seem.
The reality is that her life is a slatternly mess of binge drinking and one-night stands. Still, having retained the selfish mindset that made her the school it-girl 20 years ago, she can totally relate to her teenage audience. Sadly, her books are dwindling in popularity faster than she is.
While struggling to meet her last deadline, Mavis gets an email heralding the arrival of a new baby for her high school sweetheart Buddy (Wilson) and his wife Beth (Twilight matriarch Elizabeth Reaser). Taking it as both an affront and a challenge, the deranged divorcee packs her Pomeranian and heads back to their hometown to win him back.
She finds the place as humdrum as ever. Ditto the people, like dumpy former classmate Matt (Oswalt), memorable only as the victim of the school's most notorious bullying incident. "You're the Hate Crime guy!" she finally recalls.
But throughout her campaign of seduction, Matt supplies the voice of reason. Which makes him a drag. He also supplies her with home-brewed hooch. Which makes him much more useful.
And so, driven by the sort of delusion that only a terminally self-obsessed former prom queen can generate, Mavis sets about getting her claws into Buddy. And nothing as trivial as his happiness is going to stand in her way.
After dipping their toes into Hollywood's more accessible pool with Up In The Air and Jennifer's Body respectively, director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody are back on suburba firma with the cutting barbs and everyday drollity that made Juno such a joy.
Unsurprisingly, with the main character being such a grotesque it's a deliberately darker and less outwardly appealing affair. But while you wouldn't trust her with your bunny, you sense that Mavis is not entirely irredeemable. Perfectly balancing credibility and mental instability, Theron gives her surprising depth.
Of course, the irony is that while her stay-at-home peers have carved out happily ordinary lives, it's high-flying Mavis who has never really moved on. But what makes her so compelling is that whenever she looks like learning the error of her ways, she doesn't.
While Oswalt's Matt provides an engaging, Jiminy Cricket-like foil, Mavis's every move fills one with dread. So when the climax turns out to be less cringe-makingly horrible than it could have been, it will come as either a vague disappointment or a great relief.
Either way, you'll still be watching through your fingers.