The last time writer Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman teamed up they gave us Juno, a precious and precocious tale of teen pregnancy. It was irksome fare but this black-as-night comedy squashes the quirk quotient and delivers a squirmingly funny tale of one woman’s self delusion and vanity. Charlize Theron plays glamorous Mavis Gary, a writer of romances for young adults who lives a nocturnal life of vexed desperation, missed deadlines, (reality) TV dinners, alcohol binges and one night stands.

When an email from her ex-boyfriend Buddy (Little Children's Patrick Wilson as the classic decent-but-dim nice guy) pops into her inbox as she spends another aimless afternoon in her grubby Minneapolis condo, she undertakes a mission to the backwater where she grew up to win him back. It doesn’t matter to her that Buddy is now happily married and has just become a father for the first time.

Mavis arrives in town as the former prom queen made good with open contempt for her former high school contemporaries, but what really gnaws at her abject lack of self-confidence, self-awareness and her blind selfishness is the fact that her schoolmates have moved on and settled into ordinary, happy lives. She sets about winning her old flame back with a stalker’s delusion and in the process finds a drinking buddy in Matt Freehauf (a brilliant Patton Oswalt), a former high school geek left disabled by jocks who’d beaten him in the mistaken belief that he was gay.

Of course, the emotional cripple here is Mavis herself. This is easily Theron’s best performance since Monster, another movie in which she played a psychotic of a different sort, and she is utterly convincing as the bitter former high school mean girl who can’t seem to grow up.

Alan Corr