LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Nowhere is the old saying "beauty is only skin deep" less understood than in Hollywood where for years women have tried with sporadic success to overcome the notion that looks count for more than brains.
This past year two female-starring film comedies, "Bridesmaids" and "Bad Teacher," became smash hits based on the idea that women can behave badly and on Friday, a third, "Young Adult," hits theaters with a head-turning performance by Charlize Theron and written by Oscar winner Diablo Cody.
But Theron, Cody and director Jason Reitman are loathe to pigeonhole the film as just another funny story about a woman acting in impolite and socially incorrect ways. Instead, they see Theron's character, Mavis Gary, as a real-life person who is as flawed as anyone. And their take on Gary is winning praise from critics.
"I don't really see it as women behaving badly so much as multifaceted female characters," Theron said at a recent news conference. "You're actually seeing women in complicated, funny situations where you would normally see a man."
Theron sets out to prove that beauty may be skin deep, but ugly cuts to the bone in the role of hard-drinking Gary, a ghostwriter of young adult fiction who returns to her hometown to seduce her high school sweetheart -- never mind the fact that he is happily married and a new father.
The movie reunites Reitman and Cody who collaborated on the unlikely 2007 hit, "Juno," about an unconventional teenager who becomes pregnant and decides to keep the baby. She, of course, learns many life lessons during her nine-month pregnancy.
Cody said the screenplay for "Young Adult" was inspired by a newspaper story she read in her hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, where "Young Adult" is set. The story made her think about what might happen if an emotionally immature woman returns to the best time and place in her life -- high school.
"What if she thinks the only way she can reclaim that happiness is to go back and find the man who made her happy?" Cody wondered at the time.
Gary is not "behaving badly" -- as comedies "Bridesmaids" and "Bad Teacher" have been described in the media -- but simply chasing what everybody is, happiness.
Reitman characterized "women behaving badly" as a cheap term when it comes to describing "Young Adult" and said that he finds the female psyche more interesting than a man's.
""There's a long history of male characters (in movies) we love to hate, but there's actually very few female characters that we love to hate," Reitman said.
Once committed to the movie, he aggressively pursued Theron for the lead role of the passive aggressive Gary who spews hate with just about every word that comes from her mouth.
Critics, who for the most part have liked the film, know why. "In (Gary), it is her unintentional drive to destroy everything and anyone who comes close, and for this Theron uses her statuesque beauty as if it is just something else in life to be squandered," wrote Betsy Sharkey in the Los Angeles Times.
Theron initially passed on the role, but finally couldn't get the character Gary out of her head.
"It's obvious that she's delusional. But I didn't want to focus on whether she should do four-hours of therapy versus two hours," the actress said. She likened her character to "a beautiful car wreck" and said, "there's no cure for that."
In the movies, "women are usually either really good prostitutes or really good mothers. Maybe women are finally getting the chance to play more honest characters," Theron said. "We usually don't get to play bad hookers or bad mothers -- or anything in between."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte