Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, James Marsden, Kyle Bornheimer, Rebel Wilson, Adam Scott, Ann Dowd
Running Time: 87 min.
★★ ½ (out of ★★★★)
That the dark comedy Bachelorette is a an uneven mess is both its greatest attribute and biggest flaw. If it wasn't this sloppy I'm not sure it would have been as compelling, but it definitely would have been a better film. So, call it a trade-off. Trailers and commercials sold it as another Bridesmaids but that this couldn't possibly have less in common with it is actually good news. And it doesn't wear its heart on its sleeve and most definitely doesn't aim to please. The characters are mean, cruel, selfish, and at times, disgusting, but at least they feel real as writer/director Leslye Headland sacrifices little to give audiences a brutally honest, unflinching portrayal of women behaving very badly. The problem is it's only occasionally funny, which is an issue for a comedy featuring somewhat detestable characters. I say "somewhat" because there is a double standard at play. If this were about men they'd just call it The Hangover but when women characters do stuff like this onscreen they're usually labeled "bitches." Unfortunately, the shoe occasionally fits here. Of the three leads, one's a promiscuous drug addict continuously reliving high school. The other is a vacuous airhead with no clue how to relate to other people. Only the third and thankfully most important character seems like a multi-dimensional human being whose occasional cruelty gives way to surprising amount of competence and empathy. After an awful start the movie finds its groove in the second half with one actress doing all the work to drag everything over the finish line. But by then the damage is already done.
In a clever, fast-paced opening, bad girl Regan (Kirsten Dunst) is informed over lunch by former high school classmate Becky (Rebel Wilson) that she's getting married. Regan quickly alerts Gina (Lizzy Caplan) and Katie (Isla Fisher) that they'll all be attending the wedding of the girl they called "Pigface" in high school. The relationship between all the girls and Becky is never entirely clear (friends? enemies? frenemies?) but the plot hits the ground running immediately without looking back. They're all reunited for the bachelorette party where a number of disasters ensue throughout the night involving drugs, alcohol, sex, jealousy, strip clubs and a ruined wedding dress. The presence of Gina's ex-boyfriend Clyde (Adam Scott) complicates matters, as does Joe (Kyle Bornheimer), a former classmate with a longtime crush on Katie, and the best man Trevor (James Marsden), who his sights set on Regan. It'll be up to her, the maid of honor, to hold it all together so Becky can make it to the alter in the midst of old grudges and past relationships bubbling to the surface.
A lot is juggled in the span of just under an hour and a half. As expected, some works and some doesn't, but it's never laugh-out-loud funny. It's more of a dark comedy revolving around insecurity, regret and failure amongst women in their early thirties set against the backdrop of one disastrously thrilling evening. Whereas the overlong Bridesmaids had the problem of shoehorning serious and overly sentimental elements into what's supposed to be a gross-out comedy, this contains plotlines that sometimes feel deadly serious and tries to milk them for laughs. Amazingly, this approach is occasionally more successful than you'd think thanks to a biting script and capable performers. At least until the third act, it rarely shies away from painting these characters as selfish and insensitive at best. Save for the bride-to-be they have very few redeeming qualities, which is actually kind of courageous to do for a female-driven comedy that probably would have been more successful as a drama.
All the storylines and half-developed sub-plots yield mixed results, without us ever really being invested in them. The sub-plot involving Dunst and Marsden's characters doesn't really go anywhere, Fisher's irritating, constantly drunk Katie character torpedoes a mini-romance involving the nerdy Joe, and a heavy backstory with Caplan and Scott can't quite find the right tone to take hold like it should. But it does all feel realistic to a fault. I'll give it that. And we're again given the rare opportunity to see Adam Scott play kind of a jerk. He's surprisingly good at it, even if Caplan and Scott would probably top anyone's list of actors they'd least like to see tackle unlikable characters. But even in their unlikability, the former Party Down co-stars still come off fairly likable, which is no small feat considering the material they're handed. Rebel Wilson is unusually restrained as the optimistic moral center and it's a nice relief to discover that, aside from the whole "Pigface" thing, her character's never turned into a joke and is sincere. But the movie completely belongs to Kirsten Dunst, who's simply amazing. She totally takes over in the final act, juggling so many tones at once and just tearing through the material to the point that she almost redeems the film. Somehow bringing order to the chaos, she digs to provide some answers and explanations for Regan's terrible behavior that couldn't have been in the script. The many fans of Dunst and Caplan will probably be thrilled with what each does here, while Fisher, saddled with a thankless boozer part, can't help but seem like the third wheel.
I'd still probably sooner watch Bachelorette again than the overpraised, but more cleanly executed Bridesmaids since this at least took risks and tried something different. Plus, it's only 87 minutes. If only every comedy were between 80 and 110 minutes. Especially in this case. Even just a few minutes more with these characters would have been too much. It's an easy, breezy watch that, despite a myriad of issues, hardly qualifies as a slog or complete waste of time. And any comedy featuring Adam Scott badly singing The Proclaimers' "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" could never be considered a total disaster. That Will Ferrell produced this isn't surprising, as it does kind of feel like a Funny or Die sketch that's longer, meaner and just not quite as funny. But it is interesting and thankfully seems made without any concern as to whether audiences will enjoy it, take away any message or like the characters. You have to respect that. If a comedy's going to fail, we should be so lucky that it fails with as much ambition as this one.