OGDEN, Utah — What is it about weddings? And, more importantly, what is it about female-lead wedding movies?
In Bachelorette, three girls must come to terms with why exactly it bothers them so much that their overweight friend from high school is getting married first. Short answer: It’s got nothing to do with the bride.
The new Will Ferrell-produced and well-cast film, which screened Friday at Ogden’s sparkling Egyptian Theater at the end of theSundance Film Festival, has been compared endlessly by film critics to last year’s Bridesmaids. The real issue here, though, is not that Bachelorette is jumping on the Bridesmaids bandwagon, but that the commercial success of funny, female-written, female-performed movies like Bridesmaids is helping films like Bachelorette get attention.
Actually, Bachelorette was a play first — one that was lighting up stages before Kristen Wiig was serenading jets full of travelers on the big screen. And in the film, writer/director Leslye Headland, who also created the play, has made a film that shares only the central themes of women and weddings with Bridesmaids. Headland’s film is a dark and daring story, though less consistent than Wiig’s, about three very different women brought together for a wild night of mishaps by their mutual past.
In Bachelorette girlfriends Regan (Kirsten Dunst), Gena (Lizzy Caplan), and Katie (Isla Fisher) are horrified when their heavy pal Becky (Rebel Wilson), who everyone called Pig Face in high school, announces she is the first of their high school clique to be getting married. Regan doesn’t understand why she wasn’t the first to the altar. And Gena and Katie, while knowing they’re both too messy for nuptials, also don’t comprehend why pretty and perfect Regan isn’t tying the knot first. Although the women might all fit into some sort of stereotype — the Smart/Perfect One, the Dark Party Girl, the Former Prom Queen Who Works Retail, etc. — the stereotypes work, and make for a believable (and comedic) circle of friends.
After the characters are established, things don’t really get going until the money quote. “Gena brought cocaine!” yells Katie when the girls reunite for the rehearsal dinner and bachelorette party. Then everything seems to come undone. When their playful laughs around Becky inadvertently hurt her at her party the three girls are left on their own to hoover lines of coke from the coffee table of their suite and open up about how pathetic their lives actually are.
The fact that running around high on coke and carelessly messing things up for others is a symptom of bigger problems for all three girls shouldn’t be news to anyone — particularlyAdam Scott, who plays Gena’s ex and notes that her sarcasm and drug use “isn’t cute anymore.” It also shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone watching the film. But in this (at times very funny) movie, it adds a tinge of sobering reality to what could have easily been another funny “what happened last night” storyline. Instead of just laughing everything off, the characters are all forced to at least touch the surface of their problems.
While Bachelorette‘s darker side is one of its more appealing attributes it shies away from getting too truly dark, passing over the more important moments of “reality” and sort of pretending they didn’t happen. While it may be the director’s choice to not let a fun wedding comedy get too heavy, when emotional things do happen they are shockingly unrealistic. Too often moments with heft are glazed over with a “See? Everything’s OK!” outcome untrue to the slice of real life the movie is trying to portray.
Sort of like in the Hangovers of the world, where girls are present but are mostly just along for the ride, Bachelorette’s men are there as tools to help the ladies figure themselves out. Scott’s Clyde plays the most prominent role, since their relationship is the source of Gena’s recent demise, but nerdy groomsman Joe (Kyle Bornheimer) and best man Trevor (James Marsden) don’t get to play characters nearly as well formed. Bornheimer’s touching scenes with Fisher, however, make his the best performance of all the male supporting cast (unless it’s one of the many Party Down reunions that Caplan and Scott share, trading their dry humor — and saliva — as naturally as ever).
In a similar way to other female-written or co-written movies of the past year, like Celeste and Jesse Forever (also at Sundance this year) and Bridesmaids, the complexity of Bachelorette’s main characters and the honesty of the female roles (even if they are somewhat stereotypical), are refreshing to audiences, even if the movie itself doesn’t always hit its mark.