Sunday, 9 September 2012

All the Pretty Girls

Bachelorette: directed and written by Leslye Headland

I hate to start on a sour note, but I must. Can we PLEASE get it out of the way that Bachelorette is not a rehash or an imitative would-be doppelganger of last year's mega-hit Bridesmaids. For one, Leslye Headland's film is based on her own play which was more than just a germ of an idea before the release of Bridesmaids. Further, the alacrity with which so many are quick to lump Headland’s film with Wiig's annoys me further because other than both occurring in the run up to a wedding ceremony and having female leads they have few specific beats in common. And that insistence to lump two female focused films together suggests to me an overwhelming insistence to think of all films with female issues as being of the same ilk. They’re not. And, if critical consensus seems intent – even inadvertently – on doing so, we’re in more trouble than we thought.

With that bugbear aside I can focus on the film on hand. Bachelorette doesn't exactly follow on a particularly well-worn premise, but it is familiar. Ten years after high school three "pretty girls" are invited to stand as bridesmaids to a former "not-so-pretty girl" - all of them former high school "friends"*. The launch pad for the film is, incidentally, its weakest aspect because immediately we begin to wonder how these four women are friends. The somewhat neurotic Regan (Dunst) seems much too driven for the ditzy shop clerk Katie (Fischer) and the much too nonchalant Gena (Caplan). The bride-to-be Becky (Wilson) is easy-going and kind enough to make her a believable part of the quartet – except; they all seem to have a slight relationship with her. But, they ARE friends and they all will be attending the wedding which Regan; the maid of honour is planning. We know almost immediately after meeting these three dysfunctional women that when they do show up for the wedding tomfoolery will be the name of the game. Still, Bachelorette (so much wiser and more sincere than so many seem willing to give it credit for) surprises you with where this tomfoolery leads and how.

The bulk of the film takes place during the twelve hours preceding the actual wedding. After planning the wedding for six months Regan is still bristling from not being the first of the lot to get married, Katie and Gena seem less to be specifically annoyed with the congenial Becky than they are dissatisfied with their own station in life. With these elements the brief wedding rehearsal and spur-of-the-moment bachelorette party don’t go too well especially when a stripper gets out of the hand (but, hilariously, not in the way you’d expect) and things go further awry when the uncontrollable bridesmaids rip the wedding dress. Pause. From, there Bachelorette seems destined for a series of farcical comedic incidents as things get worse and worse until the end when our three protagonists get off because they must. It would not be a spoiler to tell you that things do end up well, for the most part, but the goodness of Headland’s ideals and follow-through in Bachelorette is the way it avoids the tropes you’d expect as it hurtles towards its quasi-comedic finish.

...more below the jump on how Headland and the cast wisely avoid ensemble pitfalls...

At ninety minutes (and, really, those ninety minutes just whiz by) hoping for a specific character study of these three (four?) women might be wanting too much but despite the initial posturing which suggests a film where bitchiness and catfights are the name of the game (grossly inaccurate summations in both regards). Headland deftly – albeit, not as profoundly as one might hope – examines the below the surface incidents which contribute to their varying forms of neuroses. That she manages to do it all while still maintaining the fast-paced humour and keeping things incessantly silly and irreverent only makes me more impressed.

Where the film might suffer, but barely, is in the way which almost all “a day in the life” films do. One wonders, after this fateful night – can these women manage to make such indelible changes in their lives? It’s not so much that the movement from beginning to end in the characters is unbelievable but within the frame we wonder if the lethargic Gena from the initial opening could manage a more hopeful future as suggested at the end. It’s a conceit which has a pay-off because the performers are so game. Lizzy Caplan’s indifferent Gena immediately comes to mind as a candidate for MVP who might win just because she so nimbly conforms to the elements of the script while suggesting a real-life person who you know could very well exist throughout the film. I’m moved, somewhat to replace her with Dunst as MVP, though if only because as the uncompromising Regan Dunst is most in touch with the odd humour of the film and she wins for best line-readings. There's a scene that might not work minutes before the wedding where Regan must calm the bride, set the mood and try to revive a comatose bridesmaid. Dunst keeps it funny, she keeps it real and she keeps it honest while navigating through a slew of emotions and it's the type of scene few actors of her age could handle as well. Still, the film is an ensemble and even if Caplan and Dunst come to mind first Fischer (unselfconsciously pokes humour at herself) , Wilson (adds zip to a sedate character), Scott (believable both as a playboy and as a smitten ex-lover), Marsden (fun in his caddish way), Bornheimer (sweetly funny) all turn in good work keeping the film constantly moving.

The biggest credit I can pay to a film like Bachelorette is that even in its most unwieldy moments (few of them, though) I could stop laughing. And, even if I’ll ponder on minor gaffes like Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan supposedly being a couple of years apart, or the legitimacy of coke-fiends being as put-together as this lost they all become generally incidental in the existence of this humorous, genuine, comedic romp. Bachelorette might not explicitly be working on a platform of arguing for women’s rights – but it doesn’t need to be. Incidental moments aside, these women are not harridans neither are they nasty. They are amusingly human and the Headland understands that. Flaws and all.

*Incidentally, minor research reveal that Casey Wilson was originally to play Becky which made me somewhat more intrigued because without the strident aesthetic difference between the bride and her three friends I wonder if critics would be so quick to attach the adjective “nasty” to the machinations of these women.

Good thing going / B


Nikhat said...

Someone else who likes this movie! Yaaay!
I really liked it. The first time round because of the quotes and the bitchiness and the awesome leading ladies. And the second time round for all the underlying messages, and again for the awesome leading ladies. This made me laugh and also think a bit. Plus it has my favourite kissing scene of this year so far.

Ryan T. said...

I need a sequel with Lizzy Caplan and Adam Scott. Or just another movie with Caplan and Scott together. Or Caplan needs to show up in Parks and Recreation. Or all of the above. The end.

Colin Biggs said...

I second Caplan popping up on Parks & Rec

Squasher88 said...

You can't blame folks for comparing it to Bridesmaids.

A) It's a comedy.
B) It involves a gang of bridesmaids
C) The plot surrounds a wedding at the end.
D) It involves a lead character (Wiig/Dunst) who is both happy and sad that her best friend is getting married
E) There is a specific plot beat about the self-esteem of a fat girl (McCarthy/Wilson).

It's inevitable!! Sorry to be one of those people, but I couldn't help myself.

Squasher88 said...

There's even a wedding dress disaster!

Candice Frederick said...

lol. totally agree that they were totally clairvoyant for coke fiends. BUT i do wish there was more of a character study, since i so desperately wanted to see these characters fleshed out more. but i enjoyed it overall. very funny and sharp and dark when needed.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

nikhat i'm way intrigued to see what headland does next, but the ladies (and the men, somewhat) were my favourite thing about this. maybe headland does get extra points to directing them all to good work. go her.

ryan and colin YES! YES! YES!

shane taking out b (hell, even including b) you have to admit that the similarities are specious at best, though, right? which film about someone getting married DOESN'T have a best friend being conflicted? or a slight issue with the dress? which film with a potential overweight person not have their issues with themselves being mentioned?

parallel arcs will exist, as they would in any two films if you pay attention. but i'm generally at sea as to the earnest need to denote them as one and the same.

candice i won't lie, i love me some character studies so i wouldn't have been against that. but it did surprise me how NOT thinly constructed these girls were.

Nick Prigge said...

Dude. Thank you. I LOVED this movie, and now I apologize for including (gulp) the word "Bridesmaids" in the title of my review. I think I probably only did that to draw eyeballs because I agree it's not anything like that film.

I would argue, however, that the film itself is not arguing that the women have necessarily made indelible changes to their lives, but that they have fallen under the spell that a wedding and the hoopla surrounding it can cast into THINKING you have made indelible changes or are on the verge of doing so.