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.
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