Three Times a Bridesmaid
Published on September 15th, 2012 | by David Fitzgerald0
Running time: 87 minutes; Rated R.
Regardless of what you may have heard, “Bridesmaids” this is not.
That is to say that although Leslye Headland’s fiercely dark and ruthlessly hilarious debut feature will likely be subjected to “Bridesmaids” comparisons for the rest of its video store shelf-life (or at least until the next female-centric wedding comedy comes down the aisle), those comparisons are much more a product of surface-level similarities and relative proximity than they are of the films’ true natures. “Bachelorette” goes to places that “Bridesmaids” wouldn’t come back from. The three lower-case-b bridesmaids at its heart—type-A queen bee Regan (Kirsten Dunst); damaged, acid-tongued Gena (Lizzy Caplan); and bubbly, oblivious ditz Katie (Isla Fisher)—are supremely unhappy people, each in her own way, forced into a situation where happiness is expected of them. Bonded by their mutual, barely masked jealousy and contempt for the bride, their much-heavier high school friend Becky (Rebel Wilson), this trio has the feel of Tina Fey’s titular “Mean Girls” fifteen years and a mountain of drugs later. These girls (they refer to their clique as the b-faces. I’ll let you intuit why.) party hard—“too hard,” in fact, as Katie later admits in a brief, lovely moment of honesty—and while Regan is outwardly successful, all three of them are miserable, self-sabotaging, and utterly adrift. Where “Bridesmaids” dealt with women’s relationships with one another, “Bachelorette” is much more about women’s relationships to themselves, and over the course of one long, dark, coke-fueled night of the soul, each of these subtly drawn, brilliantly realized characters is challenged to face her problems head on.
High on cocaine for virtually the entire film, Gena and Katie manage, with a lazy mixture of garden variety thoughtlessness and active malice, to humiliate Becky at both her rehearsal dinner and her bachelorette party, and although Regan tries to force a perfect smile and hold everything together, she eventually succumbs to the theatre of cruelty and attempts a hateful prank that ends up ripping Becky’s wedding dress nearly in half. The rest of the night is spent in madcap, screwball fashion as these geeked-out gorgons run around town trying to fix the dress, find more drugs, and get laid, in about equal measure (getting blood and . . . other fluids on the dress in the process). Now, lest you start to think “Bachelorette” is just “The Hangover” for the post-feminist set, let me assure you that Headland’s film is rooted much more firmly in reality (while still exhibiting a flare for theatrics), and that these women, flaws and all, will stay with you far longer than any character Bradley Cooper has ever played.
“I’m not married, and um, I’m not an adult either, so . . .” is Gena’s response when the much younger new girlfriend of her ex-boyfriend Clyde (Adam Scott, allowing the easy, pitch-perfect chemistry he developed with Caplan on “Party Down” carry him through a clunkily written part) addresses her as “Mrs. Myers.” This would prove a guiding principle in her life. Delivering in-depth soliloquies on topics as diverse as fellatio and “My So-Called Life,” Caplan essentially highjacks the film away from the much more famous Dunst’s ostensible protagonist as she struggles to escape a self-destructive mentality she’s been clinging to since she was fifteen. Katie is a much more thinly drawn creation, but Fisher brings an irresistible warmth and sincerity to her, gleefully squealing upon being reunited with her high school BFFs (and many more times throughout the evening), and blissfully unaware of just how inappropriate she can be. Dunst is somewhat hamstrung by being cast in the role of straightwoman, which robs her of the opportunity to use her strongest comedic gifts (Dunst can be hilarious when given the right material). Regan has problems of her own, but where Caplan and Fisher hit their dramatic notes just right, Dunst’s performance is so icy that she remains only vaguely sympathetic even by the film’s end. And that’s the thing about “Bachelorette”: none of these women are truly sympathetic. They’re young, gorgeous, and their baggage is largely of their own packing, but Caplan and Fisher somehow manage to cut through their innate horribleness and remind us that so is most people’s.
A lot more happens in “Bachelorette” than needs to be recapped here, but suffice it to say that it includes an extortion-happy stripper, a vigorous encounter in a hotel bathroom, and the funniest use of Celine Dion’s “These Dreams” in film history, but in the end, these three women don’t really find happiness so much as have happiness thrust upon them. They don’t all necessarily find love so much as they find men who teach them how to love themselves. They find a redemption that they maybe don’t deserve, but that neverthelss feels well earned. And while I never saw much to warrant the aforementioned “Bridesmaids” comparisons, Headland’s script, with its archly observed pop culture references and daringly frank sexual dialogue (Caplan’s elegant waxing on the topic of oral sex is truly one of the funniest things you’ll hear all year), I did find myself thinking again and again of Kevin Smith. Had he continued plumbing his more serious side, as he did most notably in 1997′s “Chasing Amy,” he might have landed somewhere in the vicinity of “Bachelorette,” and if Headland’s soundtrack choices are any indication, it’s nice to know another Gen-X-er has picked up his torch and carried on. One thing that can surely be said about her vicious little circle of frenemies is that, through all the backstabbing and name calling, they always seem to truly care about one another, and not once do they ever fight over the same guy. Whether you like “Bridesmaids,” “Bachelorette,” both, or neither, we can all agree that cinema needs all the positive female friendships that it can get—even if they’re b-faces.