Thursday, September 6, 2012

Like: Bachelorette

In preparation for the latest wedding I'm playing a supporting role in, I cleared out a small hole in my schedule and rented the VOD record-breaker Bachelorette.  When you've reached a point in your life where weddings you get to merely attend are rare and weddings in which you're an active  bridal party member are yearly (+) occurrences, you begin to develop an interest in the pop cultural representation of the bridesmaid.  Bridal parties are weird, guys.  Think about it.  Combinations of friends and relatives are invited to be entrusted with the planning and execution of events that lead up to and occur on the day of a major life event which will, ultimately, not be a major life event for them personally.  Yet, their money and their time are frequently both on the line, the pressure levels are high, and the opinions/personalities of each bridesmaid or groomsman rarely fall into convenient, homogeneous synchronicity.  Quiet rivalries form, quiet allegiances, quiet ambivalence.  Strange notions of class warfare and social norms sneak in and begin to color situations as mundane as "we need a dessert," or, "how the invitation should be sent."  With the comedic and dramatic possibilities opened by throwing these people together, it's kind of amazing that any wedding-centric movie actually follows the bride or groom.  Bridesmaids was just the beginning.  The Hangover was a distant extreme.  Bachelorette is, for better or worse, as un-apologetically touched by the nasty, bitter darkness natural and -let's face it- not uncommon in the worst of these bands of insiders.
The ensemble band at the center of the bitter, raging Bachelorette is a terrible threesome of grown-up high school mean girls. Maid of Honor Regan (Kirsten Dunst) is the quintessential alpha Manhattanite.  Every ensemble is immaculate, her shoes cost more than your monthly rent, and she can barely hold back her seething, temperamental inability to understand how her genuine, rather sloppy friend Becky (Rebel Wilson) could be walking down the aisle before her.  Becky was cruelly referred to as 'pig face' for the duration of the girls' high school career, but the film finds a way to ground the relationship Regan and Becky have in believable territory.  What binds Becky to the icy, back-talking Regan is the same thing that binds her to supposed friends Gena (Lizzy Caplan) and Katie (Isla Fisher): these mean girls are fragile freaks disguised as wolves.  Becky is the only one able to comfortably live with her vulnerability on the outside, a trait they all seem to masochistically resent her for.  I say masochistically, of course, because Bachelorette is very much the chronicle of a self-made unraveling, and the women it depicts are flawed in fascinating, colorful ways that make them (at times) dangerously unlikable.  Charlize Theron's Young Adult character would fit right in with this ladies, and while Regan's constant disgust is at least accompanied by a driving, type A desire to constantly save face, the same cannot be said of Gena and Katie.
Caplan's Gena seems to get a good share of screen time here, and she's playing a role she's well suited for (a sort of evil version of Janis Ian).  She's morally decrepit, drug-addled, and passively disrupted by the negative outcome of a deep, warm-fuzzy relationship with her high school boyfriend (Adam Scott).  While Caplan lends her comic timing to the film, Isla Fisher's Katie is perhaps the character study most worth talking about.  Katie is -in broad strokes- a despicable person.  She's stupid to the point of ignorance and clearly not interested in her own education.  She works in retail, snorts copious amounts of cocaine, and fantasizes about meeting a man who "has a job."  Not a good job, just a job.  Katie is enthusiastically spiteful, at times in a way that suggests she has no real understanding of the outcome of her words or actions.  For Katie, there are no consequences.  She keeps living though it's very likely she has no desire to, and Fisher somehow keeps Katie from becoming a vapidly misogynistic portrait of female entitlement. Instead,  everything about her becomes sad and somehow wasted, and she serves as the unfunny bridal party fool though it's clear early on that all three of them are sad clowns in their own ways.

Bachelorette is, ostensibly, a comedy.  At times, however, it reads more as a comedy only in the classical sense that it "ends with a wedding." There's not much that actually registers as funny here. While the mishaps and mayhem of the plot belong to the genre, everything has been bent out of shape by writer/director Leslye Headland.  Things that would be spun in cutesy directions in a Katharine Heigl movie arise from cruelty here, and the characters dare to make jokes about one another's disorders, disabilities, and weaknesses in a way that stings in its honesty.  There were points at which things became uncomfortable enough for me to wonder if the dialogue was achieving something clever and fresh or if it was simply perpetuating the mean girl rhetoric it seems to want to tear down.  I can't say I liked everything here, but I can say that I found myself admiring its tenacity.  Bachelorette is an ensemble comedy that never feels like more of the same old same old.  It's always dangerous enough to be interesting and cynical enough to shun conformity even if it's in favor of bad taste.  So, in the spirit of weddings, let us offer a toast: may you never have friends like this, and may you never be part of this.


  1. I would love to see this even though I myself have no experience with weddings except the ones I've seen in movies. It seems like a bit smarter comedy than Bridesmaids without the over the top situations evolving a sink and bad food? I just need to be sure before I watch this because I don't want another Bridesmaids situation before my eyes...

  2. I'm not sure it's smarter, but it is significantly meaner. There are still a couple potentially gross sequences here, but they take a much darker turn than the bridal shop scene in Bridesmaids. I think it's worth seeing for no holds barred approach alone, though there's really not much to laugh at.


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