REVIEW: Hangover-esque Bachelorette Lets Mean Girls Behave Badly, But Apologizes For It
The course of equal opportunity raunchy comedy never did run smooth. Like Bridesmaids, Bachelorette is a foray into proving that ladies are capable of wielding gross-out humor just as ably as the gentlemen, with the obvious comparison piece being Todd Phillips' The Hangover. Written and directed by first-timer Leslye Headland (who previously worked as a writer on Terriers) and produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, Bachelorette sends its trio of dysfunctional bridesmaids into all kinds of night-before-the-wedding misbehavior, including cocaine use, falling-down drunkenness, physical altercations, promiscuity, theft and general nastiness.
But then, as if afraid that all of this misdeeds will drive the audience away, the film tries to add a last minute portion of heart, explaining away the actions of its three main characters as the result of damage and pairing them all up with guys to get them through to an at least temporary happy ending.
Sometimes funny, sometimes shrill and wildly uneven, Bachelorette demonstrates film and television's continuing struggle to provide a platform for funny women in the realms of R-rated comedy and the tug-of-war between the desire to push boundaries and fears about likability, about female characters still needing to be warm and pretty and matched up with someone romantically. Interestingly enough, the plot is based around the nuptials of a side character who doesn't fit in any typical category — Becky (Australian actress Rebel Wilson) was the chubby sidekick of the "B-Faces" in high school, the one the other three held in mild, veiled contempt. Now happy, settled and about to marry a good-looking, stable guy, Becky's unknowingly twisting the knife by asking her shocked friends (not one of whom is doing as well as she'd like in her early 30s) to be in her wedding party.
Bachelorette feels at the start like it's a version of Muriel's Wedding that sides with the main characters mean frenemies instead of its unlikely heroine. Becky isn't a major source of mockery, but she's blissfully oblivious to how queen bee Regan (Kirsten Dunst), trampy Gene (Lizzy Caplan) and ditzy Katie (Isla Fisher) actually feel about the event in which they've promised to participate. The tightly wound Regan has a boyfriend in med school who won't commit and a volunteer job she likes to talk about in which she reads to kids with cancer. Gene downs whatever drugs she can find and regularly wakes up in bed with strangers, while Katie can barely hold down her job in retail. The three seemed a little stunned that life has not delivered on the promise and popularity they showed in high school, and that happiness has eluded them while finding the one in their group they've deemed least worthy.
Bachelorette seems uncertain as to what we're supposed to think of Regan, Gene and Katie. The way they act in the outset, with Regan calling the other two to bitch about how she was obviously the one who was supposed to get married first, Gene monologuing about her blowjob technique to taunt a stranger on the plane and Katie failing to recognize Joe (Kyle Bornheimer), the guy who used to let her copy his homework ("I took French?" she exclaims in shock when he tells her) marks them as fairly awful. But the film seems exhilarated by their disastrousness, eager to shoo Becky out of the room after Gene makes a failed joke about the bride's eating disorder and Katie orders a stripper who calls her by her old nickname of "Pig Face," so that the three can get down to some serious drug use and then tear her wedding dress trying to fit two people inside it.
These are inarguably mean girls, to the point where it's difficult to invest their attempts to try to fix the gown in an all-night odyssey that takes them around the city and into an intersecting path with the groomsmen (led by a smarmy James Marsden as Trevor). But the film's need to then turn around and soften them feels disappointingly like an excuse — see, they also hate themselves and think about suicide and are mournful over past abortions! These developments don't humanize the characters, they apologize for them. Gene's storyline in particular, in which she reunites with the high school boyfriend (Adam Scott, Caplan's old "Party Down" romantic interest) who broke her heart, feels lurching and abrupt considering the depth of emotion it suddenly reaches for, a pity considering how smart and appealing the two actors are, both together and apart.
There's something to admire in Bachelorette's initial flag-planting outrageousness, even if it goes too far and then sheepishly pulls back to a more conventional conclusion. Its contentment with acting out as a joke unto itself means it's not often as funny as it needs to be, though it sets up and lands a few vicious punchlines — Regan's triumphantly saving the day late in the film with her bulimia-perfected vomit-inducing technique is a dark joke indeed. But the film would be far more provocative if it let go of the need to always try to shock with content and tried to do so with form instead, and rather than solving its characters just let them be unabashedly imperfect.