I have to admit, I was torn walking into Bachelorette at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. A group of my colleagues had seen it the night before, and the prevailing sentiment was that the movie was way too mean for its own good. But I’d been looking forward to the ensemble comedy, which stars Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher as three bridesmaids with a vendetta against their high school BFF and bride-to-be (the hilarious Rebel Wilson of Bridesmaids). Add in James Marsden, Adam Scott and Kyle Bornheimer as their groomsmen-in-crime, and it just seemed too good to be true. It had to be.
But it wasn’t! It really, really wasn’t! Let’s just say, the movie slapped the taste of preconceived notions right outta my mouth (and I liked it). Practically a professional bridesmaid myself, I can report with complete conviction that this movie is eons more realistic than Bridesmaids. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that raucous Paul Feig-directed comedy. I just feel the story focused more on gags and guffaw-inducing comedy setups than some of the messy interactions and vicious sentiments you often see when groups of strangers are mashed together in observance of someone else’s Special Special Day. Wiig’s plight throughout the film is the only truly authentic one (in my experience), an undercurrent of frustration, self-deprecation and loss consistently bubbling beneath the surface.
Conversely, in Bachelorette, I’m hard pressed to find a single character that doesn’t remind me of someone I’ve encountered during my various bridesmaid duties (or, I’m not afraid to admit, myself at times). Too mean? Hardly! The movie centers on girls who have been friends since high school (and lovingly refer to each other as “b-faces). Ladies, if we’re being honest, there was always an uncomely member in the midst of our adolescent posses, right? How our less-attractive counterpart was treated was entirely at the whim of the clique’s sisterly dynamic.
In the case of Becky (Wilson), weight issues and a relative lack of refinement were met with snide comments (predominantly the bestowal of her nickname “pig face”) and scowling sideways glances, and that role continued into adulthood. Of course, in the masochistic way that we women so often operate, the ladies stayed close, as frenemies of a sort. Cute, ditzy Katie (Fisher) went on to work in retail; hard-partying, promiscuous Gena (Caplan) moved to Los Angeles; and prim, cultivated Regan (Dunst) settled down in New York City close to Becky. Naturally, when Becky drops the news that she’s the first of the girls to be engaged — to a handsome, wealthy man, no less! — over lunch with Regan (a scene sizzling with sarcasm and backhanded compliments on Regan’s part; desperation to please and confused naivety on Becky’s; textbook alpha/omega behavior), Becky’s good fortune sets her bridesmaids off on a chain of devious events, scandalous behavior, apathetic contributions and generally mean-spirited mayhem the night before the wedding.
Helmed assuredly by first-time director Leslye Headland, who adapted the screenplay from her stage play, and was also a writer on the short-lived 2010 FX show Terriers, Bachelorette is malicious fun. It’s essentially the Young Adult version of Bridesmaids, never shying from the truly dark places. The cast is flawless and perfectly matched, to boot. I don’t think I’ve ever cringe-laughed so much in a theater. Consider scenes that include Gena teaching her male airplane seat mate the art of a good blowjob, Katie snorting coke at the bridal shower and then loudly proclaiming, “If I do any more blow somebody’s dick’s gonna get sucked!” and Trevor (Marsden) schooling the groom-to-be on stripper etiquette, explaining, “It’s like taking a woman on a date — you have to make her feel terrible about herself.”
For all the raucous, borderline inappropriate comedy, Headland is sure to give us glimpses of the tortured souls beneath those bristly exteriors. This movie isn’t without redemption, in its own ways — which is how it maintains our good graces (and keeps us giggling, guilt-free).
While waiting in line for the women’s room after the screening, I tentatively asked the ladies around me what they thought of the movie. Their reaction was overwhelmingly positive — strikingly so. Many recounted their own bachelorette or backstabbing best friend horror stories; it was borderline cathartic. While the film is certainly funny and eventful enough for men, I think women will be privy to the peeling off of a few extra layers – this movie will burrow into some stubbornly deep-seated emotions. As hard as it was for writers to watch Mavis Gary in Young Adult, Bachelorette also provides those squint-and-it-could-be-me facets in its characters. It’s uncomfortable, it’s hilarious, it’s realistic, it’s schadenfreude on celluloid. We all have a touch of evil in us; there are moments when it’s freeing to see that it’s just human nature, and embrace it. From the safety of a theater seat, of course.
Bachelorette was recently acquired by The Weinsten Company. The release date has yet to be announced.