Director: Leslye Headland
Almost before the light beings to flicker from the projector, Kirsten Dunst‘s Regan utters “Things have been going really well.” In great comedic fashion, not only is this statement to her long-time friend Becky (Rebel Wilson) a lie, it is the point from which everything that follows goes gloriously, hilariously downhill. Bachelorette, the debut film from writer/director Leslye Headland, is a sprint, cramming as much jokes and debauchery and as possible into its brisk 94 minute run time. While Bridesmaids — its spiritual sister, for better or worse — aims for your heart, Bachelorette aims directly at your gut, hoping to work it like one of those 90s exercise belts. Except this film actually earns its results.
Bachelorette uses the framing of a wedding not as a celebration of two people jointing together in life-long commitment, but for its true purpose to everyone involved who aren’t blood relatives: a barometer to see just how well you’re pulling off adulthood in comparison to your peers. Early reports show that it’s not looking too good for our three protagonists. And thank god for that. The four women at the film’s center were collectively known as “The B-Faces” in high school. One look at their Class of ’99 yearbook shown in the film’s opening credits shows just how hated they were, most likely behind their backs (the pretty girls never get told directly, do they?). I doubt anyone told them.
The less-than-Hollywood starlet Becky’s marriage to a handsome, affable, and impossibly successful man reunites the former B-Faces, now in their 30’s, who have not learned much since their high school peak. Gena (Lizzy Caplan) lives in LA and parties like she’s a rock star while she’s anything but. Katie (Isla Fisher) has used her greatest talent (being impossibly gorgeous) to overcome her greatest liability (general incompetence) bolstering a long-standing career in retail. They are subservient, like most people, to Regan’s Alexander-like impulse to dominate and control everything in her path. Ask the wedding planner who is relegated to subservient go-for.
This reality, the one where Becky wins and the rest of the girls lose, was never really in the cards. They can’t even drown their sorrows at the bachelorette party the four of them were going to throw as moms and other people in the party have been invited, turning it into a quiet, wine-and-cheese affair on the eve of the wedding ceremony. This they will not stand for. With the help of an amateur stripper, a few bindles of coke, and a horrified mother, they end up ruining the evening and get banned from the next day’s event. Regan, Gena, and Katie vent their frustration with more cocaine and a dual attempt to fill out Becky’s wedding dress. Gena and Katie fall over, ripping the dress and setting up the film’s ticking clock. There is one blood stained (don’t do coke, kids!), torn up wedding dress that needs to be altered, and only these three hapless lunatics can come to the rescue! Or at least fix their grievous error.
Here’s where you usually say, “and then the fun begins!” But that would short change Headland’s tight script, one whose tone fits in well with the oeuvre of Gary Sanchez Productions (Step Brothers, The Other Guys). Where those films are mainly excuses to string together comedic set pieces, Bachelorette grounds the action into something at least plausible. The film takes the arrested development and debauchery at the heart of Old School and crams it into the scenery and time constraints of Scorsese‘s After Hours. Like the former, we get a glimpse of a New York City as its own universe, getting a tour of a city that might not exist, as we easily transition from a lavish hotel to a high-end strip club and a giant brownstone. Each location is populated with its own interesting and peculiar characters, a mark of a well-crafted film (the hotel’s dry cleaner is my favorite).
None of this would work without the immeasurable talents of the film’s three leads who do a fine job balancing the fast-and-furious dialogue, physical comedy, and just the right amount of honesty to ground these characters into something more than your usual archetypal comedic screw-ups. We feel sorry for Fisher when a good guy from high school (Kyle Bornheimer) she’s completely forgotten about tries to romance her when all she knows are one night stands, or when Caplan‘s desire to set things right with the wedding get complicated when she gets face-to-face with her ex-high school boyfriend (Adam Scott) who let her down, and how Dunst is able to show a character who only acts in control until the groom’s douchebag brother (James Marsden) pushes the right buttons.
Bachelorette builds less like a conventional film and more like a visual “Bolero.” It just builds and builds and builds upon itself, working diligently toward the end goal and never getting too caught up on the individual comedic pieces. Headland has mentioned how the extra time between the Sundance premiere and its full release now drastically helped to improve the cut (and the lackluster reviews from the festival seem to back that up). The work is probably best felt when the sun rises and the craziness builds to an almost absurd crescendo, involving: assault and battery, drug overdoses, a dead body, taxi chases, and a possible wedding, all scored to The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).” Oh, and all of the emotional bits are tied together snugly, some how, some way.
Getting a lower profile launch than its aforementioned spiritual sequel, it would be an absolute shame if Bachelorette would go quietly into the night. It deserves much better. Grab some friends, get some drinks, and go see this comedy. It’ll be worth it, I promise.
Bachelorette is now in limited release and on VOD.
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