Before you even say it, “Bachelorette” is not the wannabe, comedic sister to last summer’s smash hit “Bridesmaids”. Instead, think of it as a raunchier, older cousin that gets polite acknowledgment at family reunions before it snorts some cocaine in the bathroom.
Where “Bridesmaids” found humor in flatulence and intoxicated plane rides, “Bachelorette” finds uncomfortable but often-hilarious comedy in drug binges, bulimia and semen-stained bridal gowns.
Adapted from the 2010 Off-Broadway play by Leslye Headland (who wrote and directed the film), the story follows three high-school friends (played by Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher and Lizzy Caplan) who come together years later as bridesmaids for their overweight friend, Becky (Rebel Wilson), who they consistently mocked as teenagers. On the eve of Becky’s wedding, the three self-proclaimed “B-Faces” find themselves overdosing on prescription drugs, hustling to fix a ripped wedding gown and making a variety of love connections.
The movie has a sharp and hilarious first half that introduces us to the slutty, wild and ever-catty women that are just as absorbed in their high-school mentalities as they were a decade earlier. Imagine a grown-up version of “Mean Girls,” but with a lot more champagne and no Tina Fey.
Dunst, fresh off her impeccable dramatic turn in last year’s “Melancholia”, is the strongest link in the cast. Her vicious attitude is as scorching as a hot poker, but you can instantly read past her constant eye-rolls and see somebody that is legitimately bitter for all the wrong reasons. Her role as confidant to Wilson’s character is oddly believable, and supplies some of the only heartfelt moments in the film that do not feel forced or unnatural.
As the ditzy Katie, Fisher strikes comedy gold in “Bachelorette” and is easily the most likable character. In a movie reeling with negative vibes, her Katie is so bubbly and erupting with energy that it’s impossible not to grin while she’s on-screen. Fisher effortlessly lays on the slapstick and delivers the film’s most unexpected lines of dialogue (While walking into a strip club high on cocaine and surrounded by naked women, she remarks how it’s just like “going to the Oscars.”)
Unfortunately, the film begins to lose its charm midway through. Instead of pushing the envelope with what outrageous situations these characters could get themselves into next, Headland instead chooses to take the sentimental, romantic route. We discover that these women are so unruly and miserable because they don’t have the “necessary” component that constitutes a “fulfilling” life for a woman: a sturdy relationship with a man that eventually leads to marriage and children. Caplan’s character, in particular, is especially insufferable and her scenes with the usually terrific Adam Scott are where the movie drags most.
“Bachelorette” also falters when it tries so hard to be raunchy and vulgar that it simply forgets to be funny. “Bridesmaids” succeeded because, after all the toilet humor and awkward sex scenes were over and done, it was still very original and witty. Headland appears to use topics like oral sex as a constant crutch she can lean on as she winks at the audience, hinting, “This subject is funny because it’s being said by a woman.” In any dude or buddy comedy we see, though, such topics have been hammered to death and are hardly considered clever humor by any definition.
We are in an interesting era for female comedies. There is suddenly some new discovery that women can “actually” be funny outside the romantic-comedy genre, but it seems as if screenwriters are still hesitant about depicting women that are both comical and completely independent. I find that the funniest female characters can be seen on television, where individuals like Liz Lemon on “30 Rock” and Leslie Knope in “Parks and Recreation” may have various love interests, but do not let romance define them as people. “Bachelorette” scratches the surface at what’s possible for the future of female comedians in film, but in no way reinvents the wheel.