Thursday, 6 September 2012

Movies - Bachelorette review


Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non-Functional.

Dir: Leslye Headland
Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, James Marsden, Adam Scott
Running Time: 94 mins

Whilst based on a play which predated Kristen Wiig's Bridesmaids by two years, Bachelorette is right on trend for the lewd, female-driven comedies currently in vogue. It's about time too: cinematic comedy has been in a rut for some time, while on television, female writers and performers have taken the genre into a new golden age. The likes of Community, Parks & Recreation, Girls, Suburgatory and New Girl rank among the best comedies to hit the medium since the turn of the millennium, and all have clear female voices behind their success. Even the boisterous and macho Archer wouldn't be as much fun without the vocal talents of Aisha Tyler, Judy Greer, Amber Nash and Jessica Walter.

The women of the silver screen are starting to lead a genre revival too: beyond Kristen Wiig's obvious contributions, Easy A marked the emergence of Emma Stone as a comedienne of rare natural talent, while the recent Five Year Engagment was as charming as it was funny, due in no small part to standout performances from Naked Truthers Emily Blunt and Alison Brie. A shame, then, that the insufferable Bachelorette threatens to stop the revolution in its tracks.
On the face of it, all the right ingredients are there: a trio of gifted actresses in the lead, including internet favourite Lizzy Caplan; a more ambitious narrative than Bridesmaids, revolving around issues like bulimia, body image and depression rather than relationship angst. There are few examples of any movie, recent or classic, focusing on women's problems with nothing to do with men, and for that, writer/director Leslye Headland deserves commendation. Where it all goes wrong is how, in the midst of all the debauchery and self-destruction, she forgets to find so much as a single sympathetic trait amongst any of her characters.

Unlikeable protagonists are not necessarily a problem, as Breaking Bad will attest, but there needs to be some suggestion that they were good people at some point, or at least had good intentions but went wrong somewhere along the way. No such luck for Bachelorette's trio: Regan (Kirsten Dunst) is a control freak of fascistic proportions, venomously abusing everyone in her employ no matter how hard they work. After finding out her high school 'friend' Becky - previously nicknamed 'Pig Face' - is getting married to a handsome, intelligent suitor, she immediately calls up her closest friends to rant about the injustice of an overweight girl not only getting hitched before her, but to someone supposedly so out of her league.

On the other end of the line are Gena (Lizzy Caplan) and Katie (Isla Fisher), former members of her high school clique. Gena, still pining after her ex, wakes up next to a different man every morning, no doubt encouraged by the voluminous quantities of cocaine and alcohol ingested the night before. Katie, meanwhile, appears barely intelligent enough to breathe, sharing many of Gena's vices but none of her brains. As far as the movie informs us, these women were as cruel as girls as they are as adults. Each has suffered in their own way - Regan through the compromises she's made to achieve her goal of a perfect life; Gena from a traumatic end to a school romance with Clyde (Adam Scott), who is also attending Becky's wedding; Katie through being objectified and used by men for most of her life - but considering how they behave, the issues assigned to them need to be a lot more serious.

Gena's unspoken issue with Clyde isn't nice, but hardly life-ruining enough to justify the depths to which she's sunk. Katie reacts with shock when a man seems interested in her for reasons other than her body, but is presented as so contentedly moronic that it's no surprise she isn't taken seriously. Regan, meanwhile, seems to have been the same loathsome creature her whole life, and complaints of having compromised herself (enduring such horrendous tortures as ordering salad rather than a cheeseburger) come across as excuses to justify her foul personality. Even Becky is quite the bridezilla, shrieking interminably at the slightest hint something might not be going to plan.

The men aren't much better: Marsden's Trevor is a sleazy and predatory womaniser; Adam Scott's Clyde treats everyone with casual disdain, making the actor's dry wit come across as sneering and unpleasant; Kyle Bornheimer is ostensibly the 'nice guy', which the movie equates with being gullible and dim-witted. Each has a moment with their respective lady supposed to show deeper, more sympathetic qualities lying inside, but these either come out of nowhere - Marsden and Dunst bond over a particularly forced debate on WW2 history - or contrast completely with everything seen from the characters until that point.

The cast do their best, and Lizzy Caplan's tired eyes occasionally suggest a slither of weary humanity in Gena, but the characterisation is too intensely misjudged to for even such charismatic performers to salvage. Spending time with these people is an emotionally draining, feel-bad ordeal. Swearing and vulgarity are deployed in lieu of wit - there are virtually no actual punchlines or memorable quips - and sympathy is skewed so firmly against the main characters, with the central conflict arising as a result of their shared bitterness, that later attempts to establish their vulnerabilities rankles as dishonest. With no significant change in any of them by the end - other than, perhaps, a certain degree of validation - Bachelorette presents a set of women using serious issues as excuses for their hateful and vindictive natures. No matter how positive the director's intentions, this is a movie whose feminist credentials are roughly on par with Bride Wars. [ 3 ]

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