At a glance, Bachelorette, the new comedy starring Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, and Lizzy Caplan, seems like it'd be one of the first big-screen beneficiaries of the Bridesmaids Effect. Both films are about weddings and have big, mostly female, ensemble casts. Both have buy-in from huge comedy names (for Bridesmaids it was Judd Apatow, and for Bachelorette, it's Anchorman writer/director Adam McKay). Both are raunchy, and full of cursing, and explore the less-saccharine side of female friendship. Both even have a common cast member, Rebel Wilson.
But it would be a mistake to call Bachelorette "the next Bridesmaids. There are obvious problems in the comparison: Bachelorette was in production before Bridesmaids, and where Bridesmaids was rolled out to great fanfare all over the country—it'll be a while before I forget the sight of Ellie Kemper painted ten stories tall onto the side of a New York City building—Bachelorette started out on the festival route, and is only in 20 cities (though it's been available on demand and on iTunes for a few weeks). But the more significant difference between the two films lies in their content. For all that they have in common, Bachelorette is a good deal darker than the movie that gave us everyone's favorite pooping-in-the street scene. It cuts deeper, but its cynicism comes at the expense of laughs and broad appeal.
There is no rah-rah sisterhood in this movie, no best-friends-forever-no-matter-what bullshit, no Wilson Phillips to play the movie out.Regan (Dunst), Gena (Caplan), Katie (Fisher), and Becky (Wilson) made up a close-knit group in high school: the Bitchfaces. Regan, Gena, and Katie were all considered the pretty girls, and Becky was the odd Bitchface out. Other kids taunted Becky as "Pigface" because of her weight. As it turns out, so did the other Bitchfaces - just not when she was around. Katie and Gena spent the decade since high school in a kind of extended adolescence: partying, getting high, and working in dead-end jobs. Regan laments that she "did everything right" - she went to college, works in a do-gooder job, and is dating a medical student - and yet, "nothing is happening for her." In other words, she's not married.
Ten years after graduation, the dynamic of talking behind Becky's back seems to have endured. Regan's horrified when Becky announces that she's engaged; the Bitchface consensus had been that Regan would be the first among them to tie the knot. When the four reunite on the weekend of the wedding, Regan, Jenna, and Katie wreak all sorts of havoc, most of it borne of their own self-absorption: destroying Becky's wedding dress, trashing her hotel room, and inflicting a good deal of emotional damage as well.
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Bachelorette doesn't tackle class, but it does confront similarly serious issues like eating disorders, abortion, and suicide. The results are bleaker; these women are flawed and funny, but the emphasis is on flawed. Regan saves the day and her friend's life by using the vomiting technique she perfected while spending her teenage years on her knees in front of the toilet. The scene is played for laughs, but they're grim, uncomfortable laughs. As a barely conscious Katie slumps against Reagan, dripping vomit onto her bridesmaid's dress, Katie's love interest looks on with horror. "Why would you do that to yourself?" he asks. "I wanted to be beautiful," Regan replies matter-of-factly. Ha?
Of course, there's no reason why screwed-up and hilarious should be mutually exclusive. They rarely are for men—take Woody Allen. But Bachelorette doesn't quite get it right. Of its four lead actresses, only Wilson is a comedian, and as a result, there aren't many laugh-out-loud moments. These women are imperfect almost to the point of being unlikable, and their friendships are weak at the core, eaten away by years of resentment and self-loathing. There is no rah-rah sisterhood in this movie, no best-friends-forever-no-matter-what bullshit, no Wilson Phillips to play the movie out.
And while I was thrilled that Bachelorette didn't end with some kind of sugary-sweet tribute to female friendship, which would have felt like a betrayal, its grittiness comes at a price. It's clear that it isn't destined to be the kind of global phenomenon that Bridesmaids was. Perhaps it's the lack of build-up and hype. Perhaps it's that Kristen Wiig is a very hard act to follow. Or perhaps it's just hard for us to laugh at the antics of Bachelorette's three frantic, fucked up girlfriends when we can't say for sure that they're going to be OK.
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