November 16, 2012 in Features

‘Bachelorette’ tries to be funny but angst rules

Betsy Sharkey Los Angeles Times
 

The very knotty and naughty “Bachelorette,” starring Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher and Lizzy Caplan, sets out to explore the tight and often toxic bonds between BFFs that can upend even the best-laid wedding plans. It is billed as a comedy, but it’s really a lipstick-smeared drunken tragedy. The humor is so caustic you won’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I’d probably go with the tears, because it’s also the latest smackdown in the gal-pals-can-be-just-as-gross-as-guys trend that’s become tedious. Where “Bridesmaids” showed up last summer with shock value and more than a few moments that were funny, “Bachelorette” is far more emotionally strung out.

Based on the off-Broadway hit by Leslye Headland, who adapted it for the big screen and directs as well, the darkness was actually promising, the issues very real. The night of the bachelorette party unfolds in a Sin City that is closer to the grit of “Leaving Las Vegas” than the neon glare of “The Hangover.”

The perfectionist maid of honor Regan (Dunst) hasn’t forgotten to pack all her lingering resentments. She’s a stylishly thin success while the bride-to-be, a plus-sized Becky (Rebel Wilson), has bad highlights and whether she can still fit into her wedding dress remains an open question. Cruel fat jokes abound.

Becky’s “imperfections” trigger egocentric angst that drives the insanity to come. How could she end up blissfully happy with fiancé Dale (Hayes MacArthur), a not only decent but handsome bloke? The irritating question for her bridesmaid “well-wishers” soon escalates into “why her, not us” outrage.

Headland has stacked the deck against everyone in the wedding party. Gena (Caplan) is brilliant, artsy and doing just fine except for the booze, drugs, casual sex and serious depression. Katie (Fisher) is a red-headed beauty who has never met a party she didn’t want to be the life of, or a guy she didn’t want to bed, or, apparently, a book she could read.

This crew arrives on the rocks, but now they are about to be shaken, and stirred. The bitter heart of the film is the bachelorette party itself, where all their grievances can, and will, be aired. As we’ve come to expect in films like this, the action will be framed by one major disaster after another. Issues with the wedding dress become a running gag, but this is Las Vegas and these are unhappy women, so meaningless sex and massive quantities of drugs and alcohol factor in.

The groom’s best men provide a few more complications. Joe (Kyle Bornheimer) is still nursing his high school crush on Katie that he hopes the night might change. Clyde (Adam Scott) is reliving the bad breakup he had with Gena in their senior year – with a still-testy Gena. Trevor (James Marsden) is basically just a pretty face, but Clyde and Joe become the major supporting players as Gena and Katie work through their issues.

Becky, the bride, is the easiest of this wild bunch to like. Her basic decency, and Wilson’s relatively understated portrait of her, provides relief, comic and otherwise.

Even in this dreary, going nowhere role, Dunst is fascinating to watch. Like everyone else in the cast, just when it seems as if she might get something of substance to work with, or a lighter moment to run with, the film veers back into anger. “Bachelorette” is one giant pity party and those are never fun for long.

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