Editor’s note: After big success on VOD, Bachelorette hits theaters today, so ready your champagne flutes and raise a glass to our Sundance review of the film, originally published on January 24, 2012.
We’ll get this out of the way right off the bat – Bachelorette is not Bridesmaids, though the film’s premise (three girls embark on a bachelorette party adventure for a bride they hate!) sounds like the perfect post-Bridesmaids feature for a ladies’ night out. In reality, Leslye Headland’s film is a production that’s perfectly crafted for people who hate their friends. Toxic, nasty, and ugly, Bachelorette reaffirms stereotypes about women (they are bitches! they are sluts! they are emotionally unstable!) and their relationships (they secretly all hate each other!) that should have disappeared from cinema (and the world) long ago.
We never quite know why Regan (Kirsten Dunst), Katie (Isla Fisher), and Jenna (Lizzy Caplan) are still friends – we can only assume it’s because no one else wants to associated with such horrible shrews. Pals since high school, the trio call themselves “the b-faces” and appear to spend most of their time bitching about other things and people. They are all unhappy in different ways – control freak Regan thinks she’s done everything right and still nothing is happening to her (hint, no one cares if you went to Princeton if you’re a huge, raging bitch to every single person you meet), airhead Katie is sick of work retail but thinks she’s not smart enough for anything else (that brief moment when she gets idiot savant about fashion? Don’t worry about it, that little bit of character development will never resurface) and pops pills to mask her pain, and Jenna doesn’t do much of anything (unless you count banging random dudes and get coked up as anything, which Jenna does).
The three come back together for the wedding of Becky (Rebel Wilson), a fellow b-face that they all secretly hate. While the b-faces are in disbelief that Becky can get married (but, but she’s fat!), Wilson doesn’t even earn automatic sympathy, mainly because (just like everyone else) she’s so thinly drawn that it’s hard to get to know any of her other traits. Beyond her extra heft, the only things we learn about Becky is that she’s got terrible taste in friends and has a weird panache for blurting out things that make no sense (“I’m so happy, I could buy a gun!”). After Becky objects to a traditional bachelorette party (leaving Jenna’s bottle of cocaine, no, a literal bottle) useless, the other b-faces end up finding themselves in a real pickle (due, of course, to their terrible behavior) and have to spend the rest of the film running around Manhattan to right a wrong. Thank God there’s all that cocaine for them to hoover up to fuel their escapades!
Along the way, they run into the wedding’s groomsmen, guys who are just as gross and revolting as they are. James Marsden is the best man, a cad to the point of breaking the law. Even Adam Scott (who plays Caplan’s ex-boyfriend) spends the first two-thirds of the film behaving despicably before suddenly turning sweet and sentimental. It’s not just a weird flip, it’s a poorly-written one. The only character who has anything that resembles redeeming values is Kyle Bornheimer as Joe, who gets the title of “nicest character” simply because he doesn’t have sex with a girl so drunk she can’t even remember his name. Bachelorette has standards!
But what’s really most egregious about Bachelorette is not the posionious characters that we don’t care about – it’s that Headland makes a third act play for emotion and depth that’s just not present in the rest of the film. After over an hour of Dunst, Fisher, and Caplan cavorting around New York City, making ever-worse decisions and saying continually horrible things to everyone they meet, Headland expects us to care when their behavior has real consequences. No dice.
The film does have a smattering of funny lines, mostly one-liners that come in the first act of the film. Isla Fisher is particularly funny, playing a dumb bunny to perfection (Katie is the sort of girl who can’t even pronounce the name of her workplace). Headland’s first outing as a director is filmed with a quick energy and briskness that keeps things moving around and looks quite nice while doing it. A playwright by trade, Headland doesn’t seem afraid to move the camera or locations. But that proves detrimental over time, as Headland seems intent on shucking the theatrical tendency to tell rather than show, which is one of the main reasons why her characters never feel more than just one-dimensional, because they don’t tell us anything.
Bachelorette is Headland’s first feature film, and the film is based on one of her previous plays of the same name, part of her cycle of seven plays based on different sins. Bachelorette is meant to represent gluttony, and the girls certainly consume enough alcohol and cocaine to meet those criteria. But Bachelorette is more about the gluttony of toxic emotions, as Regan, Katie, and Jenna feed on those more than anything. Headland’s play cycle was a success, and defenders of Bachelorette will likely point to the plays as reasoning why everyone in the film is so awful – “it’s like that in the play! They are terrible people there, too!” That just means there’s more ugly material out there in the world, it doesn’t defend the poisonous emotions that drive Bachelorette.
The Upside: The film has a number of one-liners that show solid comedic timing from both Headland and her cast. There’s a kernel of a solid, smart film here – one where the characters are just regular people who make some mistakes, not toxic assholes who wage war against each other at every turn.
The Downside: Toxic, crude, rude, poorly structured, free of character development, and free of in the way of honest emotional impact.
On the Side: Bachelorette has had tremendous success on VOD, and is already considered a game-changer. Check out EW’s take on it HERE.
Related Topics: Sundance