Movie Meltdown

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With Friends like These... Who Needs this Movie?

 by Bryan Renfro

     Watching "Bachelorette" is one of the more frustrating movie experiences I've had in a while. Maybe because I don't usually seek out more recent comedies, since most of them seem really dumb and pandering. And so, I usually don't bother. Plus this movie seemed from the pitch alone to be doing nothing more then cashing in on and riding the success of "Bridesmaids" made the year before. (In actuality, this film is based on the writer/director Leslye Headland's play, which made it's off-Broadway debut well before the film "Bridesmaids" was made. But you can't tell me there weren't producers tripping over each other to get this film made after Paul Feig's movie broke through. So the "Bachelorette" story itself isn't stealing from the Kristen Wiig film, but I feel like the production is. You can just feel it in the hurried tone... as if they are saying, "We have to get this out now!! While people will still see it!") So from the trailer alone I wasn't impressed, but Lizzy Caplan is in it, and I'm a complete sucker for some Lizzy Caplan. So I decided to watch it hoping it would surprise me. Instead... frustration.

     Mostly because this type of movie does what is possibly the most disappointing thing you can do when making a movie. It doesn't try. I will gladly choose a cheap, bad movie that's trying it's heart out, over a well-orchestrated, nicely financed "process" that is just going through the motions. And it is a process. All filmmaking is, and the bigger the film the more elaborate the process. And this one technically has everything going for it. It has a great cast of terrific actors. Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson, Adam Scott, James Marsden, Kyle Bornheimer and the previously mentioned Lizzy Caplan. That's a pretty great line-up, especially for a comedy. So I don't blame the actors. They are all doing the best that they can. Some even turn in great performances despite the film's massive shortcomings. And obviously with a cast like that, they had a decent budget. So they had the financing to pull off pretty much whatever they needed to make this work. The sets look fine, the costumes are great... hey, I'm sure the catering on the shoot was delicious. But it doesn't matter how many professional-grade, Hollywood-approved pieces you add to the puzzle, if the writing isn't there - it's still gonna be a mess.

     And that was my problem with this movie. It maybe the only problem with this movie?! It feels like it has nothing to say, and at the same time what it is saying along the way, is kind of offensive. Not in the (trying way too hard to be) edgy, gross-out comedy way that so many movies are now. No, in the way that it treats it's own characters horribly, and in the process the audience as well.

     You have to kind of choose the style of movie you are making. Is it going to be heartfelt? With characters that have some issues, but we really care about? Is it going to be silly? Where we watch the characters fall down a lot and do a lot of disgusting things, most of which involve bodily functions of some sort. Is it going to be dark? Where the characters really are just horrible people, and we watch what unfolds when people have no morals. All of those types of movies can work... if you know what you are doing. But I can't say "Bachelorette" fell short of any those attempts... because I felt like it wasn't trying very hard even for those types of comedies. At best, it took little pieces of all of those more popular sub-genres, lazily threw them together, mixed them up and didn't even bother to finalized the overall idea of what the movie was about. It just sort of mapped out the most basic, obvious course that this kind of story could take, and just let it roll downhill til it got to it's inevitable conclusion.

     Here are some basic rules to keep in mind if you are writing a comedy. 1.) Just having your characters do a lot of coke doesn't make them dark or edgy. They are just drug addicts. 2.) Making your characters vomit a lot doesn't make them hysterically funny... just gross. 3.) Making your character dumb doesn't make her charming... it just makes her dumb. There's such a fine line when it comes to comedy, and this screenplay just falls on the wrong side of funny, for me at least.

     So let's address some of the actors and their characters (or lack thereof). Rebel Wilson seems like a good actress, but she's given nothing to do in this movie. She has relatively little screen time and the entirety of her character is basically that she's kind of nice. Well, nice and grew up tortured by her classmates. But a lot of kids grow up in a rough situation like that, that's just realistically how mean kids can be. But to make her character grow up and and still be friends with these girls who joined in with the rest of the class in referred to her as 'Pig Face' throughout high school - is just downright mean. And that mean streak comes straight from the writer. To make this seemingly smart woman grow up and not succeed in life enough to know who and what real friends are... to not excel past these petty woman who mocked her in adolescence - is just cruel. And truthfully makes me wonder, what teenage horrors that person suffered from themselves to come to write about a situation like that in their adult life?

     Kirsten Dunst seems to go out of her way to play her character Regan, as a bitch. And I don't use that term lightly. In fact, I find guys that throw that word around with flippant misogyny to be completely annoying. So aside from it's canine root usage, I feel like the rest of the time it should only be used only when it really applies. But I feel like, they HAD to have used that word in Regan's description in the screenplay overview. Because there are some very specific choices I would say Kirsten makes along the way, to put her firmly in that camp. And here's the thing, you can make that her character. You can write her with that personality and make it work - and make it funny. But you have to go dark and make no apologies with a character like that. She just has to follow through and come out just as bad on the other side. You can't diverge midway into the story with glimpses of how sad she is or how much she wishes her life would have turned out differently. No, you just can't do that. She isn't a rich enough character to allow that kind of depth. And this certainly isn't that level of character study. So when you make her seem almost sympathetic in one scene, then turn around and have her make racist comments to someone or make fun of her friend's weight in the next... it just draws even attention to what a horrible person she truly is. If she's just a bitchy caricature, you can laugh at her - because she isn't real. But when you try to legitimize her as a person, it makes her horrendous flaws seem so bad that it completely takes over the role. Kirsten really doesn't do a bad job performance-wise, in fact, she's pretty damned convincing. And she definitely shows she can play a more bleak character than she is often given. But she just needs more of a consistent tone to be able to bring us a truly interesting performance.

     Isla Fisher gives us nothing here. She is the previously mentioned "dumb one". And that's literally all there is to her. And it isn't a charming dumb performance like something Anna Faris has perfected. The character is shallow, selfish and just plain ignorant. And what's worse is she seems to know these things about herself, and doesn't care. She's quite content to be a moron. We never uncover something more beneath the surface with her, because there isn't anything else there. There's a scene where it seems like that are trying to lead up to a reveal of some sort. Some basic humanity from her at least. But no. Again like most plot lines in this movie, it just drops off and she continues to be a detestable imbecile.

     Now Lizzy Caplan. There's just something about Lizzy. Something that makes you love her. And I can tell you exactly what it is... it's her vulnerability. In the entirety of her career, no matter what the role, she brings a this vulnerable quality to everything she does. Something that shows through, in even the lesser projects. And that's what happens here. Grant it, it helps that her character Gena, is the only one of the three leads that resembles an actual human being. While her actions are still quite objectionable, there is this sort of precious nature hidden deep within her mean facade. And I think the majority of that is due to Caplan's performance more then the script. As an actress she brings heart to a character that would have otherwise offered nothing. The relationship between her character and Clyde, played by the always likeable Adam Scott, is the only plot line I kind of cared about. And even that is still handled in the most boring and run-of-the-mill way. Which seems even more ridiculous when it centers around two characters that are so non-traditional. They are not your average Hollywood rom-com characters, and I feel that even those characters themselves would call 'bullshit' on the way their story is wrapped up. By just playing out a scene we've watched in a hundred other mundane comedies. It's sad really.

     And the male characters in the film aren't written any better then the females. One scene in particular felt cheated out of it's potential. Adam Scott is a hell of a straight man, with terrific comedic timing. Plus he's a good dramatic actor to boot. So there was a moment when Adam's character had the opportunity to deliver an amazing, heartfelt confession to Lizzy Caplan's character. She needed to hear it, and the plot needed it to work! But instead the writer pulls the rug out from under his character (and the film), by instead having him udder one simplified sentence, and then just cuts away. Another missed opportunity in this movie filled with them.

     Aside from Scott, James Marsden and Kyle Bornheimer don't fair much better. Marsden is nothing more then a lecherous douche-bag. And Bornheimer's character Joe seems like he has potential to lead to something more, but never gets a chance as he is drug down the slope with the rest of the inconsequential roles.

     Now on to something that bothered me even more then the hollow cast of characters. The sheer offensiveness of the film as a whole. Let's take into account that our leads (our heroes if you will) all seem to be in utter disbelief that the heavy-set girl of the bunch could possibly be the first of the group to get married. More so, they seem kind of outraged by that notion. Which would be fine if they are supposed to be nothing more than just shallow, horrible people. But then you juxtapose that with scenes where they are all supposed to actually be friends with this woman (Rebel Wilson)! That they have continued to remain friends for well over a decade! And that they supposedly care about her?! It still puzzles me that, they care about her so much that they would go to all this trouble to save her wedding ceremony... but they don't care about her enough to not mock her weight behind her back?! I found the scene where they decide to try to fit two of them into her wedding dress, take a picture and upload it to Facebook (and tag the bride no less), to be kind of appalling. Is anyone out there not offended by that?! And than to have them all still claim to be this woman's best friends?! It's just offensive to the character of Becky and offensive to the audience that we are supposed to be "ok"with their attitudes and their behavior.

     Not to mention, the film casually works in issues like bulimia and abortion as though it's trying to play on your sympathy. But these characters and this script hasn't earned your sympathy. So playing those heavy cards without a story that backs up the weigh of such a move either becomes pointless... or just obnoxious.

     But there was one thing I realized in the middle of this movie. I want Lizzy Caplan to record my outgoing voicemail message, and of course I need her to round it out with "Eat a dick". Lizzy's character's voice mail message may in fact be the funniest thing in the entire movie! That comment caught me off guard and was legitimately funny. And unlike most things in this movie, it was completely consistent with her character. Plus it just continued to get funnier the more they called her cell phone. So that was my takeaway from this movie. Hopefully Lizzy will hook me up with that message for my phone.

     But probably the most frustrating thing about watching this movie is seeing Lizzy Caplan and Adam Scott acting together, when so recently they have been featured as a couple in the short-lived cable series "Party Down". Which I stand by as one of the best shows ever produced. Literally. It is so smart and so funny and features amazingly well-developed characters courtesy of writer and creator Rob Thomas. All that just makes "Bachelorette" so much harder to watch. My real advice is, skip this movie and just go watch several episodes of "Party Down". Believe me, you will be much better off. Much... better... off.



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