What do you call a comedy that is painfully, almost criminally unfunny? This is a question I'd never thought I'd ask seeing a Kristen Wiig-fronted feature. But the brilliant comedienne who earned a rare Academy Award nod for a comedy script with Bridesmaids has made one of the worst comedies I've ever seen with Girl Most Likely. As a big fan of Wiig, it actually pains me to tell you this, but this lame, lackluster feature fails on just about every level you can imagine.
Wiig stars as Imogene Duncan, an aspiring New York playwright who was poised to be the next big thing about ten years back. But she wasted her big opportunity and has been desperately clinging on to the fringe of NYC's high society. When her live-in boyfriend breaks up with her, Imogene tries to win him back with a move so desperate it makes her downright reprehensible. She fakes a suicide attempt. To her credit (I guess), she does so well enough that the authorities consider her at risk for further self-harm. So, they pass her off to her estranged white trash mother Zelda (Annette Bening), who takes Imogene back to her childhood home in Ocean City, New Jersey that she'd hoped to leave behind forever. There she reunites with her brother Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald), who has an obsession with mollusks and is suggested to be somewhere on the intellectually disabled spectrum. She also meets her mother's bizarre boyfriend who claims to be a time-traveling samurai/CIA agent called George Bousche (Matt Dillon), and Lee (Darren Criss), a handsome and young Backstreet Boy impersonator who rents out her old room. As you might expect, there's drama between mother and daughter. Imogene doesn't trust Bousche, and strikes up a love affair with Lee.
While the film, co-directed by American Splendor helmers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, is quick to establish a cavalcade of absurd characters, the production design of Girl Most Likely fails to create a heightened, wacky world for them to operate within. Successful comedy directors with distinctive styles like Wes Anderson, Pedro Almodovàr or even Napoleon Dynamite's Jared Hess set up weird worlds that play by their own rules, and we willingly go on the ride through them. But Girl Most Likely just feels like our world, which makes its mounting outlandishness increasingly unbelievable, culminating in a third act reveal that feels completely unearned and had me throwing up my hands in absolute frustration.
Frustrating is actually a really fitting word for Girl Most Likely, because when you're watching a full-length movie that centers on a character as deeply unlikeable and loathsome as Imogene, it just feels like a punishment. Even its promising cast can't save this from being a hot mess. Wiig is given little do in the film beyond sulk and play drunk while wearing a barrage of ridiculous outfits. (The joke that Imogene only has access to her clothes from high school gets old fast, but persists through most of the narrative all the same.) Criss is cute as the romantic interest, but his character is totally unbelievable because he's devotedly drawn to Imogene while she is nothing but hostile and condescending to him. (What does he see in her!?) Even his big moment, where she sees him perform as a Backstreet Boy imitator in a crappy casino stage show, is spectacularly flubbed. Criss is a sexy young man who can sing like an angel, and dance like a stripper. But Berman and Pulcini stage this sequence so blandly that we're given little chance to revel in his appeal. How? How do you miss that opportunity? Have they not seen Glee?
Supporting players Dillon, June Diane Raphael (as Imogene's fair weather bff) and Natasha Lyonne (as the love interest to brother Ralph) add some much needed color and quirk to the movie, as does Bening. Mired deep in her Jersey accent and decked out with acrylic nails and cut up beach tees, Bening miraculously created a complex character in this messy narrative. Her well meaning but messed up mom got some of the few laughs I heard at this screening. The others all went to brother Ralph.
While he is the character all the others seemingly pity, Ralph's emotional journey was by far the most intriguing. At the start, we see him as a weirdo who has no human friends but devotes all his time and money to the study of his beloved mollusks, specifically crabs. He has even designed a human shell that creates the kind of safe space he envies in the clawed creatures he sells on the boardwalk. Imogene thinks her brother is sweet but a loser. But that still puts him a step up on her as far as I saw. When finally urges Ralph to leave the safety of Ocean City for a visit to New York, Ralph's side adventure, traversing the new terrain in his shell, made me wish I were watching a movie that followed this gentle genius rather than his self-important sister who resents the world for the wreck she's made of her own life.
I really like Kristen Wiig. I have spent years cheering for her when she's landed roles movies like Walk Hard and Whip It, and TV shows like Flight of the Conchords, Arrested Development and Bored to Death. So, I wanted to like this movie. But instead I was repeatedly shocked at just how ill conceived and profoundly bad a so-called comedy could be. Girl Most Likely centers on a repugnant protagonist who goes on a shallow self-discovery quest that fails to be grounded in a world that can support it. The script by Michelle Morgan feels so half-baked that it is shocking to me it snagged the cast it has or even got made at all. And production itself felt sloppy and mismanaged, even down to some jarringly poorly recorded audio, and a prop police badge that looked like it belonged in a grade school production. Overall, I love and admire Kristen Wiig's contribution to contemporary comedy, but I completely hate Girl Most Likely. If you're a fan of Wiig, do her a favor and forget this movie exists.