Bachelorette, which stars Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher, Adam Scott, and James Marsden, is something of a mash-up of The Hangover and Bridesmaids, but it’s missing one very important element crucial to those films’ successes: It’s not very funny. It’s hard to tell, really, how much it wants to be, but in trying to distinguish her movie from those inevitable comparisons, writer/director Leslye Headland (a staff writer on the brilliant Terriers) infuses Bachelorette with a kind of misanthropy that creates an ugly tonal disconnect with the overall comedic vibe of the film.
Take, for instance, a scene in the third act, in which Isla Fisher’s character, Katie — who has expressed some suicidal ideation — overdoses on a bottle of Xanax after she’s rejected by the schlubby Joe (Kyle Bornheimer) and doesn’t wake up the next morning. Kristen Dunst’s character, Regan — a lifelong bulimic — sticks two fingers down Katie’s throat to make her vomit and save her life. It works, but Regan’s bridesmaid dress ends up covered in Katie’s vomit. Is this supposed to be gross-out funny, or are we supposed to feel a sense of relief that Katie didn’t die? It’s hard to say, and the reason why I didn’t provide a spoiler alert to what might seem like a key scene in the movie is because it’s treated with the same casual indifference to character and narrative as every other scene in the film. Heavy themes and “zany” comedy co-exist, and the marriage of the two works about as well as trying to stick two negative sides of a magnet together.
The film follows three bridesmaids (Regan, Katie, and Lizzy Caplan’s Gena) as they attempt to throw a bachelorette party for the best friend, Becky (Rebel Wilson), who they secretly resent for being the first to marry despite the fact that she’s fat (that’s the Bridesmaids side of the equation). The Hangover side centers on three groomsen (James Marsden’s Trevor, Adam Scott’s Clyde, and Bornheimer’s Joe) throwing a Bachelor party for Becky’s fiance, Dale (Hayes MacArthur). The two parties and merge at a strip club after Regan and Katie — on a coke bender — accidentally rip the bride’s wedding dress and drip cocaine nose-bleed blood on it. There, Trevor aims to hook up with Regan and Joe tries to get Katie — a high school crush who didn’t know he existed — to notice him. Meanwhile, everyone is trying to come up with a solution to the ripped and stained wedding gown. At the same time, Lizzy Caplan’s Gena and Adam Scott’s Clyde have some unresolved feelings dating back to their intense high-school relationship. They were madly in love with each other, but Clyde’s inability to show up for Gena’s abortion sent her into a decade-long spiral with rando dudes and mountains of blow.
You see what I mean by tonal disconnect? It’s hard to know whether to laugh at the contrived situations or feel sympathy for the characters’ disastrous lives. It doesn’t help, either, that Headland doesn’t create enough comedy to elicit laughter or develop the characters enough to get us invested in them. Credit to Caplan, however, for elevating her character above the script and managing to somewhat successfully bring out the dark humor in her situation, although even she often makes us feel more sorry for her character than amused. Indeed, the only real delight in Bachelorette is in imagining the Caplan and Scott arc as a kind of pseudo-sequel to their relationship in “Party Down.”
Sadly, as much fun as it is just to see Caplan and Scott together, or see Marsden’s manic douchebag in action (man, why won’t someone give this guy a great comedy?), it’s not nearly enough to overcome the rest of the movie. There are no real peaks and valleys in Headland’s screenplay: The entire film coasts listlessly toward a climax that seems to want very badly to subvert the big romantic gesture speech but in doing so crashes into a confusingly crass what-the-fuck anti-climax. It’s subversive all right, but only in the way it takes a rom-com cliche and drowns it like a kitten, which — hooray! for avoiding the obvious — but, dude, it’s still a dead kitten.
Bachelorette is on VOD and iTunes now, and will be opening in theaters on September 7th.