Are you ready for the new queens of mean? Before the Monday-night Sundance screening of the Kirsten Dunst movie Bachelorette, buyers and pundits wondered whether this R-rated wedding comedy might prove to be the next Bridesmaids. Well, it only took ten minutes to dispel that notion: Kristen Wiig may have been a meltdown-prone maid of honor in Bridesmaids, but the women of Bachelorette (who also include Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher) make Wiig seem like a Girl Scout. In fact, they’re even crueler and more proudly awful than the amoral female protagonists of Bad Teacher and Young Adult … until, suddenly, the movie loses the courage of its black-hearted convictions.
But let’s start with the good stuff first. Writer-director Leslye Headland’s screenplay (adapted from her own Off Broadway play) is gleefully vicious, upping the ante on what women can do in comedy after that lowbrow watermark was set awfully high by the anti-heroines of 2011. Dunst is a slit-eyed meanie who can’t believe that her fat friend from high school (Rebel Wilson) will make it to the altar before she does, and at the rehearsal dinner, she, Caplan, and Fisher decide to snort as many lines of coke as they can to push through their barely contained condescension. And get a load of this inciting incident: Act 2 kicks in when the super-high Dunst and Fisher steal Wilson’s plus-size wedding dress and climb into it to prove that it’s so fucking huge that it can contain both of their stick figures … and then the gown rips, and our wicked witches must launch a nocturnal quest to repair it before Wilson wakes up for her wedding the next morning and realizes what has happened.
It’s like the Mean Girls got older and no wiser: Dunst is the curdled, self-loathing queen bee Rachel McAdams might have grown up to be, Fisher has the daffy Amanda Seyfried role, and Caplan … well, she’s still the same cynical Lizzy Caplan she played in Mean Girls, now made a newly minted member of the Plastics. But boy, “mean” is the operative word here! The women mock anyone who isn’t thin, pretty, and white, and two of their main love interests — James Marsden and Adam Scott — are proud assholes, too. “I was sort of blown away by how dark and awful [Headland] tried to make people,” Caplan noted after the screening. So were the audience members, who often gasp-laughed at these girls behaving badly.
Still, despite its low budget and indie bona fides, Bachelorette sure feels like it was the victim of studio notes. Though it initially pushes into far nastier territory than Bad Teacher and Young Adult, it also pulls its heroines back at the last minute, giving them each a Sympathetic Backstory (bulimia, depression, abortion) that they can only work through after another character sits them down and monologues at them that They’re Better Than This. You may be in danger of whiplash: Suddenly, the movie turns into the kind of thing the characters have spent the last 80 minutes making fun of. At the Q&A, one audience member who’d seen Headland’s play asked her why the movie stuffed in sympathy that wasn’t on the stage. “I like dark plays, but I don’t like dark movies,” said the director. “Which is really honestly the answer.” Maybe, but the more honest answer seemed to come from Dunst, who answered quickly when asked why she took on the role. “It’s fun being the bitch,” she said.