Film Review – Girl Most Likely
The best screwball comedies have the ability to create a surreality that operates on a sort of dream logic, where oddball characters and plot developments inconsistent with reality exist harmoniously within the universe crafted by the film. Charlie Kaufman films, for instance, display this quality. Then there are straight comedies, that find the humor in and satirize the cold and stark realities of humans and their natures. Whit Stillman films, for instance. Girl Most Likely can’t decide which type of comedy it wants to be. One moment we’re in a comedy where the boyfriend (Matt Dillon) of Imogene’s (Kristen Wiig) mother (Annette Bening) claims to be an undercover CIA agent and “time-traveling” ex-ninja who calls himself “The Boosh,” and the next we’re in the grand Manhattan home of Imogene’s father (Bob Balaban), coming to terms with why he abandoned her at such a young age. The two disparate tones of the film never completely gel, and the only thing that saves it from being a complete mess is the fine acting abilities of everyone involved.
Kristen Wiig especially has such an expert sense of comedic timing and such charm and charisma that she elevates the film whenever she’s present. It’s a good thing, then, that she’s the main character and is on screen through most of the show. However, it is unfortunate she plays a character that is basically an iteration of the character she played in the much better Bridesmaids. I fear for her becoming typecast as the lonely wreck of a woman trying to find herself and her place in the world, chasing after the wrong man when Mr. Right was beside her the whole time. Wiig stars as Imogene, whom we first meet as a little girl starring in a school production of The Wizard of Oz. She can’t understand why Dorothy would want to leave the wonderful world of Oz for life back home with her family in Kansas. This scene unsubtly sets the stage for the rest of the film. Wiig is Dorothy, and she will venture to the Emerald City, played here by New York, to meet the wizard, her father, and will ultimately learn that “there’s no place like home.”
And much of this film is that heavy-handed with the symbolism and metaphor. The most glaring example is Imogene’s brother, Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald). He suffers from an undisclosed mental disorder that exists only in offbeat independent comedies where his words come out slow and childlike but otherwise he seems fine. He spends his time obsessed with shelled creatures like mollusks and hermit crabs, because, “wouldn’t it be great if no matter where you go, you’re always home?” I audibly groaned at this line, as did many others in attendance. But his shell is also an obvious symbol of his fear of the outside world, as is the wetsuit that “The Boosh” must put on every time there’s a thunderstorm (don’t get me started). Ralph has even built himself a human-sized, bulletproof shell that he can enter and transport himself in, which comes into play later during the film’s completely ridiculous climax.
Even before the awful climax, there’s not much about this film that rings true. Its situations and resolutions would exist comfortably in a bad sitcom. The characters are simple caricatures. They are idiosyncrasies painted in broad strokes. They aren’t characters as much as they are stock character types. The filmmakers, directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (of American Splendor fame) and screenwriter Michelle Morgan, falsely believe that eccentric is tantamount to funny, and that the eccentricities of these characters will be what carries the film, what sets it apart. Only this makes the film inhabit a false reality where nothing carries any weight or dramatic impact, and these “quirky” characters are no different from the thousands of other quirky characters that litter thousands of other independent romantic comedies.
And it’s a shame that such talent is wasted on such a paint-by-numbers film. We always know what’s in store just around the bend, because this film plumbs all too familiar territory. The hip New York City girl is forced by fate to move, kicking and screaming, back home to play the straight-man (woman) to a crazy cast of characters, including a gambling and alcohol addicted mom, a vaguely handicapped brother, a samurai special agent stepdad, and a Yale graduate who is now employed as the lead singer of a Backstreet Boys cover band on the Ocean City pier. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before she discovers the true meaning of family and “home,” and the film closes with a montage of happy faces played out to a poppy, indie tune. And so, there it is—Girl Most Likely is simply a generic and rote summer comedy: it’s not godawful, but it’s not very good either, and, beat for beat, you’ve seen this all before.
Final Grade: C-