Ms. Dunst is utterly fantastic—after a wildly different performance as a depressive bride in Melancholia—playing a maid of honor sublimating her anger and belief that she cannot be loved. She elevates the film past any memory of the more traditional wedding movies of the past—the horrific Bride Wars and The Wedding Planner, or even the superlative but very sunny Bridesmaids—by creating a character who feels drawn from life, even in all her rage. Ms. Caplan’s character comes less from life and more from filmic cliché: she’s the burnout friend who sleeps with one too many unsuitable men out of a nihilistic impulse emerging from the screenwriter’s chic boredom. But Ms. Caplan’s sheer charisma moves the part out of the realm of the sad best friend. The same cannot be said of Isla Fisher’s performance, though. Her role as an irresponsible dumb-bunny is the thinnest in the movie, and her work in the film has not even a hint of intelligence behind the eyes. I’m fairly certain she mispronounced the name of her workplace, “Club Monaco.” And if it was a joke, it was too nasty to land.
In any case, Ms. Dunst and Ms. Caplan power through the middle part of the movie, a section of sheer contrivance, to arrive, suddenly, at a bravura finale. Perhaps their unjustified detour to a strip club mirrors a bad night spent drunk and high; nothing is meant to make sense, really. Once the three sober up and begin to deal with all the previous night’s damages (that dress is still torn apart), the movie suddenly comes together as more than just a pair of good performances and some classy zingers. There’s genuine tension inherent in the struggle to get Becky’s dress fixed on time.
And that tension wouldn’t exist if the movie were in fact what it proclaims itself to be, from its opening credits of the protagonists’ yearbook photos with slurs scrawled across them to the bridesmaids’ calling the bride “Pig Face” to all those drugs and all that vomit: the bachelorettes are neurotic not because they’re angry messes, as they keep declaring, but because they love Becky and they’re scared for their own futures, all at once. If they can’t get the dress to her on time, what hope is there for them? It’s a question fraught with annoying prejudices—being a bride, or a good bridesmaid, is not at the center of being a woman, as women are told by popular culture—that are nevertheless key to American women’s lives.
By its end, the messy Bachelorette isn’t just a good counterbalance to all those bad wedding movies—or the good one that ends with a Wilson Phillips sing-along. It’s a way for any truly flawed viewer (which is to say any viewer, or at least any New York viewer) to stand vicariously at the center of a nasty, but honestly nasty, set of nuptials.
Running Time 91 Minutes
Written and Directed by Leslye Headland
Starring Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher and Lizzy Caplan
Three out of four stars