The Marriage Cure: Dunst Dazzles (Again!) In Grim Nuptial Comedy Bachelorette

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Fisher, Dunst, and Caplan in “Bachelorette”

Bachelorette’s mere existence is a success story, regardless of the film’s quality. Leslye Headland adapted her Off Broadway play—about a trio of women and their ambivalence about and debauchery during the wedding of a loathed frenemy—for the screen and got a few high-wattage stars on board; the movie, first released online rather than gradually in limited release, has already hit number one on the iTunes rental platform. (It comes out in theaters here September 7.)

And Bachelorette, with its alienation of the audience—this film depicts its characters behaving very, very badly toward one another—is a tough sell. But it justifies its existence, if barely. It’s quite possible that this film owes much to the success of last year’s wedding blockbuster Bridesmaids, but the two could not be more divergent. It may have taken a zeitgeist-y, sexy pitch to get this movie onto the hard drives of iTunes users, but so be it: it’s among the edgiest and most daring American comedies in years, if one that occasionally tips too far into miserabilism.

Kirsten Dunst, who’s made a dandy second career in small and daring roles and who ought never to go back to dumb studio fare, plays the near-protagonist, Regan, the maid of honor. Regan begins the film bragging to Becky (Rebel Wilson) about how she’s been working with young cancer victims, beaming the whole while—this is a completely competent woman, we’re meant to learn, with a heart of obsidian. (They’re getting lunch, and Regan orders a Cobb salad with all the elements of a Cobb salad on the side, pushing the joke into the realm of the obvious, as often happens in this movie.) Becky, the one completely good-hearted member of the ensemble, announces her engagement, which prompts a remarkable comic flicker of revulsion across Regan’s face, before cutting to a three-way call (still?) between Regan and the other two bridesmaids, the trio the story will choose to follow.

The rest of the film takes place on the night before Becky’s wedding, as Katie (Isla Fisher) and Gena (a remarkable Lizzy Caplan) join Regan for a bachelorette party that quickly devolves to include only the three of them. The cocaine comes not in bags but, it would seem, in buckets; that the three girls would end up trying on Becky’s oversized wedding dress (which fits two of the slender bridesmaids), tearing it open in the process, only makes sense here.

Little in the following minutes makes perfect sense, though, and the film has the theatrical-adaptation curse of sticking to a very strict through-line at the expense of spontaneity or realism. Why must our three bachelorettes crash the groom’s bachelor party? Onstage, it’s to create more drama in a limited space, to move on to the next scene. On film, weird and unconvincing explanations are thrust at the viewer, but, frankly, it doesn’t matter: Ms. Dunst and Ms. Caplan carry their characters so well that the audience is willing to go down avenues that otherwise seem inexplicable.