‘Bachelorette,’ and the Importance of Being a Somewhat Terrible Person
The new dark comedy about a night gone awry offers vital lessons underneath all the excess.
Coming from a powerhouse production duo, a hotly-tipped first-time writer/director, and filled with a cast of young hot stars, Bachelorette seemed to be a no-brainer to heat up the icy halls of last winter’s Sundance Film Festival. Instead, audiences left the premiere highly polarized: some loved the relentlessly debauched antics of its nearly irreedemable trio of leading ladies, but many others were shocked — shocked! — at the unforgiving nature of main characters that, traditionally, fought over men and place settings, and certainly not babypowder bottles filled with cocaine.
Which is why Bachelorette had to remain true to its half-crusted scab wound of a core, even through a series of re-cuts.
“I think I’m probably the only teenage girl that watched The Graduate and related to Mrs. Robinson,” Leslye Headland, the film’s writer/director, told The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday night at the film’s New York premiere. “I was like, ‘Why isn’t the whole movie about her? I just don’t understand.’ And I think that’s just like me as a person, like, I just for some reason have empathy for people that are sort of villainized for their weakness or their behavior.”
And so, we get four main characters, high school rebels collectively known as the B-Faces (guess what the B stands for), who have reuinted to marry their first member off, and do some partying like the good old days. While Regan (Kirsten Dunst) is trying to execute her Maid-of-Honor duties with the cold, ruthless efficiency with which she runs the rest of her life, Gena (Lizzy Caplan) and Katie (Isla Fisher) have already arrived well sauced and powdered and ready to party.
Even if the characters seem at first mindless, it doesn’t stop the film from making an important point.
“I think now, it’s no longer that it’s this idea that the man is giving up his freedom and the woman has just been waiting for this moment to get married,” Caplan explained, “I think the women are giving up their freedom too when they get married. So we deserve as debaucherous bachelorette parties as they deserve bachelor parties.”
And, by way of pure calamity and a desperate attempt to save the wedding for their friend Becky (Rebel Wilson), that’s exactly what happens. At strip clubs, in dirty bathrooms, on city streets and subways, and all with a constant flow of booze, pills and drugs.
“It was Colombian, pure cocaine,” Caplan deadpanned when asked about the authenticity of their contraband. “We used the entire budget of the movie on cocaine. We went through a lot. A lot.”
But it’s not simply a taste for the illegal things in life that make the characters difficult protagonists. They are, at least outwardly, largely selfish and self-concerned, foul-mouthed and in a state of arrested development, which was hard for many critics to take. But the reality it reflects, and the challenge it offers, are crucial to the message of the film: it’s not so easy for everyone to grow up.
Asked why a friend’s marriage causes so much personal angst, Caplan explained, “It’s all about old friends who have known each other in high school, and I think it’s just any reminder of where you’re at, what milestones you’ve hit in your life thus far. And these girls have not hit any of them.”
Fisher, whose ditzy Katie works at the mall folding jeans (inefficiently), reasoned that it wasn’t just a film about a bunch of women with personality defects.
“Because of the recession, people can’t afford to leave home,” she said. “And then there’s just a delay in development. People are having babies later, so they’re marrying later, and they’re pursuing careers earlier, so there’s been a delay in that kind of emotional development.”
Even when characters are seemingly irredeemable, there is a temptation to soften them in the third act, so that the audience can more easily root for them. Headland said that she scrupuously avoided that trap, adding in just enough of an arc, through the revelation of a few past traumas, that at least explain, if not justify, the characters’ behavior a bit.
“When I was writing this script, and working on the performances with the girls,” she explained, “I just felt it was important that they weren’t completely awful, but there was just enough empathy with them that you could follow the movie, that you could feel comfortable going the length of the movie behind it.”
Another difficulty: thanks to timing and its young cast, the film invariably drew comparisons to Bridesmaids, 2011’s universally-beloved, smash-hit raunch-fest lady comedy led by Kristen Wiig. Perhaps it was the slapstick, or the more traditionally pathetic and lovable lead, but the spotlight of acclaim on that film cast a looming shadow on Bachelorette. But that, more than anything else, is a symptom of the silly “realization” that women can be funny that Bridesmaids seemingly inspired.
“I mean, I think women have always been funny,” Fisher asserted. “Before Bridesmaids it was Sex and the City. I’ve always loved — even Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, The Sweetest Thing — I’ve followed females in comedy my whole career, from Goldie Hawn to Lucille Ball. I feel like there’s always been a lot of us. I don’t feel that poverty mentality about it.”
Caplan was even more frank about her feelings on the women-in-comedy discussion that swept Hollywood last year.
“Totally insulting,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Because we comedic actresses knew that we could be funny, even though I guess everybody conveniently forgot that for a few years. But I think Bridesmaids is a totally hilarious movie, and if that’s the one that reminded everyone of the fact, then I couldn’t love it anymore, but maybe that makes me like it slightly even more.”