Weddings make such bitchin’ film scenarios because the stakes are believably high: If anything goes wrong, social opprobrium, the loss of your beloved, or both can ensue, right in front of your disdainful parents, the clergy, and probably Vince Vaughn or somebody. Directors have placed every obvious symbol of holy union in terrible cinematic danger in one film or another: wedding rings lost, heads submerged in tiered cakes, grooms hungover, brides’ hearts stolen. And the impending moment of matrimony toward which all of the characters are vectored is always, always the film’s ticking time bomb: the absolute, drop-dead, last possible moment during which a man and a woman can ever fully actualize and become—let’s find a different word than “complete” here. How about “aggregate”? “You aggregate me.”
In Bachelorette, directed by Leslye Headland, the bride’s expensive, plus-size wedding dress is in terrible, terrible danger, and you know it the second that Regan (Kirsten Dunst) suggests that her two high school BFFs, Gena (Lizzy Caplan) and Katie (Isla Fisher), drag it out of the bridal-suite closet during their own private coke-enabled bachelorette after-party. All three were high school friends of Becky (Rebel Wilson), the bride; the wedding is their reunion; and the dress is Headland’s imperiled hostage. In fact, Headland has an excruciating fondness for stringing up all kinds of swords of Damocles above the characters—and the dress—and just letting them hang there, impending, obvious to the audience and nobody else. Which is to say, you see a lot of the film’s twists coming from way off. Nostradamus predicted the wedding dress thing back in 1555, right after all that obscurantist Hitler nonsense.
Based on one of a cycle of plays about the seven deadly sins, Bachelorette is Headland’s elaboration on gluttony. So over the course of the night, the women indulge in drugs, alcohol, and sex (though not a lot of food, strangely, despite the proliferation of weed), through a plot that recalls the “into the night” genre of the 1980s, including films like After Hours, Something Wild, and, um, Into the Night. Those films are basically old-school picaresques: stories in which humble figures like your Griffin Dunne (or your C-3PO) are swept into the gulf stream of an unstoppable event—the event being, in this case, the wedding, and the women’s frantic attempts to repair the dress before morning.
Dunst’s Regan is a quad-core, hyper-threaded event planner who parallel tasks career execution and employee terrorization with stylized bitchiness. We all wear masks, right? The ones in movies are just maskier, and in accordance with cinematic rules about likability in commercial films, Regan’s tough-ass persona is just a masky ol’ facade hiding a vulnerable, funny charmer who never found the right dude. As the planner for Becky’s wedding, she gets some big damn hero moments during the climax, exhibiting her extreme competence.
Katie’s drug of choice is weed, and played by Fisher, she’s a purveyor of pothead language misunderstandings, and blunt, unspoken truths. Her adult life has stalled out with a succession of low-level retail jobs for which she has no attention span.
Caplan and Adam Scott, who plays Clyde, are reunited for the first time since the excellence interruptus of the Starz network’s late, beloved Party Down, in which they portrayed secretly love-struck part-time L.A. actors working for a shitty catering company. Here, they’re former high school sweethearts whose romance ended in a sad, banal tragedy.
Caplan, whose unfortunate abdomen you might remember exploding in Cloverfield, steals all of her scenes, takes them to the Target returns desk for illicit refunds, and spends all the money on whatever unicorn sweat gives you big, dewy eyes like Mary-Louise Parker. As the evening wears on, and the wedding dress continues to deteriorate, Gena is the one who keeps her head and looks for solutions, and also for coke. Super-funny and soulfully expansive, Gena is the closest thing the group has to a grown-up, despite her impulsiveness and drug habit, due in part to her bad experience as a kid.
In accordance with the original play’s deadly sin of gluttony, the bride, Becky, nicknamed “Pig Face,” is a heavy girl. She’s a charmer, appealing and lovely, but often regrettably insecure. In the third act, she totally T-1000’s into a stereotypical bridezilla. But Becky is comfortable with her body and her fondness for eating, and at the story’s outset, her jealous friends, still act-one assholes, are astonished that she’s marrying a handsome dude. The trajectory for all four characters is toward acknowledgment of the emptiness their indulgences can’t fill. It’s kind of heartening that Becky has that all worked out, pretty much, even if the film doesn’t quite get there.