Sarah Silverman once told an interviewer that she’d always wanted to play the kind of role that Bill Murray used to play in the 1970s — the unflappable trickster smartasses women are never invited to portray.
Fortunately, a lot of women comics are writing and producing their own comedies now; Lauren Miller and Jamie Travis collaborated on last year’s sweet For a Good Time, Call . . ., and Tina Fey is basically the boss of TV.
In Ass Backwards, UCB alums June Diane Raphael and Casey Wilson write and portray characters that shouldn’t be mistaken for standard ditzy femme-com airheads. Kate and Chloe are exactly the kinds of overwrought dimwits Will Ferrell plays, freakishly egocentric with enormous psychic gaps where their self-awareness should be. In heights of emotion, they escalate to terrifying and very funny insanity.
The pair are invited to compete in the 50th anniversary of the beauty pageant they lost as children, and embark on a road trip they are singularly ill-equipped to navigate. The film includes cameos by alt-comedy favorites like Bob Odenkirk and Paul Scheer, and Vincent D’Onofrio is hilarious as Chloe’s unbelievably empty-headed dad.
The duo’s guiding star is a former pageant-winner played by Alicia Silverstone, whom they hate but want to emulate, alternately reading and throwing her memoir. Even the poignant sadness of their unfulfilled lives is drawn hilariously: Kate, who’s been surviving in Manhattan as an egg donor, is haunted by the beautiful children she sees on the road who might be her “egg babies;” in lieu of luggage, Chloe comes laden with a library of scrapbooks documenting her life in magic marker and construction paper.
The episodic story and minimal budget result in a small canvas over which these two huge characters dominate.