Saturday, September 8, 2012

Bachelorette: Heather Chandler would eat this movie alive

Why is it so hard to write a good bitch? We all know bitches, and we know that they operate through a toxic cocktail of seduction and withdrawal, of embracing you with one arm and stabbing you, in the front, with the other. Bachelorette has pretty evenly split the legion of ladybloggers into loved it/hated it camps, and I'm joining the latter, if only because it seemed embarrassed to let bitches be bitches.

As I've felt with so many movies lately, Bachelorette doesn't quite know what it wants to be when it grows up. The film swings wildly between hedonistic screwball comedy and a hero's journey of self-actualization, and doesn't quite capture either, though the former thread comes closest to success. The film clearly positions itself in the Girls Gone Gross-Out genre probably indoctrinated by Cameron Diaz's The Sweetest Thing but most recently, and successfully, realized in Bridesmaids. The idea that not just Apatovian man-boys but also women do drugs, have frank discussions about sex and actually inhabit functioning human bodies is one that shouldn't be as radical as it appears to be in modern cinema, but its time has come. So watching Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, and Lizzy Caplan do coke, talk about blow jobs, and gag each other to revive from a Xanax overdose before their high school friend's wedding is, I guess, progressive?

But where the movie fails is in its scattershot and incomplete invocation of Issues like bulimia, abortion, and self-destructive self-loathing in order to force humanity onto its characters and an "explanation" onto their raunchy and shocking behavior. I think Bachelorette would have worked much better if it remained a feature-length R-rated situation comedy. The situation it chronicles--a Hangover-esque road trip around Manhattan to clean and repair the bride's dress the night before the wedding--lends itself to some amusing scenarios. But along the way, literally in the middle of the movie, it seems, someone decided that Dunst's alpha-bitch Regan, Fisher's cutesy dolt Katie, and Caplan's caustic and cynical Gena, needed to be damaged in order to be sympathetic or interesting characters. This is a mistake Mean Girls never made. So we get a string of third-act exposition (and clumsy romantic pairings) that reveal each girl's sorry past and lackluster present that is meant to humanize its trio of leads, but only makes the very real problems that are name-checked seem like simplistic excuses for bad behavior, rather than complicated phenomena particular to modern femininity. But why do we need these women be messed up in order to enjoy watching their exploits or excesses? I don't recall Knocked Up including a chunk of dialogue explaining that Jason Segel's dyslexia made him hit on married women. Or that Phil in The Hangover was abandoned as a child. Why are bad boys allowed to be just that, but bad girls have to be pathologized?

To return to my original question, if you want these girls to be bitches--and mean they certainly are, cruelly taunting their plus-sized friend Becky, the bride (Bridesmaid's Rebel Wilson, not given enough to do) both to her face and behind her back--make them bitches the way bitches are. Show the charisma, the desperation, and the verbal weaponry that mean girls wield to gather people close and then carefully slice them to ribbons. I never got a sense of why Regan is friends with Katie and Gena, or why Becky has chosen not only to remain in touch with this clique, but also make them bridesmaids at her wedding. And that seems to me like the more interesting, and potentially darkly funny, question--what is the glue that holds these narcissistic and consequence-blind women together? Heathers shows us why bitches are inherently interesting; Bachelorette tells us why they can't be just funny.

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