Remember that post-Bridesmaids wave of ill-behaved female humor that I mentioned last week? It reaches high tide this week with Bachelorette, a comedy that is also about a bunch of bridesmaids and features one of the same actors. Unlike Bridesmaids, however, Bachelorette is a thoroughly nasty piece of work shot through with ugliness and cynicism. It’s also so enjoyable that it would make me ashamed — if I had any shame about these things.
Most of the story takes place the night before the wedding of Becky (Rebel Wilson) and centers around her high-school pals and bridesmaids: controlling bulimic Regan (Kirsten Dunst), hostile dead-end case Gena (Lizzy Caplan), and desperate idiot Katie (Isla Fisher). The ladies are endlessly bitter that their friend, whom they used to call “Pigface” behind her back, has beaten them all to the altar and snagged a decent, rich, good-looking guy to boot. When the bridesmaids accidentally tear Becky’s wedding dress after the bachelorette party, they embark on a frantic late-night quest — fueled by huge amounts of cocaine — to repair the garment before Becky wakes up in the morning.
These women are angry, phony, stupid, shallow, materialistic, racist, ungrateful people who hate themselves, which is where they get the energy to hate everybody else. They’re also tremendous fun to be around, because these actresses are skilled comedians who commit wholeheartedly to their characters’ awfulness. A scintillating Fisher pilfers a bunch of laughs with her ad-libbing, while Dunst’s performance seems informed by her hard-partying past (she’s been doing excellent work since emerging from rehab recently), and she knows how to make Regan’s hardness and intensity funny — check out the appalled, disgusted face she pulls at the beginning when Becky breaks the news of her engagement.
The movie’s real indelible performance comes from Caplan. As the wedding brings Gena into close quarters with the ex-boyfriend (Adam Scott) who knocked her up at 16 and didn’t show up for her abortion, the kohl-eyed, low-voiced Caplan makes her misery vivid as her long-buried pain comes to the surface. Caplan and Scott have great chemistry (they were co-stars on TV’s Party Down), but even better is the energy and rapport among the four actresses here, who create the feel of a group of friends who say horrible things to one another but still retain a screwed-up sort of loyalty forged by their shared dysfunction.
It’s harder than it looks to make comedy out of such loathsome people but harder still to sustain the laughs over the course of an 87-minute movie. Writer-director Leslye Headland, a first-time filmmaker adapting her own stage play, doesn’t lose her footing when the action slows down around the halfway point. The bridesmaids — OK, mostly Regan and Gena, although Katie makes a drunken, tossed-off admission about a suicide attempt — are forced to confront why they’re so horrible. Comedies often lose their way when they try to redeem characters who’ve been set up as antiheroes. (I’m thinking of last year’s Bad Teacher.) Here it’s more convincing. That’s part of what makes Bachelorette such a blast of filthy fresh air.
Starring Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, and Isla Fisher. Written and directed by Leslye Headland, based on her own play. Rated R.