In 2011’s “Bridesmaids,” former ‘SNL‘ star Kristen Wiig crafted the perfect vehicle for her comedic talents. The screenplay (which she co-wrote with fellow Groundling Annie Mumolo) allowed the comedienne to display her comedy chops and also flex some previously unseen dramatic muscles. Her character in the film was kind of a screw up who blamed others for her problems and for all the film’s broader moments, there was still a core of emotional truth. In the year since that film’s runaway success the actress has no doubt had countless paycheck roles lobbed at her. But so far she’s only appeared onscreen in a supporting role in “Friends With Kids” (alongside many of her “Bridesmaids” costars) and now “Girl Most Likely” (formerly “Imogene“), the latest from filmmakers Robert Pulcini & Shari Springer-Bergman (“American Splendor,” “The Nanny Diaries“).
The film opens with a brief prologue in New Jersey with a young girl named Imogene enacting a grade school production of “The Wizard Of Oz.” But instead of going ahead with her “there’s no place like home” dialogue as scripted, she argues that it doesn’t make any sense that Dorothy would want to go home to dreary Kansas when she’s in a place as magical as Oz. Cut to present day as the precocious youngster is now a grown up (Wiig) who is now in her thirties but still can’t manage to do things as they’re expected of her. The former New Jersey girl now lives in Manhattan with her boyfriend Peter (Brian Petsos), the kind of two-dimensional a-hole who says things like how he doesn’t want to “taint their relationship” with marriage.
Years ago Imogene had achieved early success as a playwright but after receiving a grant to work on her follow-up, she froze under the pressure (shades of Margot Tenenbaum). Now she’s responsible for writing brief synopsis’ of the kind of Broadway productions she used to pen herself but she can’t help inserting her opinion of them. After one particularly scathing review, Imogene is fired from her job.
On this same day her boyfriend Peter decides to breakup with her. As a cry for attention Imogene fakes a suicide attempt and is sentenced to a 72 hour suicide watch under the care of her mother (Annette Bening), a NJ boardwalk floozy. Stuck in her old home she’s forced to contend with a mother who drives her nuts, her mother’s boyfriend (Matt Dillon) who keeps insisting he works for the CIA, her brother (Christopher Fitzgerald) who must have some form of Aspergers and Lee (Darren Criss) the 20-something dude now renting her old room.
As they’re presented in the film, all the actors (save Wiig) are basically given one note to play. Her ex-boyfriend and boss aren’t even characters, they’re catalysts needed to send our protagonist on her way. Lee as a love interest is just too much of a screenwriter’s creation: he went to Yale but now sings in a Backstreet Boys cover band, is endlessly patient and kind and is going to teach her that letting her hair down to party in a New Jersey nightclub can be more fun than sipping wine at a society party in Manhattan. Thematically, the desire to escape your hometown and reshape your identity is rich territory to explore. But the script by Michelle Morgan (“Cinema Verite“) looks only to mine from the surface so you end up with trite lessons about how there’s no place like home. Despite these shortcomings, you can still see why Wiig was interested in the role.
Like her “Bridesmaids” character, Imogene is a flawed woman who had a chance at her dreams and let them slip away only to settle into a menial job and a life she wasn’t supposed to have. But in both cases we’re shown that the character’s problems are of her own making. And Wiig really shines in the film, proving that her finely honed comic timing can make a character work even when the film ultimately doesn’t. With the smallest tics she conveys depth that may not have been there on the page and at times it seems like she’s in a different movie than the rest of the cast (who were all uniformly given the direction “go broad“) While the film is not without its moments, “Girl Most Likely” would be a good deal worse were it not for the dedication of its star. [C]