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Don't make eye contact, don't get their attention

dir: Leslye Headland


You might think that this is a bandwagon-jumping exercise, trying to capitalise on the success of Bridesmaids, but it doesn’t really feel like that, especially since so much time has passed. People have moved on. This is based on a play, written by the woman who directs here as well, so obviously it predates Bridesmaids, and it’s classy art, baby. I mean, surely all movies based on plays have class up the wazoo?

Obviously, it has plenty more in common with Bridesmaids. It has a mostly female cast, it’s meant to be a comedy, it somewhat focuses on a character who resents her female friend for getting married before her, and some foul stuff happens along the way.

The similarities pretty much end there. I had significant issues with Bridesmaids, in that I felt the characters were blah and the dynamics they were mining for alleged comedy gold were regressive and fairly sexist. But, put simplistically, I couldn’t fault it in terms of delivering what it promised: it was a comedy structured like a comedy giving the ladies what they wanted.

Bachelorette is a completely different film. It’s probably not a comedy, in that I didn’t really find that much to laugh at, but calling it a drama insults dramas everywhere. The dramatic stuff seems too jokey and the comedic stuff doesn’t really cause laughs to erupt from one’s throat. It was, at least, amusing enough, and, dare I say it, somewhat more honest.

The women here are, and this isn’t a moral judgement on my part, all awful. They’re awful in pretty standard ways, in that they’re petty, cruel and most of them are exhibiting different types of personality disorders, to put it mildly.

Yeah, but they’re exhibiting different types of mental illnesses, so it’s a range of female experience that they’re covering. About the only one who’s not irredeemably awful is Becky (played by the ubiquitous Rebel Wilson), who is the one getting married. The link between these female characters is high school, and at high school, Becky was the ‘biggest’ and thus least popular, and most bullied.

These women she regards as friends don’t seem to like her at all. In fact, could we just assume that they kept her around as a joke, or as someone particularly substandard to make themselves feel better about themselves? It’s probably a safe bet.

In the conversation where she’s trying to tell her ‘good’ friend Regan (Kirsten Dunst, who hasn’t been this vicious since she played a child vampire in Interview with the Vampire) about her good news, Regan keeps interjecting with “Can I say something?” any time that Becky speaks for more than five seconds.

When Regan finds out about Becky’s engagement, she’s livid. She’s disgusted. She doesn’t have the ambivalent, ambiguous feelings that a female character might have in one of these kinds of flicks: she flat out fucking hates it. This rage fuels her actions, and this allows her to focus her energies towards organising the shit out of Becky’s wedding.

Regan is a rampaging case of borderline personality disorder and bulimia, and a truly lethal creation, but the other girls that make up the quartet aren’t that much healthier. Gena (Lizzy Caplan) is a coke-addicted consumptive who rants whatever paranoid schizophrenic thoughts pop into her head, and Katie (Isla Fisher) is a pretty dumb party girl who’s painfully promiscuous and suicidal over the least setback. So out of the three of them, who the healthiest?

Who’s the least unwell, perhaps, is a better benchmark. Over the course of the night before the wedding, these women destroy Becky’s wedding dress, abuse even more cocaine, and set off on a journey of complete non-self-discovery as they try to salvage the dress, which they make worse with every action. I mean, I would have thought taking the dress to a strip club would clearly be the way to go, but somehow it makes matters worse by ruining the dress even more. Exponentially more.

It’s one of those up all night journey flicks, where the thing the protagonists are chasing is always just out of reach (in this case it’s miles and miles out of reach, because the girls are fucked up and monstrous). At least, that is, until the very end, and even then where not sure whether they’re going to reach what they’re trying to reach, or realise that it’s not as vital as they thought.

There’s also one of those great moments (in a bridal shop) where Regan had the chance to short circuit their “problem” early, but can’t allow it to happen, because it would require her to be a better person that she actually is. Even though she wants and needs to fix the situation, she chooses not to with a certain option, because it would require her to give up on the fantasy image in her head of what her life should be like by now, by ‘allowing’ Becky to have instead the dressed whose design she planned on having.

It might seem like a fairly unimportant moment, but it consolidated the character for me. None of these women are on a path of self-discovery or redemption. They seem to be horrible people who, in a stressful time, become even more horrible. But they manage, in some cases, or at least in Regan’s case, to put their worst traits in the service of helping the people around them, even if it’s half-heartedly.

Maybe that’s more realistic, but we don’t necessarily go to the cinema for realism. The humour for me in this flick comes more from the horrible ironies it summons through its characters’ behaviours, in that Regan’s mastery of making herself throw up on demand saves someone’s life, and that nothing really goes to any sort of plan. Gena pines for a lost love whom she ditched over his lack of support when she had an abortion, and he makes it up to her by graphically and awkwardly telling the guests at the wedding that he literally put his penis in her vagina last night, and would like to do so again. These don’t sound like funny scenes, and I guess they’re going to make 5% of the audience both cringe and laugh like I did, but it made me admire a movie that, for all intents and purposes, completely seems to lack any admirable qualities.

There’s room for such, in the vast marketplace of idiocy and instant gratification that is the cinema.

Bachelorette, for me, functions as something of an antidote to the painful majority of flicks that have come out purporting to give women, especially, a version of what they themselves aspire to when it comes to the questions of life, weddings and female friendships.

They seem to dangle the idea of bringing up the spectre of female jealousy and resentment, dissatisfaction with one’s one life and outright envy of other women just for having the temerity to get married, and then resolve it all in treacly ways that paper over the deep-seeded problems and cork their collective cryholes with wedding cake, as if that fixes everything and resolves anything.

This flick says, explicitly, “Fuck ‘em”. Regan is a sociopath who clearly loathes all the people around her but still wants to do right by them, and gets shit done in the end because she prides herself on doing so. She saves someone’s life not because she has to but because she can, she has the skills. Becky’s ‘dream’ day then gets to go ahead, almost ruined by but then ultimately salvaged by a bunch of narcissistic fuck-ups who wouldn’t have gotten the job done otherwise if they were any different.

Well, that’s the very antithesis of an afterschool special or an “I learned something today” moral tale, and I’ve got to give them points for that. Human nature is a dark and grungy encyclopaedia of experiences, and I learn something all the same from watching flicks like this, from a playwright who clearly wants to illuminate some of the darkest corners of the female mind.

I’m not going to churlishly reject her gift then by being overly critical, am I? Such honesty should be rewarded, not cast aside like a bridesmaid’s panties. And I’m all about rewarding truthiness and courage.

Bachelorette is the nastiest, sourest flick no-one watched in 2012, which is an achievement, don’t doubt it.

6 times an entire episode of CSI could be devoted to the substances on that wedding dress out of 10

“It's good to see you're still fighting the good fight against the tyranny of pants.” – don’t you hate pants? - Bachelorette