Kristen Wiig became a star on Saturday Night Live mainly by playing larger-than-life comedic figures that were often untethered from reality. With characters like the Target Lady, Gilly, and the disfigured Lawrence Welk singer Dooneese, Wiig specialized in being the wacky center of the sketch that everyone else responded to.
Surprisingly, she became a movie star with Bridesmaids, a film in which she was really the straight man, reacting to the wackiness around her while dealing with her own insecurities and fears. Her latest outing, Girl Most Likely, continues in the Bridesmaids vein, giving Wiig the chance to be the somewhat stable center in a universe of kooks.
She plays Imogene, a one-time promising New York playwright whose career and personal life have stalled so badly that she moves back in with her family in New Jersey. She hasn’t written anything worthwhile in a very long time, and her personal life is in shambles after she can’t accept that her boyfriend is leaving her. Back home she has to deal with her boozy, loud-mouthed mother Zelda (Annette Bening); her insect-obsessed younger brother Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald); Lee (Darren Criss), the guy renting Imogene’s room from her mother; and George (Matt Dillon), Zelda’s live-in boyfriend who claims to be a spy but seems more like a moocher.
Directors Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman establish a gently mournful comic tone right from the beginning that fits Michelle Morgan’s script. Not unlike the role Wiig played in Bridesmaids, Imogene is a sad character, but the sadness never overwhelms the quirky, off-center charm of the people who populate her universe. It’s an emotionally delicate tone they maintain, even when the laughs come from broad over-the-top characters (especially George because Dillon steals his every scene).
The biggest knock on the film is simply how slight it is. The stakes don’t feel particularly huge; nothing seriously awful seems about to happen to any of the characters, so we wait patiently, enjoying the bizarre behavior of everyone around Imogene while she sulks and complains until she realizes it’s time to stop sulking and complaining and get on with her life. If Girl Most Likely weren’t so consistently amusing, that would be a problem, but since Pulcini and Springer Berman have been making likeable protagonists out of naturally prickly personalities since their debut feature, American Splendor, they know how to keep their audience engaged.
Girl Most Likely will never be as widely seen as Wiig’s breakthrough smash. However, it does prove that as far as her being able to successfully transition from the small screen to the silver one, Bridesmaids was no fluke. leave a comment --Perry Seibert