Note: This piece originally ran on January 24 during the Sundance Film Festival
"If people think going into this movie that they're seeing Bridesmaids
, they'll either walk out or they may vomit," Isla Fisher
tells us as she giddily hops into a giant beanbag chair just hours before the Sundance premiere of the female ensemble dramedy Bachelorette
. And she'd be right, too, even though the first words out of everyone's mouths following the screening included some variation of a Bridesmaids
reference. But the cast and crew of Bachelorette
expect to be compared to Bridesmaids
even if the only thing the two films actually have in common is a wedding. The latter film scored nearly $300 million at the worldwide box office, and it's since paved the way for more risky, female-driven comedies to be made.
That's a great thing for Bachelorette writer-director Leslye Headland, who's been sitting on her raunchy, mean-spirited script since 2008. "Back then people thought it was good, but they said it'd never get made," Headland says while she excitedly fidgets around in her seat; a few minutes earlier she tried to convince me that she has "REDRUM" tattooed on her lower back. "It wasn't until we started performing the play that people became interested." Headland is a bit of an anomaly since she's never directed anything before, and never even wrote a screenplay. But her plays are devilish and addictive, and her voice often speaks to the awkward, neurotic, uncomfortable feelings about ourselves that we all try to hide in the back of our minds and pray they never get out.
"A lot of it was weird female pressures, like people asking me when I was going to get married; people asking me what I was going to do with my career," Headland tells us. "My own body issues; my own insecurities. Sort of seeing [the characters] have the same conversation I have with myself on a daily basis. This might be giving away too much information about myself but I'm the kind of woman who wakes up, looks in the mirror in the morning and goes, 'You're a piece of shit.' And then there's a voice that goes, 'No you're not.' And then there's a voice that goes, 'Stop thinking about yourself so much.' Know what I mean? So Jenna and Regan and Katie are all up here having an argument about things."
You could make an argument that each character in Bachelorette represents a different form of insecurity for Headland, and that's probably the best argument to make because none of these girls are very likable. The setup is pretty basic: Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher play three old friends who are reuniting for their other friend Becky's (Rebel Wilson) wedding. But the three girls are all at ugly places in their lives (Caplan's character is a drug addict; Fisher's character is suicidal; Dunst's character is a cold-stone bitch who feels like she deserves the spotlight), and problems arise when they accidentally ruin their friend's wedding dress while trying to upload a fat joke image about her to Facebook. Thus, they're forced to spend the rest of the night trying to rectify their mistakes in time for the wedding the next day.
Sound like a great batch of girls, right? "I'm not gonna lie, when I read the material I was pretty shocked," Fisher admits. "I don't speak to my friends like that. I've had many friends for many years and I've never had a fight with my friends, so I was like what is happening in this movie? I didn't understand the drug use because I've never been into drugs -- I didn't understand any of it. It was a bit like reading a story about the end of the world. The most horrible pre-dependent generation who haven't grown up, don't take responsibility, are entitled. You feel like they just party all the time and treat other people like they mean nothing. It was such ugliness that I sort of was drawn to the fact that it was such a stretch for me to do. The fact I didn't relate to anyone in the material."
And that seems to be the problem some audiences are having with the film as well. Following its premiere, a heated debate raged over Twitter with people for and against Bachelorette, questioning whether you can still enjoy a film if you don't like and/or relate to any of the characters. The answer to that essentially rests with the individual, but good comedy pushes buttons. Strong, effective comedy makes you uncomfortable and forces you to feel things you might not want to feel. To some that's a good thing. Others... not so much.
But Bachelorette is a very internal movie, with Headland's neurotic insecurities manifesting themselves as these ultra-ugly characters. That may be a pretty brilliant way to tell a story, or it may just be a super expensive therapy session for Leslye Headland, but regardless the fact remains that Bachelorette is a movie that will divide audiences. It's not safe. It's not Bridesmaids. Deal with that.
"I'd say it's more like Heathers than Bridesmaids; kind of like a female Swingers," Headland says. "When I was developing it with my designers, so many '90s movies were the touchstone, like Reality Bites and Say Anything. There are all kinds of references to Fast Times - Kyle's coat is the same coat. That's what we wanted to do -- we wanted to make a '90s movie in a lot of ways. So when my friends say 'Bridesmaids,' I'm like, well, they're at a wedding... but that's sorta it. Movies my DP and I had discussed were About Last Night, or Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown."
When it hits theaters, away from the festival crowd, it'll be interesting to see how moviegoers react. Will they storm out of the theater, angry, disgusted and dejected? Or will they see a little of themselves in each of these characters; a little piece of their own ugly internal struggles dancing across the screen? Will that resonate? Will that be too uncomfortable? Will that translate to box office dollars?
"This is the type of movie where I hope women can relate to it, and also laugh, obviously, and have a great time watching it with their friends, Kirsten Dunst says. "Hopefully it'll hit some core things within themselves and it'll be relatable. I think it's the type of movie that you watch and you want to hang out with everybody. I think the chemistry of people together in this film is what makes it great."