Produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's Gary Sanchez Productions, "Bachelorette" is the movie for all those people that wished "Bridesmaids" was more like "The Hangover." Three bridesmaids embark on a non-stop parade of debauchery fueled by coke, booze, and pills that make "The Hangover" dudes seem kind of like pussies. Kirsten Dunst plays Queen Bee Regan, leader of the "B-Faces" (short for "bitch faces"), a group of high school friends now in their early '30s scattered across the country in various stages of their lives. This crew includes promiscuous cokehead Gena (Lizzy Caplan), spacey retail worker Katie (Isla Fisher) and Becky ("Bridesmaids" scene stealer Rebel Wilson), a girl who was known as "Pig Face" in high school. Improbably, Becky becomes the first of the group to get engaged, to one of NYC's most wealthy men, and this confuses Regan -- who works with sick kids, keeps a perfect figure, and does everything she thinks she should to be the first one to walk down the aisle -- to no end. She tries (with all the muscles in her face) to remain supportive as she receives the news, but it's painfully clear she is not happy about it.
Flash forward to the night before the wedding and then the real fun begins. As the maid of honor, Regan is responsible for throwing the bachelorette party which at Becky's request be low-key since many of the bridesmaids are coming from out of town and will be tired. But the other "B-Faces" have something else in mind and before too long are snorting coke, downing shots, and ordering up male strippers. After the bride and other bachelorettes have gone to bed, things get out of hand and the girls end up accidentally ripping the wedding dress, which sends them on an all-night quest to get it repaired. They end up running into the bachelor party -- made up of smooth a-hole Trevor (James Marsden), Clyde (Adam Scott), apparent teddy bear Joe (Kyle Bornheim) and the groom (Hayes MacArthur) -- on their way to a strip club. Both parties all seem to have a history together: Clyde is Gena's ex, who apparently "ruined her life" back in high school, Joe has a longtime crush on Katie who he used to deal weed to, while Trevor seems to want to nail Regan just to see if he can (though they do seem like perfectly matched opposites.)
Following a series of more subdued turns in films like "Melancholia," it's great to see Dunst get a chance to dig into such a type A personality again. You might have to go as far back as "Bring It On" to find a role that took full advantage of her comic timing, and once again, she aces it. It's a razor sharp performance without making any attempt to soften the rough edges of her prickly character. Caplan, in one of her two wedding themed comedies at the fest, continues to find different shades to her hard-edged persona. Fisher gives her most memorable comic turn since "Wedding Crashers" back in 2005 as one of the all-time dim bulbs. Though it's clear why the trio of women are friends, it's a little hard to believe that Becky would've fit somewhere in their clique back in high school even if they were making fun of her behind her back. But believability aside, Wilson continues to steal scenes with her odd comic timing proving that American audiences have only begun to scratch the surface of her capabilities.
While the imperative to fix the wedding dress drives the film along, it allows for more than its share of diversions for everyone to behave badly. It's not the bad behavior that might scare audiences away, though there is an incessant amount of drug use in the film (doing coke, talking about doing coke, getting more coke), it's the lack of "likable characters." Joe is a nice guy (if a bit bland) and Katie is a naive imbecile, but at the center of the piece are four pretty nasty characters portrayed by Dunst, Caplan, Marsden and Scott. Clyde also comes off as a little undefined. At first he's playing the ultimate dickhead and then suddenly seems like a nicer guy while Marsden takes on the a-hole role. Despite these inconsistencies, it's still wonderful seeing Caplan and Scott together. If you're a fan of "Party Down" their reunion will carry some extra weight, but, regardless, they just seem to belong together onscreen.
First-timer Leslye Headland, who wrote the adaptation of her play by the same name, was encouraged by producers Ferrell and McKay to direct the film herself. For someone who admittedly had no experience behind the camera, it's a fairly assured debut but does suffer from some pacing and tonal issues. The source material is part of her series based on Dante's seven deadly sins and this one is of course, gluttony. Headland was inspired in part by the work of John Hughes and there are a few nods to the films of the 80s -- a music cue set to The Cars "Moving In Stereo" (famously used in the non-Hughes classic "Fast Times at Ridgemont High") is a standout -- but is far nastier than anything Hughes ever made. The film this most seemed to resemble was a pitch-black comedy like "Very Bad Things." It begins in a sprint but can't keep up its manic pace for the entire film leaving some stretches in the second half devoid of laughs. Consequently having so many scenes with the energy set to 11 is sometimes more exhausting than exciting.
The filmmaker also mentioned that she likes dark plays but not dark films so many were surprised to find out the film is actually a softer version of the play on which it's based. But judging from the mixed reaction at the Sundance Film Festival premiere, her barometer for what constitutes dark may be a lot more lenient than it is for most people. Despite getting off to a rollicking start with the crowd, she seemed to lose them by the end. Even with its problems, this writer would take a balls out film like this any day of the week over a safe studio movie. With so many elements already in place there may still be a great comedy in there somewhere. With a little more finesse, "Bachelorette" could be the raucous female-led comedy it strives to be. [C+]