Ever since Bridesmaids earned Kristen Wiig a place in the heart of anyone with a funnybone in 2011, we've all been waiting to see what she'd do next. Sure, she was a part of the ensemble comedy Friends With Kids, but the real test of her mettle would be a solo vehicle. That film has now arrived, and it's bound to be monumentally disappointing to her fans.
Girl Most Likely is an elaborate frame for Wiig's studied awkwardness — her long pauses, her almost muttered delivery of dialogue — that, unlike Bridesmaids, is content to turn every character other than Wiig's into a cartoon. That it comes from directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, whose 2003 triumph American Splendor brims with a generosity of spirit undetectable in Girl Most Likely, is all the more dispiriting.
Imogene (Wiig) is a failed playwright who moves from dead-end job to dead-end job while pursuing her dream in Manhattan. All that sustains her are elaborate fantasies of winning a Tony Award, the fact that she was once listed among New York Magazine's "10 Playwrights to Watch," plus her Dutch boyfriend and a coterie of airkissing, one-shoulder-gown-wearing social climber friends. But after her mate dumps her, she fakes an attempt on her life as a cry for help — at least she knows she's still got some writing chops because everyone sure found her suicide note convincing.
Imogene's remanded to the custody of her louche mother (Annette Bening) in Ocean City, New Jersey. There, against her will, she reconnects with her roots. The problem is that Berman, Pulcini, and screenwriter Michelle Morgan don't seem as interested in establishing a "home is where the heart is" vision of Jersey as a place of acceptance and authenticity as they are in smugly reducing the Garden State to clichés we've seen a million times before: Imogene's brother Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald) is in love with a woman who sells glitter on the boardwalk! '90s revue shows featuring Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys impersonators are the height of culture! Everybody gambles! The only thing missing is a recitation of the GTL credo.
Imogene and Ralph are characters deeply damaged by life, but their traumas are treated as lightly as waterside cotton candy. We're left to regard each of them as a mass of quirks rather than as human beings. Even the usually sublime Bening is a cardboard cutout. She could play this character in her sleep, as could Matt Dillon as a "CIA Agent" with the codename George Bouche (sound it out!) as her boyfriend.
Where Bridesmaids felt so fresh in every scene — especially in its depiction of female friendship — Girl Most Likely falls back on threadbare tropes over and over. In addition to that scene of Imogene fantasizing about winning a Tony Award, we’ve got a "wild party!" montage of her doing shots and dancing crazy with her mom's tenant Darren Criss.
Worse still, Berman and Pulcini, who masterfully reconstructed the process of writing in American Splendor, now seem to have no affinity for how a writer, like Imogene, would actually live and work. She only seems to bring pen to page or fingers to keyboard off-camera, and that makes the finale (which we won't reveal here) feel all the more unearned.
We will say this, though: sometimes being the bridesmaid is better than being the bride.
What do you think? Tell Christian Blauvelt directly on Twitter @Ctblauvelt and read more of his reviews on Rotten Tomatoes!
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Amy Adams has signed on to star in the movie adaptation of comedian/actor Steve Martin's book Object Of Beauty. The Man of Steel star will play an ambitious entrepreneur who takes over the art world in the project, which she'll also co-produce with Sting's wife Trudie Styler and her business partner Celine Rattray.
Styler and Rattray will release their first film, Girl Most Likely, under the banner Maven Films later this month (Jul13).
There are two ways to judge Dan Rush's directorial debut Everything Must Go. You can look at the film itself and/or you can grade star Will Ferrell’s performance. To explain my rating I would give the actual film 4 stars while Ferrell’s performance earns a solid 5. Since they go hand in hand the average represents my rating: 4.5 stars.
The film follows Ferrell as a recovering alcoholic who relapses
after losing his job. He comes home to find that his wife has left him and
put all of his stuff on their front lawn prompting his decision to live on his yard. But local laws prohibit that (and some
neighbors don’t approve) so he is forced to turn the whole thing into a yard sale within
five days. If you can spot the metaphor between the things on the lawn
and his troubles congrats! You’ve cleared Metaphors 101. We’ll cover
similes next week. Anyway living on the lawn causes Ferrell to look
back and ponder over his life decisions. Helping him along the way is
newcomer Christopher Wallace (Biggie’s son) the precocious child that
helps teach him a lesson. Again a more overused cliche couldn’t be
found but it’s done right and Wallace is a joy to watch on screen.
Rebecca Hall as the pregnant neighbor who befriends Ferrell while he's camping on the lawn is a pleasant surprise as well holding her own against the star's incredible energy.
On Ferrell’s performance: It's by no means revolutionary for the craft of acting but is a breakout turn for the funny man. A more traditional dramatic actor could’ve lazily walked through the script and come out fine on the other end but Ferrell's portrayal is stark raw and real. You know the Will Ferrell scream? Imagine someone doing that not because it's funny but because it's their only means of expressing emotion. That’s what he does in this movie. He took the energy he employs in his comedies to reach new manic heights and channeled it into the darkest corners of the human psyche. The closest thing we can compare it to is Stranger Than Fiction since it's his only other dramatic role worthy of note (in that it's something most people know about and can compare to) but that film had a strong narrative hook that took care of all the whimsy so Ferrell could just be “normal.” Everything Must Go doesn’t have the benefit of that hook so Ferrell jumps headfirst into the pits of human emotion. I highly doubt it’ll garner him any award nominations but it was pleasing to see that he can actually act. And in hindsight it makes the crazy Ferrell that much funnier.
Onto the actual film: a fairly standard black comedy and that is by no means an insult. Standard can be good as long as it’s handled well and director Rush treads through the narrative carefully. The story jumps around a bit as the characters get the inspiration they need to move on to the next plot point awfully quickly but that affords cinematographer Michael Barrett more time to capture the beautiful South West landscape. Though there isn’t anything amazing about the film it is solid movie executed really well. A refreshing change of pace for Ferrell and a delightfully dark change of mood in the doldrums of the summer blockbuster.
February 14, 2011 12:33pm EST
Brad Anderson’s new film The Vanishing on 7th St. asks you to fear the haunting abyss that is the darkness but the more terrifying void is its story. Or lack thereof. Seeing as how it’s billed as a mystery horror-thriller and this from the director of neo-noir classics like The Machinist and Transsiberian I expected at least a few minor scares; I should’ve known they’d come only from Hayden Christensen’s performance.
The film is set in Detroit and follows a handful of survivors (including John Leguizamo Thandie Newton Jacob Latimore and Christensen) of an inexplicable power outage that seems to have consumed the entire city’s population. They must put the pieces of this puzzling event together to understand what’s happening and figure out how they can stay alive with looming shadows closing in on them.
With a less competent director at the helm this movie would’ve been a total disaster. The script is terrible focusing on one-dimensional characters their back-stories and a bunch of crackpot theories that hint at explanations but never follow through (in its defense the film is meant to be inconclusive but that doesn’t make up for bad dialogue plot holes etc.) Luckily Anderson is in his element with ambiguous narratives and creates a startling atmosphere that is interesting to examine. It has an unpolished gritty texture that brings to mind similar low-budget horror flicks but is enhanced by startling sound effects and an unnerving score from relative newcomer Lucas Vidal. Still all style and no substance only goes so far and The Vanishing on 7th St. never hits the throttle.
Essentially a creature feature without the creature the film is best looked at as an apocalyptic survival tale. The problem is that there’s nothing adventurous or enthralling about it. The characters’ encounters with the shadows are repetitive and the effect gets old quickly. Furthermore half of the cast (I’ll let you guess who) is incapable of conveying fear and if they aren’t afraid then how are you the audience supposed to be? I tried analyzing the film from an existential standpoint as a few of the characters question the reason for this human extermination but I couldn’t find any genuine moments of meditation.
Without question the star player here is Anderson who proves that he can do his job even when other members of the creative team don’t. The fact that he was able to develop such a striking tone from a sub-par screenplay is a testament of his ability as a storyteller.
With his soldier wife Grace deployed in Iraq Midwestern home supply store manager Stanley Philipps (John Cusack) is doing his best to be both mom and dad to Heidi 12 and Dawn 8. He doesn't have much of a support network--the military spouses' group he attends exactly once is all women who spend most of the meeting talking about sex (or lack thereof)--so when he gets the news he's been dreading he has no idea what to do. Unable to tell Heidi (Shelan O'Keefe) and Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk) that their mom won't be coming home he instead impulsively takes them on a road trip to a far-away amusement park. Bouncy eager Dawn is unreservedly thrilled but introspective responsible Heidi knows something's up. As Stanley fumbles his way toward the sad truth the wounded family's physical and emotional journey proves quietly touching if not wholly gut-wrenching. From the first moment that Cusack appears on screen you know that Stanley isn't one of his typical hyper-verbal hipsters. Dressed in beige and sporting dorky Clark Kent glasses Stanley is 100 percent Regular Guy and Cusack dials down his usual energy to make the character convincing. It sometimes seems like he's overcompensating a bit--only in a few scenes does Stanley really seem to wake up--but the character is a man stunned by grief. Cusack is ably matched by newcomer O'Keefe who's stellar as Heidi. Aged prematurely by her mother's absence Heidi is conscientious and thoughtful with an independent streak that makes her act out even when she doesn't fully understand what's going on. O'Keefe fully inhabits her character making Heidi believable as a daughter a sister (the girls' interactions are refreshingly realistic) and a child on the verge of adolescence. Pushed slightly one way or the other Grace Is Gone could easily have become a propaganda piece either for or against the current war in Iraq. But writer/director James C. Strouse manages for the most part to walk the tricky line between flag-waving patriotism and anti-war zeal. Grace--and her contribution to her country--are honored but the devastation that follows a soldier's fall is made clear. What Strouse doesn't do quite as well is let his audience form their own emotional responses to his film. From the spare bleak score to the wrenching scenes of grief Grace can feel a bit manipulative ("you will be sad now!"). Perhaps for that reason it ultimately doesn't have the impact it clearly intended. Even the climactic cathartic scenes feel a little removed--maybe if we knew Grace like Stanley Heidi and Dawn did we'd be able to mourn her more passionately.