[7 September 2012]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
I wanted to make a comedy that was really confrontational right out of the gate, which is going to make some people uncomfortable.
“Chemo when you’re 12 sucks.” So pronounces Regan (Kirsten Dunst), looking across a nice New York City restaurant table at Becky (Rebel Wilson). She’s describing her latest volunteer effort, helping out with “sick kids,” making the case that it gives her perspective even as she reveals that she has no perspective at all.
Regan’s world revolves around her: you see that within the first minute of Bachelorette. You may not know whether she’s aware of this or not, whether she believes her own story about the 12-year-olds or maybe just uses it to make herself look like she believes it. Either way, it hardly matters. Regan’s a selfish, well-to-do girl with little interest in the world that’s not revolving around her.
That world includes Becky, her high school classmate, who reveals in the next couple of minutes that she’s engaged to be married, in particular, she’s engaged to be married to the beautiful, decent Dale (Hayes MacArthur). She reveals it in a way that emphasizes the effect of the news on Regan, with cuts back and forth in time, to Regan on the phone to Gena (Lizzy Caplan) and then Gena on the phone to Katie (Isla Fisher), fast-cut calls that serve as thumbnails for each young woman’s current predicament (Gena’s sleeping with random boys, Katie’s desire to “date a guy with a job,” not to mention their surprise that Becky—of all of them—is the first to be married.
Regan for one, is actually upset at the news. The film’s opening credits montage offers context, a series of scrapbooky photos and newspaper clippings that suggest that in high school, Regan was was the pretty one, the focused one, the one most likely to succeed, while Becky, well, they used to call her “pig-face.” It was a joke, Regan and her fellow slender friends insist, though it’s clear enough that Becky, and especially her mom (Ann Dowd), live with some residual resentment at their juvenile cruelty. Regan sums up, “I did everything right: I went to college, I exercise, I eat like a normal person, I have a boyfriend in med school, and nothing is happening.” As for Becky, Gena has an explanation, offered as the three un-engaged girls gather on the wedding’s eve, under the influence of champagne and other substances: “Becky’s vagina’s magic and she used it to nail a perfect human being.”
Now that they’ve shared their misery, and no longer have to pretend to be nice, the three bridesmaids proceed to wreak havoc. This begins as a kind of mistake, when they tear and also bleed on the bride’s gown. This provides the movie with a mission and a time limit, plot and urgency, if you like, as Regan, Gena, and Katie try to have the dress repaired and cleaned before they’re judged responsible for the ruin of Becky’s big day.
This concept—the judgment—is key for the bridesmaids. Much as Regan indicates with the sick kids story, they’re more invested in how they look than how they are, or even how they mean. And so they do their best to bully would-be helpers into helping them, they run into one obstacle after another. “This is Housekeeping,” intones the weary hotel staff supervisor (Shauna Miles), “not Project Runway.” even as a former classmate now running a bridal shop (Arden Myrin) resists opening after hours, as she remembers Regan’s brutality in high school. These interludes only propel the girls more emphatically into their wee-hours travails, which include Gena forcing Regan to lick the sidewalk following a minor offense, Regan slamming a might-have-been beau (James Marsden) with a stainless steel coffee pot, and Katie vomiting in assorted locations.
The violence, the inebriation, and the sex—had with exes and potential exes—are all what you expect from this movie, which is like all those other movies where high school frenemies throw up and then learn something. Per pattern, each engages in her own plot, the film cutting from one scenario to another; Katie meets a guy with a job (Kyle Bornheimer), Gena reconnects with the guy who broke her heart (Adam Scott), and Regan, immersed in a mess largely of her own making, discovers her true identity as a bully. In this world, the movie’s world, which does in the end revolve around her, Regan is admired for it.
That’s not necessarily a bad place for Bachelorette to end up. You could read it as a challenge to generic conventions, resisting the usual redemption story. But you might just as well see it as capitulation, granting viewers easy judgment of Regan. You don’t have to think about your pleasure in watching her or her friends fall down or flounder or abuse one another. You’ve seen this movie before. And your perspective doesn’t have to change.