I don't like to compare and contrast advertising with a film because the attention-getting world of the former just has the job of getting people into the latter. Sometimes they're spot-on, like this brilliant trailer for Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and other times you get a completely unintended mixture by positioning Batman Begins as a warm film about love. But it's hard to be justifiably upset at something so blatantly designed to get butts into seats.
Then there's the trailers for Girl Most Likely, a film whose existence I completely ignored until I was trying to fill out a third review slot for the week. A first glance at the trailer indicates that it's a mash-up between a "mother knows best" plot and The Odd Couple with the prudish child putting up with her oddball mother. Since that mother is played by Annette Bening that meant there would be some charm to the film, even if everything else is insufferable, and Kristen Wiig can be fun.
In reality, the trailer for Girl Most Likely salvaged the only stable and sane plot thread of a film so packed with indie clichés that they almost come back around to ironic enjoyment. But this world, of wacky inventions inspired by snails and men who claim to lead a life only James Bond could envy, is so sincere with every random plot thread that it becomes an incoherent mess of ideas. This isn't one of the worst films of the year, but it's definitely the most inexplicable.
Wiig puts her charm to use as Imogene, a girl who once wondered why Dorothy would want to go back to Kansas and grew up to use her intellect as a means of lording over everyone. After being reasonably fired from her job and anticipating the exit of her surely exhausted boyfriend she fakes a suicide attempt to try to garner some sympathy. In the film's only good scene, a doctor sees through her parade of nonsense summons Imogene's mother, the sex-crazed gambling addict Zelda (Bening), and forces Imogene to Zelda's custody. Soon, in a shot telegraphed the moment Imogene talks about her mother's gambling addiction, Imogene is stuck in a car like a dog while momma's out at the slots.
I can go with the premise to a point. All this movie needed was to channel a bit of the old madcap Hepburn comedy spirit, wind up Wiig and Bening, and let the two bounce off of each other for the length of the film. That's a decent way to fill 80 minutes, but instead of relying on the premise Bening quickly exits the film for a bevy of sub-plots that escalate in disconnected insanity. For those of you with indie-quirk fatigue, and I might be there after watching these folks, the remaining story may drive you mad with its nearly Dadaist characters.
There's George Bush (Matt Dillon), Zelda's lover, who claims to be in the quiet employ of the United States as a crime fighter and whose last name does not sound like the President's, but more like "whoosh". Her brother (Christopher Fitzgerald), invented a snail-like shell to protect its wearer from harm and double as a zone of privacy. There's also a hunky love interest (Darren Criss) who moonlights in a Backstreet Boys cover group for '90s night at local clubs. None of these traits play off one another in any meaningful way, and are bad disguises for shallow characters to seem interesting.
Now, I like to give the benefit of the doubt and did think that this had the potential as a kind of meta-commentary on the Mad Libs nature of indie films, but everything is just too sincere. Those three plot lines, as well as the bevy of others that get introduced, all wrap up with the same happy endings 100% dedicated to the conceit. This isn't horrible on its face, but with the stories crashed together like this with barely a connecting thread it starts to feel like a short film collection edited together for the appearance of cohesion. Nothing about the arrogant ghostwriter fits with the sudden action scene that pops up with the snail suit, much less the romantic affectations of a Backstreet wannabe one room away from a man sharing a President's name spanking a gambling addict.
That incomprehension is channeled through the editing, which is some of the most confusing that I've seen in years. It's not like the direction from Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini is complicated as it's mostly flat shots of characters talking to each other. But at times the shots are badly misaligned between each cut like two characters talking over a phone in different building when they're supposed to be occupying the same space. This could have been worked to the film's advantage if it went along with the insanity of the characters and actually bent the world to their individual perception. Instead, it just made me dizzy in a literal sense trying to make sense of the geography of each scene.
Girl Most Likely is a film in the strictest sense as it is a story told through moving visuals. In practice it looks and sounds like the first draft of a screenplay written in a drunken stupor with two cameras moving between five states. It's not the worst film of the year, but you'll get vertigo trying to make sense of it.
Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini.
Screenplay written by Michelle Morgan.
Starring Kristen Wiig and Annette Bening.