There’s been a rash of movies and TV shows lately about attractive women who are also damaged screw-ups, forced to navigate life’s harsh terrains at an emotional or spiritual crossroads. I’m speaking of “Young Adult,” “Girls,” “Enlightened” and “Frances Ha” – all meritorious variations on a similar theme, all hitting home in uncomfortable ways. It’s a string of successes that is broken by the dry and inert “Girl Most Likely,” a milquetoast Hollywood variant on the wayward-woman-needs-saving narrative.
Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, of “American Splendor” fame, “Girl Most Likely” is the latest star vehicle for “SNL” alum Kristen Wiig, she of the awkward sideways glances and trailing-off sentences. If you hadn’t seen her tortured, against-type performance in “Friends With Kids,” you’d almost think this shtick was all she was capable of, and her lazy typecasting at the center of “Girl Most Likely” does nothing to dispel this notion.
Her character, Imogene Duncan, is a once-aspiring playwright who blew a lucrative grant and has found herself the unmarried outcast in a New York City society set of movers and shakers. Her live-in boyfriend leaves her within minutes of the film’s opening – direct shades of “Frances Ha” – and it’s not long until she quasi-fakes a suicide attempt, loses her enviable Manhattan apartment and is shuttled back to her old bedroom and her estranged mother (Annette Bening) on the Jersey Shore where, as one boardwalk billboard proclaims, “we deep fry anything!”
This is where the real alleged “fun” begins, as we’re introduced to a host of offbeat characters straight out of Forced Quirk Central Casting, like Bening’s Zelda, a sexually voracious, fashion-backward dynamo and compulsive gambler; her much-younger boyfriend, an undercover agent played by Matt Dillon who claims to be a time-traveling samurai; and her younger brother (Christopher Fitzgerald), a near-autistic, crab-collecting introvert who is so hermetic that he’s invented a mollusk-inspired human shell equipped with Wi-Fi. Among this rogue’s gallery is the handsome and normal Lee (Darren Criss, of “Glee”), Zelda’s young ward and Imogene’s transparently foreshadowed love interest.
Rather than write characters that approach anything we might call Reality, screenwriter Michelle Morgan settles on daffy contrivances and obvious ironies (Example: Finally returning to her beloved New York, Imogene walks on the street with Lee, explaining that everyone in the Big Apple is glamorous and approachable, only to stride past a vagrant spitting into a plant). The clichés, meanwhile, are presented without a shred of irony by Berman and Pulcini; you’ve got to love the moment when Imogene, at her worst, stumbles out into the pouring rain, onto a swinging bench that soon collapses into the soaking mud.
Such predictabilities could be salvaged if the film was actually funny. The comedies by Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen and their colleagues follow formulaic lines, but their comic conceits are usually hilarious enough to redeem their plots. In “Girl Most Likely,” the laugh lines whisk by like tumbleweeds, not be savored or remembered. The best that can be said for this film is that it’s a suitably well-structured entry into the romantic comedy genre, free of glaring holes or shapeless narrative meanderings. But it’s disastrously unoriginal and unilluminating – too broad to strike any nerves and too witless to knock any funny bones.
“Girl Most Likely” opens Friday, July 19 at Cinemark Palace 20, Living Room Cinema 4 and Regal Shadowood 16 in Boca Raton; Regal Delray Beach 18 and Movies of Delray in Delray Beach; Muvico Parisian 20 in West Palm Beach; Cobb Downtown at the Gardens in Palm Beach Gardens; AMC Aventura 24; Regal South Beach 18; and Paragon Cocowalk 14 and AMC Sunset Place in Miami.