As a woman, I have to respect the bitchiness of Bachelorette. Holy crap, are the people in this movie awful. The women are shrill and selfish, most of the men are manipulative and egotistical, nobody seems to really like each other that much. Everyone is tied together by these complicated notions of loyalty and duty, and even those well-meaning efforts get fucked up. So yea, Bachelorette is basically like high school—and is equal parts enlightening and infuriating.
It’s important to realize that Bachelorette is not going to be a fun movie for viewers; it’s not last summer’s Bridesmaids, and it’s cheeky title is clearly not meant to be taken seriously. In fact, it’s mostly a train wreck, with its female characters Regan (Kirsten Dunst), Gena (Lizzy Caplan) and Katie (Isla Fisher) reveling in calling each other bitches, compulsively doing lines of cocaine and offering themselves up sexually to pretty much any man available. And this is all the night before their larger friend Becky (Rebel Wilson) is due to get married, but they couldn’t care less about her plans for a quiet evening at the hotel with champagne and ice cream. They’re going to get crazy in Manhattan, and they’re going to make fun of how big Becky’s wedding dress is, and they’re going to tear it, and then they’re maniacally going to try and find a way to fix it. No matter that it’s in the early morning, or that Regan and Gena are sparring, or that Katie is high out of her mind. They owe Becky, and they’re going to make it right.
But while the girls may fit the textbook definition of “slut” — as we’re reminded when bouncers at a strip club think they’re prostitutes, and Becky’s betrothed note that they look like trashy dancers — the men they’re surrounded with aren’t that awesome, either. Best man Trevor (James Marsden) carries around pills, wads of cash for strippers, and is trying to figure out which bridesmaid he’s going to sleep with, even though he can’t remember their names. Joe (Kyle Bornheimer) has nursed a crush on Katie through the years, but he can’t get over his idealized fiction of her. And Clyde (Adam Scott), Gena’s ex-boyfriend, is cutting and mocking, the kind of guy who knows all your secrets and isn’t afraid to use them against you.
It’s not easy to like these people, but movies are supposed to make you think, aren’t they? And in that sense, director and writer Leslye Headland has accomplished something solid here. The dark comedy of Bachelorette brings to mind a more jacked-up version of ‘80s cult classic Heathers, but her understanding of female relationships are more nuanced. When competition gets put aside, where does loyalty come in? Why are we so cruel to each other, but then so supportive? These women aren’t always kind or polite, but I could relate to them; I also think most other female viewers could. Be honest with yourself, and there’s probably a little of Regan, Gena, Katie and Becky in all of us.
What helps move Bachelorette along are the performances from Dunst, Caplan and Scott; the latter two keep getting thrown together to portray romantic partners, and if I were Scott’s wife, I’d be worried in real life. There’s too much chemistry between the two of them; their romance and backstory come off as thoroughly real. So too do Regan’s uber-competence and profound bitterness—watch Dunst’s face as Becky tells her that she’s getting married, and it’s a crumbling of emotions ranging from rage to disgust. When Regan complains to Gena, “I did everything right. I went to college. I exercise. … I got a boyfriend in med school. And nothing is happening to me,” you feel for her, even though she’s a blond ice queen with a perfect body. Appearances aren’t everything.
Nevertheless, Bachelorette isn’t perfect; it falls apart in a rushed final act that doesn’t do these characters justice. Too many things get tied up in a neat bow for a film that, up until then, rejected that very cuteness, and there are lots of worthwhile questions about women and female friendships that aren’t fully answered. Ultimately the sparseness of the story plagues Headland’s vision, but that doesn’t mean Bachelorette isn’t worthwhile. We always want women behaving badly, don’t we? And damn, are Dunst and Co. good at it.