It is always worth celebrating when actors not on the so-called "A-list" are able to get their own film projects off the ground and successfully produced. "Ass Backwards," which was assisted by funds raised on Kickstarter, stars writing partners Casey Wilson (2010's "Killers
") and June Diane Raphael (2013's "Girl Most Liekly
") in a comedy that blatantly is modeled after 1997's irresistible "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion." The similarities are undeniable, replacing a 10-year high school reunion for a beauty pageant, the beats all strikingly familiar for a reason. Where this film diverts from that perpetually watchable Lisa Kudrow-Mira Sorvino classic is in its tone and treatment. Whereas Romy and Michele weren't the brightest of gals, they were good people with true hearts, and the viewer wished only the best for them. The ladies in "Ass Backwards" are not only dumber, they're also not particularly nice, taking passive-aggressiveness to a new level. Director Chris Nelson's movie starts promisingly enough, but the buoyant mood deflates when its true colors are revealed. "Ass Backwards" may have been written by women, but one would never guess it judging by the evidence onscreen.
Chloe (Casey Wilson) and Kate (June Diane Raphael) are 30-year-old lifelong best friends living in the big city who refuse to admit they're floundering in dead-end existences. Chloe is a go-go dancer at a club. Kate donates her eggs for cash. Facing eviction from their apartment and spurred by a run-in with a snooty, successful former competitor from their childhood pageant days named Laurel Kelly (Alicia Silverstone), the duo decide to book it back to their hometown and win the crown of Miss Neptune. Their road trip will span four days as they travel four hours outside Manhattan (you read that right), learn a surprising truth about Chloe's dad (Vincent D'Onofrio), get thrown in jail for public indecency, accidentally try to rape a woman at a lesbian commune, fall for a crack-addict reality star (Brian Geraghty), and have a temporary falling-out.
Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael give it their all in front of the camera, but their comedic vibrancy is no match for their deeply pessimistic screenplay. There are a few admittedly funny momentsthey have learned A-ha's 1980s pop hit, "Take on Me," from a defective compact disc that skips throughout, and sing it accordinglybut beneath the peppy surface is an ugliness difficult to shake. Chloe and Kate act nice to each other even when they're saying catty things, and the constant smiles on their faces become supremely off-putting. Worse still, every female in a supporting role is either a gross stereotype or even nastier than they are. Their goal is to turn around their failures as kids and show their town that they are not the losers everyone thinks, but then the film continues to humiliate them. In the end, they succeed at nothing, physically assault guest judge Laurel while acting like little babies, and affirm to their pageant audience that they are
losers. At least "Ass Backwards" has been fittingly titled. What is not so clear is what Wilson and Raphael were trying to prove. Their movie hates women.