With the exception of a supporting part in 2012's "Friends with Kids
" and a few vocal appearances in animated films like 2013's "Despicable Me 2
," it has been a long two-year wait for Kristen Wiig to follow up 2011's huge Oscar-nominated hit "Bridesmaids
" with another starring role. Because Wiig is an actor of uncommon depth, navigating seamlessly between pitch-perfect comic timing and genuine pathos, one can easily tell when projects aren't equal to her intelligence and talent. "Girl Most Likely" is one such blunder, a plodding, familiar indie comedy about "finding yourself" that wades too often into sitcom territory. As an extended pilot for a television series, it might be acceptable. As a feature film, it is unfocused, underdeveloped, and not worthy of the top-notch cast it's drawn.
Back in 2004, Imogene Duncan (Kristen Wiig) was the toast of the town, named by New York Magazine
as one of the top ten playwrights to watch. Since then, she has floundered on the West Side, barely holding on to her dwindling prestige while hanging out with superficial friends and a boyfriend, Peter (Brian Petsos), who abruptly tells her one night he wants them to break up. Distressed that she hasn't written anything of note in nearly ten years and feeling particularly dramatic, Imogene fakes a suicide attempt. While she's pleased that her fabricated farewell note was good enough to be taken seriously by the doctor, her explanation that it was all a ruse is less believable. Ordered into the care of a mother she has scarcely seen in eight years, Zelda (Annette Bening), Imogene resentfully returns to her hometown of Ocean City, New Jersey. Rekindling her relationship with socially awkward, semi-agoraphobic brother Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald), who won't venture further than his crab kiosk on the boardwalk, she spars, then flirts, with the younger guy renting her bedroom, Lee (Darren Criss), and is taken aback by her mom's new live-in boyfriend, a CIA government operative who goes by the unlikely fake name George Bush (Matt Dillon). When Imogene discovers that her thought-dead father is very much alive and a well-respected historian living in Manhattan, she hopes that he might in some way be the answer to why she has failed to live up to her clear potential.
Directed by husband-and-wife team Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (2007's "The Nanny Diaries
"), "Girl Most Likely" is guilty of rambling along with only sporadic interest worked up over Imogene's predictable interpersonal and professional crises. The screenplay by Michelle Morgan isn't sure where to center her attention, positioning the story as a mother-daughter slice-of-life only for gambling-happy mom Zelda to move almost immediately into the background. The viewer only gets a vague sense of who Zelda is, and very little insight is deemed from Imogene's strained relationship with her. Indeed, Imogene has spent years trying to separate herself from her lowly Jersey roots, and it's only a matter of time that she learns to embrace her past and see her new "friends" in New York for the disingenuous, back-stabbing fakes they are. Big deal. The film alternately comes off as neither funny nor emotionally true enough to gain the sort of momentum this story needs for one to care about the obvious outcome.
If the material itself is lacking, the fine cast goes a long way in easing the pain. Kristen Wiig deserves betterwhy can't she just write the screenplays for every film she is in from here on out?but that doesn't stop her from giving an effectively modulated performance, sympathetic even when Imogene is difficult and narrow-minded. Her best scenes aren't with Annette Bening (2012's "Ruby Sparks
"), who tries her best despite being supremely underused, but with Darren Criss (TV's "Glee"), as love interest Lee. In his very first feature, Criss is a magnetic presence, his singing utilized well in a role that calls for him to perform as one of the Backstreet Boys in an Atlantic City '90s tribute show. The scenes between him and Wiig are the most charismatic to be found, particularly in a segment where Imogene goes out with Lee and his friends to a club, gets mistaken for his aunt (her wardrobe throughout, taken from an old box of clothes from her teenage years, is consistently amusing), then shows them all up after a few rounds of Long Island Iced Tea. As brother Ralph, Christopher Fitzgerald (2008's "Revolutionary Road
") plays likably awkward very well, while Natasha Lyonne (2012's "American Reunion
") is a welcome addition as Ralph's kiosk neighbor, "Glitter Expressions" worker Allyson. As the unfortunately named George Bush, Matt Dillon (2009's "Old Dogs
") shows up for little more than an extended cameo.
As "Girl Most Likely" moves past the 90-minute mark, it rushes to tie up its loose ends, first via an out-of-place plot turn that finds Zelda being held at gunpoint and Imogene showing up to save the day, and then later with an unconvincing look at the finished product of Imogene's autobiographical stage play, treated like a huge success but, based on the few moments seen, looking so bad it would close in a matter of days. Since so much of the picture is unconvincing and contrived, the above elements aren't a surprise so much as they are begrudgingly to be expected. In individual scenes of inspiration, as when Imogene discovers the subject of her father's published book and eyes down the librarian (Marceline Hugot) while attempting to steal it, Wiig exhibits her gifted kooky brilliance. Unfortunately, there is not nearly enough of that, or anything else. "Girl Most Likely" is hopefully just a fleeting pit stop on her way to stronger, worthier projects.