Famed writing and directing duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (known for their award-winning collaborations on American Splendor and The Extra Man) reunite to bring the somewhat awkward, often too drama-laden Girl Most Likely. Starring Kristen Wiig in her usual middle-aged martyrdom role (at least ever since Bridesmaids), Girl Most Likely is an exploration of time wasting and lost potential–executed in a manner that is, at times, comedic, but mostly too depressing to be considered humorous.
Opening with Imogene (which was going to be the original title of the movie–giving it a far more Mildred Pierce–among other dramatically named movies–vibe) as the star of an elementary school rendering of The Wizard of Oz insisting on lending critiques about the unrealistic dialogue (who would actually want to go back to Kansas?), Imogene’s stubborn/playwright nature is immediately established. We are then taken to her current state of existence, in which she lives a vaguely glamorous life navigating her way through the upper echelons of New York society. This lifestyle grinds to a halt when her “Dutch boyfriend,” Peter (Brian Pestos), breaks up with her. With Peter as her sole connection to “the scene,” Imogene has a breakdown that prompts her to feign committing suicide. The entire reason she was “allowed” entrance into the Upper East Side lifestyle was due to receiving a year-long grant to write a play, but soon realizes she’s lost her confidence in her ability to write–and has, resultantly, squandered most of her time in New York.
After the fake suicide attempt goes horribly wrong and Dara (June Diane Raphael), her equally fake friend, discovers her with a bottle of pills and an eloquently written farewell note, Imogene is forced by the hospital’s doctor to be released into the care of her mother, Zelda (Annette Bening, who always plays the role of deranged matriarch to perfection). Imogene’s outright contempt for her mother’s impulsive habits make her instantly resistant to the notion of returning to Ocean City, New Jersey to convalesce. When she arrives–after waking up alone in a casino parking lot where her mother has made a pit stop–she finds that several things have changed in her childhood home. Chief among them is the presence of an attractive lodger in his 20s, Lee (Darren Criss), as well as her mother’s new boyfriend, George Bousche–pronounced “boosh”–(Matt Dillon), a supposed member of the CIA. As if the house isn’t already full enough, Imogene’s offbeat brother, Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald), also still lives at home. Thus, it is not exactly the most practical environment for a recently institutionalized fake suicide case.
Although there are high moments in Girl Most Likely, it already starts on such a low note that it’s difficult to build the plot line much higher. From sitting in a bathtub looking at a framed picture of her and Peter to getting fired from her job writing blurbs about plays, Imogene’s life sinks too immensely from the very start of the film. At least in Bridesmaids, which is clearly what is trying to be emulated here, Kristen Wiig’s character didn’t hit true rock bottom until the end of the second act. Girl Most Likely starts her off that way far too early in the story, making it difficult to reach that uplifted place that a comedy is supposed to take you to. Another case in point of Imogene’s tragic life is discovering that her father, Maxwell (Bob Balaban), after years of being presumed dead by her, is actually alive; her mother merely made up the story of his death so her children wouldn’t know that he left them. And so, in addition to trying to win the affection and approval of Peter, Imogen’s other goal is to win the affection and approval of her father, who also lives in New York City and works as an established scholarly writer on the subject of early colonial America.
In spite of an ultimately happy ending, there is something entirely disjointed about the movie. Apart from the rampant jabs at New Jersey and the homage to 90s pop stars at the dive where Lee works as a Backstreet Boy, Girl Most Likely is mostly a series of low points that make you wish you had just decided to walk a full-fledged drama about the single woman (e.g. The Good Girl or Broken English).