I don’t often pay much attention to box-office numbers, but here’s an interesting statistic that you may not have heard. It’s common knowledge that earlier this summer, Wes Anderson’s wonderful Moonrise Kingdom smashed all sorts of attendance records in its opening weekend, grossing half a million dollars in a paltry four movie theaters. Less publicized was the fact that a few weeks ago, Leslye Headland’s Bachelorette matched that number, in zero movie theaters whatsoever.
Bachelorette is already a blockbuster by Video On Demand standards, and it just might be the game-changer. This is a raw, screamingly funny low-budget comedy that viciously divided audiences at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s chock full of drug use, casual sex and some astonishingly inventive flights of profanity. I laughed myself sick, but I don’t imagine anybody involved ever pretended this was something suitable for a wide, mainstream release.
Adapted and directed by Leslye Headland from her stage play, Bachelorette is mostly about what happens when old friends resent each other’s good fortune. High school best friends Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan and Rebel Wilson reunite when the latter is getting married to a millionaire. The morbidly obese, socially awkward Wilson is the last of this quartet one would ever expect to live happily ever after, and don’t think that’s lost on the other three. Hence all the cocaine.
Dunst’s Regan is the prissy rich girl who always did everything right. She’s got an impeccable wardrobe, clipped diction, a (mysteriously absent) doctor boyfriend, devotes her time to philanthropic endeavors with cancer kids, and she just might be the most condescending character ever captured on screen. Caplan’s Gena is such a besotted blur, introduced waking up from an unremembered one night stand and only belatedly putting together from the lucky guy’s Jack Johnson concert T-shirt that she just slept with a loser. Fisher’s Katie is sadder still, puffing out her boobs and coasting on Kewpie-doll sex appeal to cover for being so dense that she doesn’t understand what’s going on most of the time.
The failed party leads to a long, ugly evening, fueled by a lot of drugs and some seriously bad decisions. James Marsden and Adam Scott get to cut loose from their Thursday night NBC nice-guy roles and cad it up at a strip club, smoking cigars and ruthlessly objectifying women in a way that would never fly with their TV audiences.
Headland’s writing is brutal in the way that these women constantly compete with and undercut one another, despite ostensibly being “best friends.” It’s catty, potty-mouthed and seems to strike a nerve with certain audiences. A slightly contrived prank-gone-wrong sends our bachelorettes out on a mission before the wedding—a late-night crawl drenched with shock, recognition and so much blow that at one point, Fisher spontaneously starts squirting blood from her nose.
Bachelorette is hysterically funny and also awfully sad, somehow incorporating bulimia, abortion and drug overdoses into the breathlessly paced, farcical structure. It isn’t Bridesmaids; it’s Hurlyburly for girls pushing 30.
In her first stint behind the camera, Headland knows exactly when to drop the frenzy and allow a moment or two to sink in on her actresses’ faces. There’s some real depth of feeling going on beyond the shock value. This movie plays for keeps.
So, how to watch it? Ay, there’s the rub: The first time I saw Bachelorette was at its Sundance premiere in a 1,500-seat theater, where audiences gasped, roared and walked out in droves. (Also, Kirsten Dunst was there, which was awesome.) The second time was by myself in an empty apartment, and while I didn’t like the movie itself any less, the viewing experience left something to be desired.
As a die-hard aficionado of the big-screen movie-going experience, I will always favor theaters. I like the communal experience, and there is a special “shared moment” that comes from enjoying movies with others. But, at the same time, we can get these movies (in High Definition!) wicked cheap, before they open in cinemas and in better quality than the crap digital projection passes for acceptable these days. Sometimes the choice to stay home isn’t much of a choice at all.