In a story about four friends, jealousy takes the cake.
I don’t pay much attention to box office numbers, but here’s an interesting tidbit you may not have heard. 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 theaters. Less publicized was the fact that, a few weeks ago, Leslye Headland’s Bachelorette matched that number, without even hitting the big screen.
Following in the footsteps of boutique distributors like Magnolia and IFC, the Weinstein Company has begun releasing select movies direct to local cable companies several weeks in advance of the films’ debuts. It’s a touchy subject, as I can attest. Earlier this summer I kicked a hornet’s nest and upset certain PR people by giving a positive review to Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz after purchasing it On Demand.
The short version is that theater chains don’t want you knowing that you can now get their movies cheaper and earlier without even having to leave the house. And while I’m a die-hard aficionado of the big-screen, communal, movie-going experience—considering myself blessed to live in a town where we have amazing independent venues like the Brattle, Somerville and Coolidge Corner Theatre—the fact remains that our corporate multiplexes (Common, Fenway and Kendall Square) are abject embarrassments. Depending on where you see these films, staying home might not be such a bad idea.
Bachelorette is already a blockbuster by On Demand standards, and it just might be the game-changer. This raw, screamingly funny low-budget comedy 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 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 besties Regan (Kirsten Dunst), Katie (Isla Fisher), Gena (Lizzy Caplan) and Becky (Rebel Wilson) reunite when the latter is getting married to a millionaire. The morbidly obese, socially awkward Becky 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 and a (mysteriously absent) doctor boyfriend. She devotes her time to philanthropic endeavors with cancer kids, but she just might be the most condescending character ever captured on-screen.
Caplan’s Gena is a besotted blur. She’s introduced waking up from a one-night stand and realizes, only after seeing the guy’s Jack Johnson concert T-shirt, that she just slept with a loser. Fisher’s character is sadder still, puffing out her boobs and coasting on Kewpie-doll sex appeal to cover up that she doesn’t understand what’s going on most of the time.
Headland’s writing is ruthless, as 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 the evening before the wedding—an all-night crawl drenched with shock, strip-clubs and so much blow that at one point Katie spontaneously starts squirting blood from her nose.
Bachelorette is hysterically funny and awfully sad, somehow incorporating bulimia, abortion and overdoses into the breathlessly paced, farcical structure. It isn’t Bridesmaids, it’s Hurlyburly for women pushing 30.
In her first stint behind the camera, Headland knows exactly when to drop the frenzy and allow an expression or two to sink in on her actresses’ faces. There’s some real depth 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 enjoyed the movie just as much, the viewing experience left something to be desired.
There’s no easy answer to this Video On Demand development, but it’s not going away. Not after these numbers. And in this town, where you’ve got once-respected theaters routinely charging audiences $11 to watch DVDs projected from a Sony PlayStation3, sometimes the choice to stay home isn’t much of a choice at all.
Starring Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, Rebel Wilson, James Marsden and Adam Scott. Written and directed by Leslye Headland. At Kendall Square and available via Video On Demand.