With Friends Like These, by Rita Cannon
Carrie Preston’s That’s What She Said has garnered numerous comparisons to 2011’s Bridesmaids, and it’s easy to see why. With its all-female ensemble, raunchy sense of humor, and focus on friendships over romantic relationships, it’s exactly the kind of film that so many people said Bridesmaids would pave the way for. But the film it reminded me of most was George Cukor’s 1939 comedy The Women. Both films focus on the romantic travails of a group of women, without ever actually showing the men that have them so riled up in the first place. But while The Women made the curious decision to exclude men from its mise en scéne, only to have its main character end the film by proclaiming that nothing’s as important to her as her (unfaithful) husband, That’s What She Said takes the idea to what would seem like its more logical conclusion – men are fine, but friendship is a better bet.
Veteran character actress Marcia DeBonis plays Bebe, an unhappily single woman preparing for her first real date with a recent one-night stand. She doesn’t know much about him (she suspects he may be married, but isn’t sure), but he’s very affectionate when they speak on the phone, and that’s good enough for her. She enlists her cynical, chain-smoking friend Dee Dee (Anne Heche) to help her prepare for the date, but Dee Dee is too shaken up by a run-in with her ex to be of much help. (She’s also been sipping from a flask since she woke up that morning.) The two friends then happen upon distraught sex addict Clementine (Alia Shawkat), who is devastated by a breakup of her own. The kind-hearted Bebe invites Clementine to spend the day with them, and the hijinks escalate from there.
The jokes are broad and frequently blue – major plot points hinge on things like dildos escaping from purses, or the fact that Bebe has a yeast infection and can’t stop scratching herself. Some of them land, and some of them don’t. The strongest comedy comes not from these moments, which can sometimes seem forced, but from the general sense of desperation and inner chaos that builds in all three women as the day goes on. Bebe’s anxiety and insecurity, Dee Dee’s anger and drunkenness, and Clementine’s fatalism and compulsive sexual behavior, as comically outsize as they are, feed and build on each other in believable ways. It’s a credit to all three actresses’ performances that, by the end of the film, even the most outlandish mishaps feel inevitable. Of course something like that would happen to them.
Not all of the film’s emotions add up. Dee Dee, for instance, seems like a truly awful person – so much so that I found myself not really caring if she and Bebe remained friends by the end. There’s a big dump of backstory late in the film that’s perhaps intended to make Dee Dee more sympathetic, but it only made me dislike her more. For a film that expresses the commendable idea that a man who’s a constant source of stress isn’t worth it, That’s What She Said seems oddly tolerant of toxic friends.