Movie Most Common, by Rita Cannon
When it first went into production, the new Kristen Wiig vehicle Girl Most Likely was simply called Imogene, after its main character. Hollywood studios have an unfortunate habit of replacing perfectly fine movie titles with frustratingly bland ones – I’m still unreasonably bummed that Will Reiser’s script I’m With Cancer became a movie with the relatively boring and uninformative title 50/50. Just the other day, it was announced that Doug Liman’s upcoming All You Need Is Kill will be renamed Edge of Tomorrow, because why call your film something delightfully weird and arresting when you could just make it sound like a forgotten mid-90s Bond movie? Imogene isn’t the greatest title under the sun, but it’s better than the nearly meaningless Girl Most Likely. Most likely to what? Isn’t Kristen Wiig like forty? When does she get to call herself a woman? Sadly, it’s also an accurate reflection of the film itself, which feels like it’s been pulled in so many directions it eventually lost all its shape.
Wiig’s Imogene is a mostly unsuccessful New York playwright. She works at a theatre-related magazine, lives with her apparently rich boyfriend, and hangs out with his rich, pseudo-intellectual society friends. Despite her lack of personal artistic success, she enjoys a glamorous life – until her boyfriends dumps her and the magazine fires her, both in the same week. She decides to stage a suicide attempt to win back the boyfriend, but she stages it a little too well and winds up getting hospitalized and released into the care of her Jersey-dwelling, gambling-addicted mother (Annette Bening). Now back in her childhood home, she finds it invaded by her mother’s boyfriend (Matt Dillon), a man who claims to work for the CIA and calls himself George Bousche. Meanwhile, her old bedroom has been rented out to a young aspiring singer named Lee (Darren Criss).
Right away, the movie falls into clichés. Rich New Yorkers (there are no New Yorkers who are not rich) are shallow and mean; working class Jersey types are kind and have “heart.” These clichés are never explored, subverted, or given any nuance; they just are what they are. When Imogene’s New York friends abandon her as soon as things go bad, it’s not a surprise – that’s just how fancy New York types are. The whole movie has a weird anti-intellectual bent; every character that’s presented as educated or accomplished in any way is eventually revealed to be a creep. The only exception is Lee, who went to Yale, but now makes a living impersonating a Backstreet Boy in a nineties-themed revue at an Atlantic City casino. So I guess it’s okay to go to a fancy college, as long as you don’t do anything with your degree.
The movie is packed with talented actors, all of whom do an admirable job of breathing life into the cardboard cutouts they’re playing. Wiig, Bening, and Dillon are all funny and winning. June Diane Raphael is hilariously vacant and cruel as one of Imogene’s fair weather friends. Stage veteran Christopher Fitzgerald deserves a gold star for doing the best work with the dumbest storyline. He plays Imogene’s brother Ralph, a cartoonishly dweeby young man whose social anxiety and obsession with crustaceans lead him to build a giant fiberglass shell that he hoists on top of himself whenever he feels overwhelmed. This idea was never, ever going to work, but Fitzgerald’s sweet, quietly offbeat performance comes as close to making it work as anyone possibly could. Darren Criss tries to make an impression as Lee, but it’s a thankless role that doesn’t let him do much but be handsome, sing a little, and say blandly supportive things to Imogene whenever she gets discouraged. The two of them have a fling, but it doesn’t go anywhere. If Girl Most Likely were even remotely grounded in reality, this would be fine – in real life, plenty of relationships peter out undramatically – but in a movie as broad and uneven as this one, it feels like someone just forgot to write the second half of that plotline.
There are occasional glimpses of a pretty good movie hidden inside this rather lame one. Criss and Wiig have surprisingly good chemistry. A more successfully fleshed out version of their relationship – a May-December romance between two people whose artistic ambitions haven’t panned out – could have been interesting, but Lee gets shunted off to the side before anything of substance can occur between them. The same goes for Imogene and her mother, who have a relationship that’s been strained over the years by secrets and misunderstandings. When the movie slows down enough to let the two women talk things out, it can actually be pretty compelling. But these moments are few and far between.
Predictably, the final act has Imogene bonding with her family and discovering What Really Matters, but it also presents her with a weird false choice between her family and her writing. The idea of actually being a playwright and what that means to Imogene is backgrounded for most of the movie, so the fact that this is the final and most important conflict feels strange and unearned, not to mention unrealistic in the particular way that it’s executed. Girl Most Likely is largely about what happens when your dreams evaporate and you’re forced to return to the real world. But when a movie’s “real world” is as poorly realized as this one, it doesn’t leave the audience anything real to grab onto.