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Kirsten Dunst’s temper in movies isn’t terribly long. For “Bachelorette,” she’s made it even shorter. The part is nothing new — she plays a woman shocked to hear that a good friend is getting married before she is, but the brittle anger on display makes you want to tie a tourniquet around her heart. This is a comedy — often a broad one, written and directed with raging energy by Leslye Headland — that’s full of drugs and sex and sharp, funny dialogue that I’m not allowed to type for a family news organization. But Dunst is the realest, rawest thing in the film.
Her character, Regan, works with young cancer patients and gets to wear her heart on her sleeve for half a scene before her childhood pal Becky (Rebel Wilson) tells her she’s engaged, and all Regan’s self-congratulation turns furious and self-pitying, as she shares the news with two other friends, a randy slattern named Gena (Lizzy Caplan) and Katie, a bottomlessly dim partier played by Isla Fisher. The premise is sad. The shock the three women feel stems from the belief that they’re thin and beautiful and overtly sexual, while Becky is someone they once called Pig Face. Her fiance is tall, masculine, and kind of handsome — he’s someone Becky’s friends might have married. The bitter truth of the movie — and most of its comedy — comes from their sense that they deserve what she has.
Most of the plot is the result of what happens after Regan and Katie rip Becky’s dress while trying to wear it at the same time. They spend the evening before and morning of the wedding furtively, desperately trying to clean, repair, and return it. There’s time for Gena and Katie to snort amounts of cocaine that would make them legends in a gangster movie, and for each of them to dangerously liaise with James Marsden, Kyle Bornheimer, and Adam Scott as three friends of the groom.
Headland doesn’t do anything new with this material beyond singe it. She casts it perfectly with caricatures of narcissism and piles on obscenities and even laces some of them with wit; she also brazenly staffs the film with nonwhite actors in tired service roles that aren’t funny. Obviously, it’s comparable to “Bridesmaids.” Often, it’s in a league of dark, sketch-show hilarity. (One woman, for instance, cries to the others, “You got an abortion without me!”)
But whimsy and optimism ultimately characterize “Bridesmaids,” and a lot of comedies starring women that have come out in the last five or six years (“Baby Mama,” “For a Good Time, Call . . .,” almost anything with Cameron Diaz or Anna Faris). Wantonness dictates almost every moment of “Bachelorette.” To the extent that sharing in Becky’s joy is a humiliation for her so-called friends, the drugs and alcohol and verbal violence are like anesthesia in constant threat of wearing off.
That’s an angle that’s both refreshing and depressing, and, for women who find the film grim, I imagine that’s because part of it feels true and rare in an American movie. Women get drunk and pass out. They curse and have sex with men they don’t know. They despise people they claim to love because they’re disappointed in themselves. One way to watch “Bachelorette” is from between your fingers.
Whenever that attitude toward friendship in “Bachelorette” feels intolerably cruel, there’s a shot of Dunst’s worried, aggrieved face to lend grave humanity to the farcical excess. She could almost have come here from the magnificent wedding in her previous movie, Lars von Trier’s disaster melodrama, “Melancholia.” But her superb moroseness for von Trier felt distinctly European. It was existential. Headland is after a rawer, uniquely American unhappiness, and Dunst captures it with transparent discontent. At some point, Regan turns to her friends and says, in tearful anger, “I did everything right.” The trembling entitlement in her voice nudges the movie from satire to documentary.
Wesley Morris can be reached at email@example.com.