One way of doing humor is the “pity me” format, famously perfected by Charlie Chaplin. A sad-sack clown figure has all kinds of bad things happen to him, and we think it’s funny because …. he’s charming? He’s trying so hard? Because we enjoy not being him? Because it makes us feel better to know that someone is clumsier at life than we are? Because we secretly like to laugh at the foibles of others?
In “Girl Most Likely,” Kristen Wiig plays Imogene, the girl who used to be young and full of promise, even winning an award and a cash advance for most likely future playwright. But alas, she could never quite get around to writing the next big Broadway hit, and she winds up trying to fit in with a bunch of snooty, catty, artsy Manhattan socialites who make fun of her behind her back. She thinks of her live-in boyfriend, Peter, as her “soul-mate,” and she’s so devastated when he summarily dumps her that she turns into a blithering, babbling blob, which gets her fired from her low-level “this’ll do for now” job.
Depressed and off her moorings, she reluctantly returns home to Ocean City, N.J., only to find that her weird aging hippie mom, Zelda (Annette Bening), has gone cougar on her and taken on a live-in, George (Matt Dillon), who’s more Imogene’s age, but worse, he pretends he’s a secret government agent, and uses that transparent subterfuge as a cover for extended unexplained absences, and an excuse for being a terminal slacker. Imogene’s brother, Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald), is not all there, but sweet. He’s always lived at home, and never been out of Ocean City. He’s always been interested in mollusks, and runs a small booth outside the Boardwalk that specializes in pet snails and clams. Needless to say, he’s not overwhelmed with business, but he does have a crush on the lady in the next kiosk, who body-paints with sparkles.
Imogene never wanted to return home to live, anyway, but especially now that her room has been rented out, to a stranger named Lee (Darren Criss), which means that Imogene’s old things are now unceremoniously stuffed in cardboard boxes in the basement. Can it get any worse for her? This is like “hitting bottom” without an addiction to blame it on.
Since this is a “chick flick” written, directed and produced by women, you know we’re not going to see any strong, likable male figures, or any nudity, or any violence, or any car chase scenes or explosions or CGI special effects. What we are going to see is some hard-earned character development. Almost everyone changes for the better. The hypocrites are exposed, and the meek inherit … if not the earth, at least their little piece of happiness in it.
“Girl Most Likely” is advertised as a comedy, but it’s really a coming-of-age film for thirty-something single slackers who’ve been waiting for someone to come along and make them happy. The message is: “that someone has to be you.”
Ronald P. Salfen is the minister at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.