Kristen Wiig and Darren CrissSaturday Night Live has been around since 1975, and over the decades several of its cast members have wound up having big movie careers-Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell. What you'll notice about this list is that they're all men. Although the show's female cast members have gone on to do well on big TV shows-like the trio of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus-none of SNL's women has ever become a movie star. But almost from the moment she first appeared, the one who seemed most likely to do so was Kristen Wiig, whose ability to morph herself into mad or frenzied characters possessed a grandeur worthy of the big screen. When Bridesmaids became a hit, Hollywood may have been surprised, but not us fans.
Of course, if there's anything harder than making a hit comedy, it's catching lightning in a bottle twice in a row. Sad to say, the bottle explodes in Wiig's new comedy, Girl Most Likely, directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. This is one of those movies that takes a potentially interesting character and then gives her a one-way ticket to Squaresville.
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Wiig plays Imogene Duncan, a once-promising playwright who's gone from Hot to Not without ever succeeding. After being dumped by her sneery-faced boyfriend, Peter (Brian Petsos), and being fired from her job writing magazine blurbs, she fakes a suicide attempt. To her horror, she lands in the custody of her mother, Zelda, a zany gambling addict (gamely played by Annette Bening) whom Imogene thinks a monster. Even worse, mom takes her back to her childhood home in pre-Hurricane Sandy Ocean City, New Jersey, whose boring provincialism Imogene compares to "being impaled with a blunt wooden object over and over again." There she meets a predictable menagerie of indie-film oddballs: Zelda's blustery boyfriend, "The Bouche" (Matt Dillon), who claims to be in the CIA; her unsocialized brother, Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald), who's obsessed with crabs; and a lodger, Lee (Glee's Darren Criss), who works as a Backstreet Boy impersonator at one of the casinos. There's enough quirk inhabiting this house to make you see why Imogene yearns for New York City.
Trouble is, that's not what the movie's about. Where a thirtysomething Lena Dunham could do wonders with this scenario-a failed artist who can't make it in New York but can't stand it in New Jersey-writer Michelle Morgan turns Imogene's travails into one of those tales about how ordinary people on the Jersey Shore are, despite appearances, genuinely decent and loving, while New York sophisticates are shallow and heartless. This is an idea so corny and bogus that audiences would've rolled their eyes back when people still said "Pshaw!"
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Now, none of this would matter if Girl Most Likely showed off Wiig's comic brilliance. After all, nobody thinks Identity Thief and The Heat are good movies, but they're hits because they let Melissa McCarthy be funny. And we want Wiig to be funny, too. We don't want her acting like a second string Sandra Bullock or playing the kind of slightly depressive comic roles that Emily Blunt too often gets trapped in. While she does have a couple of good moments here-as when Imogene gets drunk at a club and starts boogeying crazily-such tidbits are tantalizing rather than satisfying. You keep waiting for the movie to unleash her and let her start doing what she does best. Free Kristen Wiig!
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