As the star of the flimsy, dreary debacle that is Girl Most Likely, Kristen Wiig joins the august pantheon of modern actresses forced to debase and humiliate themselves for ninety minutes or so of pop-song-scored OMG embarrassments. Her Imogene is another in a long line of female screen neurotics who are brought low by an inability to get out of their own head before being rescued by a patient, doe-eyed, and dark-haired dreamboat with a Crest Whitening smile. Michelle Morgan’s manic script — which cruises along on derivative and mean-spirited cliche before detouring into are-they-joking inanity in the last section — barely situates Imogene before it starts to destroy her; this may be an irrelevant problem, though, since she’s such an unpleasant piece of work that more time in her company wouldn’t have created more sympathy.
A frantically insecure would-be writer, Imogene has stifled dreams of being a playwright but seems to have spent her adult life getting picked on by her rich, uptown Manhattan frenemies and ignoring her family back on the New Jersey shore. A few minutes into the film, Imogene’s fiance has dumped her, which every audience member knew would happen from the first time she left him an unanswered voicemail. In short order, she loses her job, gets threatened with eviction, tries to commit suicide, and panics further when put into the care of her compulsive-gambler, Jersey-fabulous mother, Zelda (Annette Bening), who’s shacking up with the delusionally self-impressed pretend CIA agent George (Matt Dillon, riffing on Kevin Kline’s faker in A Fish Called Wanda) and rented out Imogene’s room to Lee, a casino performer (Darren Criss, her obvious dreamboat-life preserver). Spiraling into a full breakdown, she obsesses over the idealized memory of her father, who passed away when she was nine. Somehow, in the post-Bridget Jones world, watching a woman systematically commit professional and personal hara-kiri passes for comedy.
It didn’t have to be this way. Dropping a faking-it-til-she-makes-it writer back into her blue-collar home and having her fall for a guy who works in a Backstreet Boys lip-sync show has potential. Directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini were smart enough to let Bening and Dillon handle the heavy-lifting in the comic stereotype department. Bening in particular sparkles with life-loving hunger; with Zelda it’s like she’s playing her manipulative moll from The Grifters just several decades and many dozens of men later. But they jam scenes together with little thought for transition or timing and never understand that the stiff and ironic Wiig is simply not made for this material. Her narrowcast, deadpan style has always worked in the short, SNL sketch or walk-on cameo. At no point does her Imogene ever escape her judgmental, neurotic shell long enough to betray an interest in another person, making the younger Lee’s fascination with saving her difficult to pull off. Now, if Zelda (as dreadful a mother as Imogene is a daughter) has started making eyes at Lee, that would have been a story.
Stories don’t need to have sympathetic protagonists, far from it. But if they’re not interesting in and of themselves, they had better be likable. And Imogene is a character who not only didn’t speak to her mother for years, but also ignored her developmentally disabled brother; the latter being the dictionary definition of horrible. In a different kind of film, that would simply be part of her character. But in a romantic comedy like Girl Most Likely that’s so panderingly desperate to be liked, it presents a problem since nobody is going to be rooting for Imogene to pull her life together. As it stands, viewers are just going to be waiting for Bening and Dillon to retake center stage. Maybe there’s a better film out there somewhere about those two.