Thank goodness for the return of Kristen Wiig in a starring role. The former “Saturday Night Live” star has not been the lead in a feature since “Bridesmaids” ruled the box office in 2011, and that’s far too long a wait.
The film that brings her back to a starring role is “Girl Most Likely,” opening here Friday, and it is no “Bridesmaids.” Silly and generally unbelievable, it is still a well-intentioned, often very funny effort, one anchored by Wiig’s inherent likability.
Wiig plays Imogene Duncan (the film’s original title was the far lovelier “Imogene”), a New Yorker who won a prestigious writing award many years before, and was even included on New York magazine’s “list of playwrights to watch.”
Now, she is living with a jerk boyfriend, has wealthy, snobbish, barely tolerable friends, and ponders what happened to her bygone talent. After a breakup, she makes the logical next step – the fake suicide attempt. (You may recall I classified the film as “generally unbelievable.”)
Following this blunder, Imogene is released to the care of the last person in the world she wants to see: her brassy, casino-addicted mother, Zelda, played deliciously by a very funny Annette Bening. Next stop is her childhood home, in Ocean City, N.J.
Zelda lives with a “CIA agent” who calls himself “George Boosh,” and often leaves suddenly on “secret missions” (sigh), and Imogene’s sweet brother Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald), an introverted man-child afraid to leave Jersey.
Ralph considers himself an inventor, spending his time building a giant, impenetrable exoskeleton. In other words, he is nonsensically quirky, dumb quirky, “movie” quirky.
Living in the family home is a boarder, Lee (Darren Criss of “Glee”), a member of an Atlantic City Backstreet Boys’ tribute band. (Between “Girl” and “This Is the End,” this is the best press the Boys have had in two decades.)
Lee and Imogene grow close amid the Ocean City insanity, and he becomes an ally in her attempt to put her life back together. Along the way, she discovers the father she thought was dead may be alive, and in Manhattan, and realizes that the writing inspiration she needed might just come from her family.
Wiig – who, post-“Bridesmaids,” also appeared in a winning but underseen comedy called “Friends With Kids” – will happily play the dorky klutz, and play it well. As Imogene, she is her usual charming, funny, endearing self, to a degree that it becomes rather depressing to watch how horribly everyone treats her.
Imogene’s insistence on being involved with these shoddy folks makes her seem, well, dopey. But Wiig is so talented, from her expressions to her body language, that simply having the chance to watch her on screen for 90 minutes feels like a treat.
Bening, Criss and even an over-the-top Matt Dillon are just amusing enough to rise above the hysterics, but the actor saddled with the film’s weakest – and most unnecessary – role is Fitzgerald, whose Ralph is neither funny nor cute. (I was eager for him to stay in the exoskeleton.)
The screenplay is also a problem. The film’s initial concept – Imogene as former next-big-thing playwright – is mostly dropped, except for the occasional reference. Plus, Imogene’s search for her father takes up way too much screen time, and adds little.
“Girl Most Likely” is directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, the husband-and-wife directing team whose career took a nosedive after the great Harvey Pekar story, “American Splendor.” This is another odd digression for the duo, but it is difficult to be too upset with a movie featuring a cameo by Whit Stillman.
No, this is nowhere near as successful as “Bridesmaids” (which Wiig co-wrote), but it is sure to please Wiig’s legion of fans. Still, she deserves to play a character as smart as she is.
I expect that will be very soon, but until then, the mostly likable “Girl Most Likely” will have to suffice.