The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
Girl Most Likely

Written by Jim Holden.

Photo from the article The lack of clarity and focus of the script of Girl Most Likely, along with its sketchy supporting characters and plodding narrative, is what makes the film such a frustrating watch. There could have been an interesting, sweet story here, an effective drama with a strong, likable and believable female protagonist, Imogene, played well by Kristen Wiig. However, the film gets bogged down in an awkward, jarring mix of indie quirk and Hollywood schmaltz.

This balance, or imbalance, is what derails, muddles and confuses the film. Is it a frivolous, standard Hollywood romantic rom-com? Or a quirky, off-the-wall comedy-drama? The casting of a cast member of Glee, Darren Criss, as a love interest to boost audience potential certainly swings it towards the former, along with its remarkably upbeat ending, but then a lot of what happens is odd, disjointed and downright peculiar. Yes, film can transfer from the mainstream into the world of the quirky and independent spirited (just look at the casting of Wes Anderson’s recent films to see the crossover), and, of course, the independent film, be it in spirit or budget, has always had a balance and understanding with mainstream Hollywood; in one way it is simply a category of or genre within American cinema. The issue with Girl Most Likely is not just that balance but quite what the film is trying to say by using this mix of styles and sensibilities, and to who it is trying to appeal by creating the film in this mould.

The idea of a film’s juxtaposition, its balance and tone, is something that is often either overlooked or dismissed due to studio interference or sloppy editing. However, it is a real issue of many films, not just Girl Most Likely. But this film, in trying to appear both quirky/zany/cute and funny, being not too dark and having a happy ending, ends up being watered down, neutralised into a soft mix of nothing in particular as the film becomes a series of subplots and distractions. The reason for this cannot just be to widen the commercial appeal. The balance of the film is something that should be smooth, unnoticeable, or to deliberately shock, but by simply throwing everything in to the mix the audience is jarred into processing why things are happening rather than simply engaging with the film and its protagonists. We should enjoy this film, laugh with and feel for Imogene, lose ourselves in it, not question why things are happening. There is simply too much luck, coincidence and useful plotting here to go unnoticed.

Take, for example, the climactic scene where a rival secret agent bursts into the house to accost Matt Dillion’s ‘George Bousch’ (an apparent CIA agent so heavily undercover he pretends to be a bum, living off of Imogene’s mum, who believes his story). It is never taken seriously throughout the film that The Bousch is anything other than a fraud, a man simply tricking this woman, and Imogene rightly distrusts and dislikes him. But, come the climax, when a gun is pulled out and genuine danger suddenly seems real, this uneasy mix of real life threat and comic exposition clash and the shift in tone is, for a moment, so heavy-handed and jarring that it is like the film has been swapped for something else entirely. People should not be shot in a gentle comedy, for one. However, Imogene foils the intruder with a frying pan, of course, or something equally ridiculous, and the tone again shifts back to its light, frothy harmless style, leaving the cast shrugging and smiling. This is simply one example of a film unsure of how to handle drama and threat. It has not had any previous slapstick elements to make this feel acceptable, let alone normal (unlike, for instance many of the Coen brothers’ comedies). Another scene sees an awkward reunion between Imogene and her father, again hopelessly misplaced and broadly played. No one seems to be asking questions about why any of this happens in this way, it simply just happens, not fitting the casual style on show.

Much of the blame for this uneven tone and the film’s general shifts in style must be laid at the feet of the directors, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini who, interestingly, also edited the film. Their filmography suggests a background of both arthouse (American Splendor, 2003) and more mainstream (The Nanny Diaries, 2007) fare, as well as a range of documentaries. Disappointingly, this film lacks any of the subtlety, humour or character of American Splendor, a film which beautifully mixed drama and documentary, a blend of genres and tones that worked to show a fascinating portrait of a man’s compulsions and choices. This previous instance of generic progression and tonal coherence makes Girl Most Likely even more frustrating as the directors have a history of making this style work. However, in their most recent film the mixture is far broader, and the use of cliché in both romantic and zany contexts means the tonal shifts are even harder to swallow. The film, though eccentric, simply does not have enough of its own personal identity to come across as anything other than a broad, wannabe-arthouse shadow of a film that tries far, far too hard without ever asking quite why.

This Alternate Take was published on December 12, 2013.

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