Quirkiness can be fun, but it’s not enough to sustain a movie over the course of nearly two hours. “Girl Most Likely” is so relentlessly artificial and broad that when it culminates in an outrageously absurd conclusion, it caps the entire enterprise in a disastrously appropriate way.
The picture is the latest in the string of disappointments that writer-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini have produced since their great 2003 debut “American Splendor.” Presumably it’s meant to say something about family discord and the antagonism between city and suburb, but the fact that nothing in the script seems remotely authentic renders any deeper meaning void.
Kristin Wiig, looking remarkably like Jennifer Aniston (which perhaps explains why she dons a “Friends” T-shirt at one point to acknowledge it), stars as Imogene (the original title of the film), whom we meet as a class-conscious social-climber in New York City, attending book signings and elegant lectures with her handsome live-in boyfriend Peter (Brian Patsos). But one night he abruptly dumps her, sending her into a predictable emotional tailspin. In a boneheaded effort to get him back, she feigns a suicide attempt which sends her to the psychiatric ward. Overcrowding there leads the staff to ask her long-estranged mother Zelda (Annette Bening), a gambling addict who lives in Ocean City, New Jersey, to take charge of her daughter for the requisite seventy-two hours, and she agrees.
So Imogene reluctantly returns home, where she finds her mom as spacey as ever and her brother Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald) the lovable semi-recluse she remembered, a guy who prefers crabs to people, won’t leave the boundaries of Ocean City, and has built himself a literal shell to protect himself from the world. To make matters worse, Zelda has rented out the prodigal daughter’s room to handsome casino song-and-dance man Lee (Darren Criss) and is herself shacked up with a goofy fellow (Matt Dillon) who calls himself The Bousche and claims to be a deep-cover government operative who must remain anonymous at any cost.
There are a few points that one can predict from the movie’s earliest stages. One is that Imogene and Zelda will renew their familial bond. Another is that Ralph will abruptly show himself far more capable than anyone ever imaged. And the third—the most obvious of all—is that after getting off on the wrong foot, Imogene and Lee will wind up together. All of these things happen in ways that are designed to be as odd and kooky as possible, but the catalyst that ties them all together is the revelation that Zelda’s husband, who she had told Imogene and Ralph was dead, is actually alive and living in Manhattan. That sets Imogene off on a journey back to the city, not only to find him but to reclaim her old life. That plot line ends up in one of the weirdest of all the screenplay’s aspects—a meeting with dear old dad, played by Bob Balaban at his most affected and ethereal (which is saying quite a lot). Naturally it does not go well, compelling Imogene—with Lee’s encouragement—to take charge of her future and start writing again.
Despite the efforts of a game cast, absolutely nothing in “Girl Most Likely” feels remotely human, not least the two culminating sequences, one that finally tells us the truth about The Bousche and the second, set at an off-Broadway theatre, that features cameos by Julia Stiles, Andrea Martin and Whit Stillman. To add to the problems, the portrait of Imogene’s erstwhile society friends is drawn so broadly that it comes across less as satire than sitcom.
Wiig and Bening are nothing if not energetic, Dillon does his laid-back doofus shtick comfortably, Criss makes an engaging big-screen transition from “Glee” and Fitzgerald handles his potentially awful role with agreeable restraint. And visually the picture is perfectly fine, with Annie Spitz’s production design and Steve Yedin’s cinematography using the East Coast locations well.
But what this “Girl” is most likely to do is disappear quickly from theatres.