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Girl Most Likely: Not Ready For Primetime

After seven seasons on Saturday Night Live, it's understandable that Kristen Wiig would want to move beyond sketch comedy and explore a wider range of roles. In that case, though, why does she spend the entirety of her first post-Bridesmaids star vehicle, Girl Most Likely, acting likes she's still in Studio 8H? Throughout the film, Wiig can be glimpsed mumbling out of the side of her mouth, pulling faces and hauling out that sing-songy "Just kidding" cadence she employed as Judy Grimes -- all tics she developed during her time on SNL. But Wiig's shtick-heavy performance is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems afflicting this dire "comedy" about a thirtysomething playwright suffering from a serious case of arrested development. Girl Most Likely has already been sitting around unreleased for almost a year after its debut at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival and leaving it on the shelf indefinitely may have been the kindest thing for all concerned.

When it premiered in Toronto, Girl Most Likely was called Imogene, the name of Wiig's character, a Jersey-born writer who fled her trashy Ocean City origins for the bright lights of Manhattan after winning a prestigious playwriting competition. But her theatrical career never moved into second gear, as Imogene was instead seduced into the costly lifestyle of snooty Upper East Side pseudo-friends like Dara (June Diane Raphael) and frittered away her time and money on frivolous things. After a bad break-up with her boyfriend, she practically loses her sanity on top of everything else, staging a mock-suicide that gets her remanded into the custody of her estranged -- and just plain strange – mother, Zelda (Annette Bening). Suddenly, Imogene is back in the home where she grew up, a place that she shares with her reclusive, crustacean-collecting brother, Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald); Zelda's robe-wearing boyfriend George (Matt Dillon), who claims to be in the CIA; and singer/dancer Lee (Darren Criss), who rents out her bedroom. Fully intending to get back to New York as soon as possible, Imogene instead gets drawn into old family dramas, which range from tracking down her supposedly dead father to helping her brother emerge from his proverbial shell. Her adversarial relationship with Lee also takes an extremely unconvincing turn towards the romantic for reasons almost certainly dictated by commercial concerns rather than emotional logic.

The root of Girl Most Likely's failings can be traced back to the tonal mismatch of the screenwriter, directors and cast, none of whom are on the same page about the kind of movie they're making. Michelle Morgan's script feels somewhat modeled after an Alexander Payne film in the way it positions a fairly unlikable character as the central "hero" of the movie and then satirizes both her and the world she inhabits. (Although, prior to The Descendants at least, Payne was much harder on his characters than Morgan ultimately is here.) But directors Shari Springer Bergman and Robert Pulcini (who have yet to live up to the promise of their breakthrough debut, American Splendor) don't pursue the script's thread of dark comedy, instead flattening everything out in the misguided pursuit of making this absurdity-laced situation feel like real life. (That disconnect is most strongly felt in the final act, which takes a full-bore turn into ridiculousness that the filmmakers play straight to disastrous effect.) Wiig and the rest of the actors, meanwhile, offer up sitcom-ready performances pitched at wildly various levels of eccentricity; Bening, for instance, offers up a working-class version of the shrill bitch-on-wheels she played inAmerican Beauty, while Fitzgerald feels like he's auditioning for a role as a new nerdy roommate on The Big Bang Theory. (But hey, at least they leave an impression, however negative it may be -- Criss, in contrast, is so bland, he barely registers onscreen.) And then there's Wiig, who can't make up her mind about whether she wants to play Imogene as a character or caricature. Previously heralded as the recent SNL graduate most likely to find big-screen success, Girl Most Likely instead hands Wiig her first significant career setback.

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