There’s a little trend out there among new brides called “Trash the Dress,” wherein the just-married missus hires a photographer to shoot an addendum for her wedding album, documenting the symbolic and oft-outlandish destruction of her lily-white gown. In Bachelorette, the latest naughty-girl comedy to walk down the aisle paved by Bridesmaids, this concept of desecrating the ultimate icon of womanhood is perfectly utilized as a motif, with the hallowed dress of bride-to-be Becky (Rebel Wilson) tagging along for every wedding’s-eve misdeed of bridesmaids Regan (Kirsten Dunst), Gena (Lizzy Caplan), and Katie (Isla Fisher). In a single night, after being unwittingly torn in half by the trio, the plus-size garment is bled on, tainted with semen, tossed amid curbside trash, and even used as a feminine wipe by an off-duty stripper. Its repair serves as the motivator of the ladies’ wild evening (which fast descends into a swirl of sex, drugs, and painful self-assessment), and it emerges as a multitasking metaphor, stained to reflect the savagery of woman’s inhumanity to woman and functioning as a spiritual stand-in for Becky, the fat one of the four whose post-high school goodness karmically spares her the after-hours misery. In trashing this dress, writer-director Leslye Headland rights a lot of her movie’s wrongs, delivering MacGuffin, female commentary, and mangled-to-mended character arcs all balled into one.
Based on Headland’s stage play of the same name (which is reportedly darker and, thus, probably better), Bachelorette temporarily suffers from a comedic complacency that’s way too common in the genre these days, with boilerplate jokes favored over pulling out stops. This nearly pitch-black comedy is better than its tiresome use of ‘90s pop references, no matter how much they illuminate what the gals bonded over back in the day. And given the strength of the howl-worthy stunts and perversions that dominate the third act, it’s a little unforgivable that the film is so content to elicit mere chuckles through much of the first two. But what smoothly pilots the viewer through the movie’s peaks and valleys is its fabulous triple-threat of leading ladies, each of whom brings unique and vivid life to a keenly written archetype. Playing the type-A maid of honor who’s most unnerved that the “ugly friend” is tying the knot first, Dunst has never embodied such a deliciously efficient bitch, and she epitomizes the film’s frenemy themes, making it wholly believable that Regan loves and hates Becky in equal measure. As a bohemian brunette whose introspection has stunted her growth and prolonged her drug use (she smuggles a baby-powder bottle full of cocaine to the festivities), Caplan offers a wealth of self-indulgent cynicism that’s probably most indicative of her character’s generation. And best in show is most definitely Fisher, whose laugh riot of a party girl spikes the movie with some much-needed comic extremism.
With the R-rated comedy having passed the novelty of its resurgence to become something mindlessly recycled, it’s harder and harder to find something that’s foul-mouthed and also worthwhile. Though ailed by a shadow of conformity, and peppered with male characters it never quite knows what to do with (a flaw at the expense of game actors like Adam Scott, James Marsden, and Kyle Bornheimer), Headland’s bad-behavior romp remains scaldingly distinct thanks to its cutting insights into modern female relationships, which seem increasingly complicated and bafflingly contradictory. The developments that Regan, Gena, and Katie undergo may seem a wee bit tidy, but the mess of feelings they have about Becky and themselves is anything but. In the thick of trying to salvage that ever-violated wedding dress, resentment toward the bride is coupled with a palpable, collective self-loathing—all the more reason to get those damned spots out.