** (out of four)
You don’t often see a diver execute an elegant back-flip and then plummet into a belly flop.
That’s the equivalent of what happens to “Girl Most Likely,” though, as a film about a woman who squanders her potential does exactly that. At first, directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (still searching for a winner after 2003’s excellent “American Splendor”) and writer Michelle Morgan achieve a nifty dance of quirky precision: Imogene (Kristen Wiig) doesn’t have her business together, and what she thinks she has unravels quickly when she’s dumped and fired in rapid succession. The film’s tricky tone earns laughs from dark comedy—Imogene’s proud to earn a compliment from the doctor who praises her fake suicide note—while setting up a study of a woman whose brief success as a promising playwright ultimately derailed her entire life.
Well, Imogene’s life was tough from her early days, as evidenced by her gambling-addicted mom Zelda (Annette Bening) and unusual younger brother Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald), the type of Asperger’s-y character movies love to depict without actually understanding. (The role might have gone to Zach Galifianakis five years ago.) “Girl Most Likely” plays with an ordinary woman in a mixed-up world, but the film takes a nose-dive into nonsense and never recovers.
Imogene has no chemistry with Lee (“Glee” star Darren Criss, who’s not ready for the big screen), yet Morgan’s script labors to put them together. Repeated gags involving the Backstreet Boys recall similar ones in “This is the End,” another movie that started out much better than it finished. And Zelda’s boyfriend, George Boosh (Matt Dillon, wishing he were still in “There’s Something About Mary”), who admits that’s not his real name and claims he’s a CIA agent, is a character who begins as rubbish and goes downhill from there.
A New York versus New Jersey debate comes straight from “How I Met Your Mother,” and Ralph’s fear of going beyond the Jersey boardwalk sounds like Charlie Kelly’s much funnier fears on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” “Girl Most Likely” didn’t have to include someone saying “He gave me crabs” just because Ralph loves and sells crabs. It’s too easy.
For both “Girl Most Likely” and its struggling heroine, however, self-preservation is anything but.
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