There were high expectations for Girl Most Likely, the first movie Kristen Wiig stars in since Bridesmaids. Critics seem to agree that the film did not live up to those expectations, and the meager $694,477 the film made in its opening weekend means audiences are listening. However, I (and the fans on Fandango who rated the film a "go" in contrast to the critics' "no") found the film's blatant disregard for expectations — those of critics and of the movie industry in general — is what makes it so special.
Girl Most Likely follows failed New York playwright Imogene as her life begins to collapse around her. In the opening scenes, Imogene loses both her long-term boyfriend and her job. After a desperate attempt to win her boyfriend back, Imogene is forced to move back in with her erratic mother and an unusual brother back in New Jersey.
One critic described the film as "an odd, slightly off movie that's bound to be mistaken for a bad one... The undertone of Girl Most Likely is the problem of comediennes in the boy's club world of comedy." The film does not fit neatly into the comedy genre, instead exploring the darker side of life as a woman unable to conform to social expectations. While it's true the movie has valid flaws, Girl Most Likely was destined to be disliked for the very reasons that make it great — it ignores society's expectations and in doing so both empowers the female lead and challenges the viewer.
Some critics dismissed the plot as "another movie about a woman falling into a deep funk because some narcissistic twit dumped her." But while this may be how the movie opens — and arguably the weakest plot element to start the movie on — this movie is in no way about Imogene's breakup. The breakup merely operates as a catalyst for Imogene to face her own faults and her own fears.
In reality, the main relationship in the movie is that between Imogene and her mother, Zelda. While Zelda first appears to be one-dimensional, a series of conversations with her daughter show her depth. In one heartfelt moment, Zelda tells Imogene, "If I say I'm sorry I'm worried that you'll just get all mad and yell at me for ruining your life." Imogene responds, "Is that your version of an apology?"
Ultimately, it is her mother whose support means the most to Imogene, and the movie closes with her mother passing on a family heirloom that symbolizes being a winner. While the movie opens with romance, it closes with a testament to the strength of female relationships.
Back in her stifling home town, Imogene walks into her old bedroom to find Lee (Darren Criss) with a woman in her bed. This matter-of-fact sexuality is fitting as an introduction to Imogene and Lee's relationship. As Imogene says in the movie, she and Lee are from different generations. However, the movie never reverts to the cougar narrative of an older woman dating a younger man. Instead of being romanticized, Imogene and Lee's relationship has surprising intimacy and, yes, awkwardness.
In addition, Imogene's mother is dating George "The Bousche," a man who claims to be a samurai in the CIA. Imogene is cynical about their relationship and tries to convince Zelda that he is a "compulsive liar." Both Imogene and the audience's expectations of the cheating boyfriend are shattered in the ending, which is perhaps the comedic highlight of the movie.
In some ways, Imogene aligned more closely with society's version of success at the beginning of the movie than at the end. We are introduced to Imogene's life as a series of fancy galas with New York City's finest, but Imogene herself is miserable. In contrast, at the end of the movie Imogene turns down an interview about her play to spend time with her family. While one may assume the former activities to be more enviable, the film contradicts that expectation.
It is not Imogene's eventual achievement with her play that makes her successful, it is her mother deeming her a "winner" and spending time with her family. Similarly, while Lee attended Yale, he chooses to work in a Backstreet Boys imitation band at a casino, because for him that is more fulfilling. And while Imogene's brother lacks all social graces, it is his failure to fit into society that makes him the hero at the end of the film.
In contrast, Imogene's father, who is traditionally successful, is an asshole. Clearly, the film is advocating for a different kind of success, one that society at large may not appreciate, but that brings inner happiness. In fact, this might be the very reason critics disliked the film. Girl Most Likely may not be successful in their eyes, but it was both heartwarming and empowering in mine.