I decided to see Girl Most Likely on impulse earlier this week and caught a matinee by myself in a nearly empty theater. Going to the movies alone in the middle of the day is actually, I’ve decided, really nice, but it also probably suggests that I’m about as close to this film’s target audience as you can possibly get.
Which is to say that Girl Most Likely, about a once-promising playwright who has a mental breakdown and is forced to move back home to New Jersey to live with her family, hit kind of close to home. It’s not that Kristen Wiig’s Imogene and I are exactly the same person (thankfully, for instance, my mother is a lot more reliable than Imogene’s gambling addict mother, played with aplomb by Annette Bening), but there were definitely some similarities.
Perhaps most significant of these is that Imogene and I (along with a lot of other women of my generation), live in what Anne Helen Peterson calls the “postfeminist dystopia”: a world that recognizes the failure of the idea that women can “have it all” through consumption, self-objectification, and romantic coupling. In other words, the era of the romantic comedy “happy ending” has been tested and found wanting.
When the film begins, Imogene seems to be living the kind of life that is the light at the end of the average rom-com tunnel: she’s attending stylish Manhattan parties with her rich friends and her handsome husband. Everything appears to be perfect. She’s got the kind of cosmopolitan lifestyle that women who came of age with Sex in the City dream of. But it’s all, ultimately, a fantasy. Her husband doesn’t have time for her, and her friends shun her when she’s in crisis. Imogene’s dreams of living an intellectual life in the big city crumble, and she’s sent back to New Jersey with her mother after staging a suicide attempt so overtly performative that it can’t even be called a cry for help. (The scene, in which Imogene primps and puts on her sexiest lingerie and artfully positions herself on the bed beside a spilled bottle of pills, may be one of the most overt call-outs of dead-woman-as-sexualized-object I’ve seen in a while.) Once Imogene is home, of course, she comes to realize that the life she’s built for herself is not a good fit for her (as she puts it, she was just an impersonator), and once she finally comes to terms with this, she’s freed up to write again — in her own voice.
One thing I especially appreciated about this story was that Imogene’s story isn’t resolved romantically. She does have a love interest (the slightly-too-young-for-her Darren Criss, who is admirably charming in what may be the most cringe-inducingly awesome use of a Backstreet Boys song in contemporary cinema), but that isn’t the main problem Imogene has to deal with. So often women’s problems in movies are resolved by hitching their wagon to some handsome man, but for Imogene, what’s much more important is coming to terms with herself, her sense of her own worth, and her relationship to her art.
Like Girls, Bridesmaids, Bachelorette, and Young Adult before it, Girl Most Likely explores the ways in which the narratives of feminine success encountered in the mainstream media are destructive to women living in the real world. Is this film the most stringent critique of the post-feminist dystopia? Probably not, no. But it’s a charming, good-natured film about a woman who’s trying to figure out her place in the world on her own terms, and we can always use more of those.