The raunchy wedding-comedy Bachelorette, which opened this past weekend after a successful video-on-demand launch, has been garnering plenty of comparisons to those two other blockbuster wedding-planning-gone-awry movies, Bridesmaids and The Hangover. And those comparisons make sense: they’ve all got weddings and debauchery. Bachelorette producer Adam McKay even told Entertainment Weekly that the filmmakers worried their movie would be thought of as a “knock off” of Bridesmaids. But after you’ve seen this latest entry—which you should have before you read this, because major spoilers are below—you’ll know that Bachelorette is a different breed of movie.
It’s less accurate to say that Bachelorette a darker Bridesmaids than to say it’s an older Jawbreaker.
Sure, Bachelorette has wedding-dress drama and the main characters are bridesmaids. And, for better or for worse, it’s got a happy(-ish) ending at a wedding. And even though the three main characters are terrible people—so terrible the movie couldn’t find traditional distribution, according to Deadline—there are attempts to explain that away: Isla Fisher’s character is a maybe-suicidal overdoser, Kirsten Dunst’s is a perfect-on-the-outside bulimic and Lizzy Caplan’s is scarred for life by a high-school abortion to which her boyfriend played by Adam Scott did not show up. (And a nit-pick: The movie takes place in New York City and it appears that the women grew up there. A lot is made of Scott’s failure to drive Caplan to her abortion, forcing good-friend-in-the-end Dunst to take his place. Why didn’t they take the subway?)
But even though we’re supposed to understand the reasons behind the way these people act, the explanations are not really excuses. You might like the characters a little more by the end of the movie, and you definitely feel bad for them, but you’re probably still really glad they’re not your friends (much less your bridesmaids). The things they do—the gleeful spite as they mock the bride, the sloppy drug use and the way they take advantage of others to get at those drugs, the cruel treatment of friends and strangers and themselves—are either bad or sad, and presented as such. The movie is not just a darker version of Bridesmaids, in the same way that the reasons for gross-out bodily fluids in Bachelorette (bulimia, cocaine-induced nosebleeds) are not just darker versions of food poisoning.
There’s been a lot of chatter about movies like Bridesmaids showing that women can be gross and funny like men can, and showing that studios can make a lot of money from that humor. But Bachelorette harkens less to the mostly good-natured female comedy revival of the past few years than it does to the golden age of truly dark girl-comedies—from Heathers, the 1988 exemplar of the killer-mean-girls genre, to 1999’s Jawbreaker, a cult classic about high-school girls who accidentally kill their friend and cover it up. There’s no actual death in Bachelorette, but the level of cruelty and disregard for others comes pretty close.
The only other difference is that Bachelorette is not about high school, and perhaps there’s an economic explanation for that. Isla Fisher suggested to The Hollywood Reporter that the recession’s effect on the delayed pacing of young adults’ lives is at the heart of the movie. The women of Bachelorettes met in high school and, in movie terms, they’re still there—well, sort of. At least they’re grown up enough to be sad about their lives.
The only wedding-movie moment that really belongs to the genre? Adam Scott’s groomsman speech, which does not involve the wedding couple at all and contains a description of the mechanics of sex—and is a contender for the worst wedding speech ever.