Bachelorette’s Leslye Headland: “You’re Just Not Gonna Be Okay”
Writer and director Leslye Headland’s Bachelorette is a female ensemble comedy that culminates in a wedding, but Headland doesn’t want it confused with Bridesmaids or any of the other recent pack of funny-lady flicks. In fact, she’d rather not be thought of as a female writer at all.
“When I first started getting read and I started having [meetings] and Bachelorette made The Black List [a peer-nominated Hollywood list of the best unproduced screenplays], it was like, ‘So you’re a female Neil LaBute!’” Headland, who made her name as a playwright, said. “And you wouldn’t say, ‘You’re a gentile Neil Simon,’ you know what I mean? You wouldn’t say, ‘You’re a white John Singleton.’ Women are actually the majority in this country, so why are you using that adjective to describe my writing? Why can’t you just say it’s like Neil LaBute, which I would take as a huge compliment?”
As moviegoers will soon find out, Headland’s writing is, well, pure Headland. Whether it’s Isla Fisher as party animal Katie goading Kirsten Dunst’s type-A Regan into licking the sidewalk to admit defeat (“just a little cat lick”) or Lizzy Caplan’s bitter mean girl, Gena, expounding on the appropriate level of blowjob enthusiasm for every occasion (“I’ll give you a 6 after a fight when we’re making up. An 8 when you spent a shitload of money on me or get me something that’s a sweet gift or something. I’ll do a full 8”), Headland’s Bachelorette-isms are distinctly different from film dialogue in recent memory.
The same goes for her decidedly unladylike — but lifelike — characters. Caplan, Dunst and Fisher stomp through the movie fueled by cocaine and petty high school bitterness, coupled with the inevitable wear and tear that comes from life’s little frictions. The trio, which Fisher laughingly referred to as “the bitchelorettes,” portray high school friends brought together to celebrate the nuptials of their clique’s fourth member, Becky (played by Rebel Wilson). Old resentments and judgements also come to the party: the whip-thin trio compare their lives to Rubenesque Becky’s and glower, wondering how it is that she’s the first to the altar, seemingly “having it all.” Which, of course, she doesn’t — no one does. Not Katie, who seeks validation through wild partying and one night stands, using a sleek physique to mask low intellect and high insecurity, nor Regan, who so craves control that she sticks her fingers down her throat, nor Gena, whose rampant drug use and guns-blazing sarcasm keep past traumas at bay. Even Becky, still haunted by classmates’ past taunts of “pig face,” and that nagging inner monologue whispering that she’ll never shine in a sea of beautiful girls. Nor you, nor me, for that matter.
Some critics have slammed the movie, saying the characters’ bad decisions (mountains of cocaine, purposeful vomiting, cruel remarks, general hot mess-ness) indicate bad characters, which Headland called out as a sign of the male/female double standard.
“Little did I know that everyone was going to have a nervous breakdown about it. ‘Women doing drugs!’ I was like, ‘Oh, God. Get over it,’” she said. “It just didn’t occur to me until later, when the play was up” — a version of Bachelorette was also performed onstage — “and people were like, ‘We fucking hate this,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, OK, well, if they were all 40 and men and it was called Hurlyburly and starring Christopher Walken, you’d love it.”
In addition to being three-dimensional, the women (and men; Adam Scott, James Marsden, and Kyle Bornheimer star as equally hapless groomsmen) of the film are also living believable lives. These anti-heroines don’t have a Transformative Moment in which everything suddenly comes together. Katie doesn’t suddenly grow smarts, Regan doesn’t relax, Gena doesn’t let her guard down, and Becky doesn’t forget her past demons. Covered — to varied degrees — in vomit, their status at the film’s close is the same as any honest woman’s: working on it.
To that point, Headland said that she identifies with all of her work-in-progress characters. No one character is based on her — they all are.
“I’m Regan when I work, Gena when I wake up in the morning. I’m Katie — what’s really sad is that men think they’re getting in bed with Gena, and then they wake up with Katie,” she said. “They’re like, ‘Oh God!’ and then I’m this like sad little girl who’s just sort of like, ‘Do you like me? Do I look OK?’ And they, like, thought I was going to be somebody else. I’m like, ‘Please just like me, please just like me.’
“The thing that’s probably most autobiographical is just the sentiment of the piece. Like, this sucks. This really sucks. I feel inadequate as a woman and I’m not exactly sure why, and I’m not exactly sure why I was handed a piece of paper that said ‘feminism’ at the top and it was actually just a to-do list of things I was supposed to get done by the time I was 30. I was just like, what the fuck is this? That’s not — I don’t want it all. I don’t actually want that.”
Bachelorette isn’t a downer, though — the easiest sumary is Mean Girls times two, divided by The Hangover, plus Bridesmaids, plus a pile of narcotics, minus a rom-com with a rosy, happy ending. While the trio brood and barf, they also have a driving purpose: in a lightheartedly bitchy moment, two of the svelte girls demonstrate that they can fit in Becky’s tent-like dress together. Unsurprisingly, it rips. Mission impossible: repair the dress before dawn. Havoc ensues.
If the the essential thread of the film is that hell is other people (and yourself), then it’s bolstered by Headland’s opinion that hell is other people at a wedding.
“Both my younger sisters have gotten married, and I was like, ‘Why is everyone such assholes at a wedding?’” Headland said of her inspiration for the story. “I just couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Why isn’t anyone making a movie about what fucking dicks people are?’ It’s like, really? This woman is getting married and pledging eternity to this dude and you’re making this whole night about you? Like those people who sit in the front row and sob, like wahhhh! This is about your own self pity. This has nothing to do with you being happy for someone.”
If there’s one thing Headland stressed, other than the fact that high school truly never ends, it’s the need to make your own happy endings. There is no universal checklist for fulfilment, and no right way to live your life. Spouse, no spouse; kids, no kids; fat, skinny; sober, not — there’s no definitive right answer.
“I only have a short time where I’m gonna get to be able to do this, I might as well do it the way I want to,” Headland said. “And like the movie says: fuck everyone. Fuck it. Because they don’t know what’s going on. I look at women who are married and have children and they’re totally miserable, and I look at women who have children and they’re totally happy. That material stuff doesn’t, that relationship stuff doesn’t — I have been in relationships where I have been so in love, I thought God put that person on earth just for me. I’ve been in a relationship where the idiosyncrasies of someone else made me want to fucking kill myself. I was like, ‘I never want to do this again, I never want to be in a relationship again, I can’t stand living with this person.’ About someone who I used to adore. It just … it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get those things.
“Everyone’s just running around trying to get the thing to put on the top of their pile to say, ‘Look, I’m okay. I am okay because I have these things,’ and you’re just not gonna be okay.”
Despite her no-holds-barred, did-it-my-way attitude, Headland did admit one regret: “I wish I’d slept my way to the top. I wish I could do that. I’d get laid more. I never get laid.”
Kase Wickman can provide references for her flower girl abilities, but lacks bridesmaid experience.