Quirky doesn't mean funny in 'Girl Most Likely' 

click to enlarge Kristen Wiig, left, and Annette Bening play a dysfunctional mother and daughter in "Girl Most Likely."
  • Kristen Wiig, left, and Annette Bening play a dysfunctional mother and daughter in "Girl Most Likely."

Flying its quirk flag high and boasting a grade-A cast, "Girl Most Likely" aims for indie-darling status as its failed-writer protagonist winds up back in her native New Jersey, land of boardwalk pizza and, in movies like this, wildly dysfunctional kin.

But wackiness far exceeds wit in the comedy, and beneath colorful surfaces, the pulse is weak. Blame an eccentricity-obsessed screenplay and a dearth of narrative and emotional credibility for this misfire from directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini.

The filmmakers, whose credits include the inspired bio-drama "American Splendor," the conventional "The Nanny Diaries" and too-quirky "The Extra Man," continue to disappoint with this screwball-oddball mix containing wan hints of Woody Allen's Manhattan comedies, Whit Stillman's distressed-damsel adventures and Jason Reitman's tales of jaded people connecting.

Kristen Wiig plays Imogene, a 30-something Manhattanite who hasn't delivered as a playwright. Ashamed of her New Jersey roots, Imogene clunkily seeks acceptance into snooty high-society circles. When her boyfriend (Brian Petsos) dumps her, she tailspins and fakes a suicide attempt in hopes of gaining his sympathy.

The scheme is a snafu. The hospital places Imogene under the care of her eccentric mother, Zelda (Annette Bening), a gambling addict whose shortcomings as a parent Imogene cannot forgive.

Additional occupants of Zelda's Ocean City house include Zelda's boyfriend, "George Bouche" (Matt Dillon), who claims to be a CIA agent, and Imogene's brother, Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald), a man-child with a hermit crab obsession.

The one sane character is a boarder named Lee (Darren Criss), who sings in a Backstreet Boys tribute band and helps Imogene rediscover the joys of life.

Events shaping Imogene's recovery include a romance with Lee, a secret revealed by Zelda and "Wizard of Oz"-inspired developments that stem from the film's prologue.

The movie has some moments, especially in darkly comic early scenes. It's amusing when the faux suicide note proves the most convincing thing Imogene has ever penned. Still, too few jokes crackle (or even float) in the movie, and too many fizzle.

The filmmakers do nothing affecting with Zelda's gambling habit. The Imogene-Lee romance you cannot buy.

Wiig, playing a variation on her "Bridesmaids" character, displays her bent for physical and cerebral comedy, but it doesn't save her shallowly-conceived character; the same goes for Dillon and Bening.

Bob Balaban, whose character is a version of the wizard in Imogene's Oz adventure, fares best.


Girl Most Likely

(one and a half stars)

Starring Kristen Wiig, Annette Bening, Darren Criss, Christopher Fitzgerald

Written by Michelle Morgan

Directed by Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini

Rated PG-13

Running time 1 hour, 53 minutes

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Anita Katz

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