In American show biz as we know it, a strange phenomenon and collective culture-shock sensation take root when our beloved Saturday Night Live cast members try to make that leap from small to big screen. As a ripe f’rinstance, although the skit-comedy queen Kristen Wiig has already proved her big-screen readiness in Bridesmaids, it’s a bigger stretch to fully accept her as the lead in Girl Most Likely. We’re accustomed to her stellar work in small-plate, piecemeal, skit-based form, as, say, the Target Lady, the crazed, tiny-handed loon in the Lawrence Welk bits, or one of my more absurd favorites, as Virgania Horsen, the Pony Express mailwoman.
Wiig is up front and in the extended spotlight in Girl Most Likely, a film that wavers between winning our affections and losing itself in a swirl of contrary emotions, modes, and genre choices. She is your not-so-basic girl adrift, a thirtysomething writer’s-blocked playwright in N.Y.C. whose failing romance has driven her to fake a suicide and ultimately to go home again, to Ocean City, New Jersey. There, the family unit includes a “special” brother (Christopher Fitzgerald) with a crab obsession so intense that he invents a human exoskeleton — which takes on unexpected symbolic and story-fueling purpose in the film.
Annette Bening again proves her spunkiness and depth as Wiig’s single mother with a penchant for gambling. Mom is also shacking up with a presumed CIA agent/self-styled samurai played with his usual oddball flair by Matt Dillon (another somehow loveable nutcase role for his IMDB list, alongside Drugstore Cowboy and There’s Something About Mary).
But ultimately the parts are more enjoyable than the dramatic-comic whole of Girl Most Likely. Eccentric twists and stunt work try to get along with genuine emotional sentiments, sometimes giving us audience whiplash. But Wiig keeps us tuned in, a process-in-progress in her post-SNL days.