The so-called "Bridesmaids" wave, that potential boomlet in raunchy female buddy comedies, may or may not materialize in the coming years. But at least one movie resulting from similar impulses is, it turns out, already here: "L!fe Happens," an independently financed film starring a collection of TV-friendly young actresses that world-premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Saturday night and is seeking theatrical distribution.
The feature debut of Kat Coiro (a writer-director who's part of a sort of east-side-of-LA entertainment mafia) could have been conjured in a writers room headed by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. What if, it asks, a twentysomething Silver Laker, living an at once daunting and trouble-lite post-college life with two roommates, gets pregnant after a one-night stand but chooses to keep the baby? Spending no time on the reasons behind this rather monumental (and not exactly demographically common) decision, the movie plunges us into the aftermath.
Kim (model-turned-actress Krysten Ritter, who co-wrote with Coiro), Deena (Kate Bosworth) and a ditz named Laura (Rachel Bilson, in a smaller role than that of her co-stars), share one of those group houses you've seen (albeit with men) in a hundred Judd Apatow movies. Except, of course, for the baby twist; the existence of Kim's roughly year-old son pitches the responsibilities of motherhood against the vagaries of slacker life. He also makes finding a boyfriend kind of difficult.
What appears at first like a comedy about unexpected pregnancy -- a kind of ragged, female "Knocked Up" -- soon levels off into something more akin to "Bridesmaids": a look at how longtime female friendships are tested when one friend goes through a major life change. As with the Paul Feig hit, that life change brings into the open long-submerged personality differences. Deena is well-read, career-minded and sexually bold. Kim is a kind of nerd underachiever, a dog walker who has big dreams of opening a canine-only shopping mall. (Someone really needs to come up with better movie-character jobs.)
As the baby demands more of Kim's time, it sets the two women on a surprisingly serious collision course before giving way to Apatow-ian sweetness.
Whether the film's intensity of purpose will come off as thoughtful or strained will of course be for audiences to decide. Coiro, though, says she had little doubt about the social need her movie filled.
"As a director coming into my own career, I found there were no really exciting female characters," she told 24 Frames . "There were the foils rather than the ones driving the ship." She and Ritter decided to write a script that puts the ladies front and center. "L!fe Happens," which was being developed at roughly the same time that Fey's "Baby Mama" was getting made, was conceived at one point as a studio comedy, and even retooled as a network sitcom, before settling into its current friends-and-family indie incarnation. (Coiro met some of the actresses through her husband, Rhys Coiro, best known as the hair-trigger director Billy Walsh on HBO's "Entourage.)
Coiro said she found some of the "Bridesmaids" references she's been hearing a little amusing -- she began working on her movie nearly four years ago, she points out, when "Bridesmaids" was barely a glint in Kristen Wiig's eye. But she says she also takes heart in the comparison.
"I think it's a good sign that we're talking about these things," she said. "There are so few movies where you just see women talking to their girlfriends." ("Sex and the City," she says, doesn't really count; that franchise was "heightened. It's not the experience of girls coming home after work and eating a burrito in front of the TV.")
At a post-screening question-and-answer session Saturday night, Bosworth chipped in that she was drawn to the layers of friendship in the script. "I loved that it was kind of a love story," the actress said. "Women, we're deep. When we connect, we really connect."
When Apatow and his crew created the raunchy slacker bromance, an indie strain followed several years later in the form of movies such as "Humpday." It's not taking nearly as long for women to follow suit.
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-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Krysten Ritter (l), Rachel Bilson and Kate Bosworth in "L!fe Happens." Credit: Los Angeles Film Festival