The principals behind the new female comedy "Bachelorette" have gone to some lengths to differentiate themselves from "Bridesmaids"; writer-director Leslye Headland even recently released a statement explaining the movies' fundamental differences.
When her film premiered Monday night at the Sundance fIlm Festival, it was easy to see why such a statement might have been necessary. The glossy comedy, produced by Will Ferrell, shares plenty of similarities with the Kristen Wiig hit: The Headland movie is also a raunch-filled romp, built around comedic set pieces, in which a group of close female friends come to love, hate and ultimately understand each other in the run-up to a wedding.
The queen bee (and yes, there are some "Mean Girls" parallels) is Regan (Kirsten Dunst) who, with best friends Katie (Isla Fisher, in the ditz role) and wild child Gena (Lizzy Caplan) are thrown for a loop when their generally mocked, overweight high-school classmate Becky (Rebel Wilson, in case you weren't already thinking of "Bridesmaids") becomes engaged to a man they all covet, leading them to question their own flawed lives.
PHOTOS: The scene at Sundance
Barbed insults, drug-fueled partying and, yes, even wedding-dress mishaps ensue when the three come together the night before the ceremony. (A pack of groomsmen is led by James Marsden and Adam Scott, who has his own bit of history with one of the women.) The setting and the emotional dynamics have plenty in common with "Bridesmaids," and there's even another call-back here to a forgotten '90s anthem -- The Proclaimers' "500 Miles" stands in for Wilson Phillips' "Hold On."
There are some key differences. The girls are nearly all at least a decade younger and more free-spirited, none of them are married and the goal in at least one case is to get back with a high-school sweetheart, not land a mature thirtysomething. The partying and social situations -- for much of the film, it's not easy to find a scene without drug use, a strip club or a sex scene -- are generally played more aggressively than "Bridesmaids." "I think it's more hard core," Caplan said on the red carpet before the screening. (The movie also goes to a surprisingly dramatic place in its last half-hour as the broad-ish comedy from the opening sections is all but forgotten.)
Headland, a playwright making her feature debut, would also be right to point out she started writing the script nearly four years ago and based it on an off-Broadway play she created, long before "Bridesmaids" was ever shot.
The director told 24 Frames before the festival she didn't mind the comparison as much as you might think: "I look at it a little like 'Bonnie & Clyde' in 1967," she said. "You have a movie that gets everyone's attention and all these comparisons are drawn, and they're not always right. But then it's like, 'Thank God, let's make more movies like that.'"
Still, whoever buys this film for U.S. distribution will need to worry about the comparison. No matter how much pundits like to talk about a "Bridesmaids" wave, it will be difficult to market a movie like this without risking the "didn't Kristen Wiig just do something like that?" reaction; on paper, there are plenty of similarities. Those marketers may best be served by going the misanthropic route. As Caplan said on stage after the screening. "I saw [Headland's] play and was blown away by how dark and awful she was willing to make people."
Photo: A scene from "Bachelorette." Credit: Sundance Film Festival