Somewhere along the way, the bitter-sweet quirkiness Imogene aimed for got lost. What we get instead of the intended melancholy comedy is a bewildering tonal mess, flirting with the sense of discomfort that has become the keystone of modern American comedy yet not afraid to resort to cheap laughs if necessary, asking a stellar cast to flesh out characters that seem to have no reason for existing other than their idiosyncrasies. Imogene, retitled Girl Most Likely for its belated US release, aims clearly for a class satire of modern New York City doubling as quirky character comedy; instead, it becomes a sulky, self-centred tantrum that never finds the exact balance between melancholy and wit that directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini seem to be searching for.

     In a way, it's true the film's plot lies precisely in that in-between state: it's the tale of Imogene Duncan (Kristen Wiig), a teenage playwright prodigy who never fulfilled her promises and is now stuck between two worlds and forced to choose the one she doesn't want. Dumped by her aloof boyfriend, fired from her publishing job and evicted from her Manhattan condo after a fake suicide attempt, Imogene ends up back in the New Jersey hometown she'd vowed to get away from, in the care of the kooky, gambling-addicted trailer-trash mother (Annette Bening). Humiliated at her return home as a failure, Imogene tries desperately to hang on as best she can to her life in NYC, but it turns out she doesn't really have a choice other than to rediscover what it was that propelled her out of Ocean City.

     The problem is very simply that at no point throughout the film do these characters engage the viewer in any sort of way, either because Michelle Morgan's script follows a rather predictable narrative arc or because Ms. Berman and Mr. Pulcini's handling plays it far too straight, before a completely out-of-left-field climax comes in to undo everything. It's really a matter of sensibility, and while on paper Imogene's seems a heightened, stylized fantasy in the manner of a more grounded, less effete Wes Anderson, on screen it plays more like a wry family comedy with a twist, with a tacked-on ending that seems to come from an entirely different film; it has the talent necessary to pull through, but it never coheres into something enticing or even interesting.

Cast: Kristen Wiig, Annette Bening, Matt Dillon, Darren Criss, Christopher Fitzgerald, June Diane Raphael, Bob Balaban
Directors: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Screenwriter: Michelle Morgan
Cinematography: Steve Yedlin  (colour)
Music: Rob Simonsen
Designer: Annie Spitz
Costumes: Tom Broecker
Editor: Mr. Pulcini
Producers: Celine Rattray, Trudie Styler, Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Mark Amin  (Maven Pictures and Anonymous Content Pictures in association with Ambush Entertainment, 10th Hole Productions and Gambit Films)
USA, 2012, 103 minutes

Screened: Zon Lusomundo Amoreiras VIP 3, Lisbon, September 30th 2013


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