The most enduring and endearing images, for me, from Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini’s Girl Most Likely, are those of Kristen Wiig, as Imogene, the early blooming girl of the title who we catch in glimpses staring at herself in the mirror. Reflective moments tell us so much. There is a certain nakedness captured in the right performer in those moments when no one else is around. They see themselves, not as others do, but as they realize they truly are. It can be enough to fragment an already fragile psyche, splintering it into countless pieces.
Imogene has one of those flash points near the beginning of the film. She’s arrived at a cocktail party alone, having left numerous voicemail messages for her Dutch boyfriend. There’s the mad dash inside, the quick scan for him among the chattering throngs that she’s clearly not ready to engage just yet, so Imogene retreats to the ladies room and in a frozen instant, she stands with all of her neediness on display, her barely disguised insecurity peeking through the cracks.
This is Wiig at her best, breathing new life into the sad clown. She doesn’t need words or her gawky physical comedy, which, in its understatedness, rivals the great Carol Burnett. There’s none of the broad eagerness that heralded her arrival on the scene as a Saturday Night Live regular. Wiig, more than any other recent cast member, needed to break free of the constraints of the show, to escape to film where she could dial things down, open herself to the softer side, the tragic lurking underneath the laughs.
Later in the film, she encounters a New Age-y glitter painter (Natasha Lyonne) on the boardwalk who seeks Imogene’s inner shiny face so that she can bring it to the fore. What Imogene (and the audience) gets are the three little tears (in the frame above), a more direct reference to the sadness of the character. Imogene, spiraling towards the bottom, has lost her boyfriend, her apartment, and her freedom (thanks to a botched suicide attempt predicated on a surprisingly effective suicide note). She’s forced into the care of her even less stable family – a mother (Annette Bening) with a compulsive disorder and a brother (Christopher Fitzgerald) who fears contact with others to such an extent that he has created his own metal exoskeleton to wear in public. It is not hard to see her recoiling from their reflections, which explains why she rarely, if ever, goes home.
But, truth be told, none of the details of the story matter. Girl Most Likely will live on for audiences who find themselves fascinated by the sadness of Wiig. There is something oddly comforting about this aspect of her presence and one day, we may find ourselves celebrating this Queen of Pain.