After the almost unfathomable success of Bridesmaids in 2011, all eyes were on writer-star Kristen Wiig. For six seasons she had been a breakout on Saturday Night Live and racked up a lengthy rap sheet as a scene stealer in small roles in movies like Knocked Up and Ghost Town. But it wasn't until after Bridesmaids that she was coronated Hollywood's next big leading lady. She left SNL a year later, piquing curiosity over what she'd choose as her next big project, finally free of the arduous shooting schedule at Studio 8H.
Girl Most Likely, which hit theaters this weekend, is that first Wiig-headlined feature we've been waiting for. And despite being mostly a disappointment, it also—mostly—proves she's earned that leading-lady crown.
In limited release, the indie comedy earned just $736,000 this weekend in 353 theaters. Again, as a really small indie, the film was never going to approach anywhere near Bridesmaids numbers. But that's still a disappointing haul: the per-theater-average of $2,085 was less than half of what Ryan Gosling's Only God Forgives earned and less than a third of The Way, Way Back's gross, and they're both also indies running in limited release.
More disappointing yet is the movie's critical reaction, a meager 15 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Girl Most Likely is about a failed New York City playwright who fakes a suicide attempt to get the attention of her ex-boyfriend, so she's sent to live with her neurotic mother, played by Annette Bening. Wiig plays a woman approaching 40 and swirling down a downward spiral with reckless abandon—in other words, the same character she played in Bridesmaids. Only no one poops on the street. And no one has crazy sex with Jon Hamm. And Wilson Phillipps never shows up.
That's the bad news. Here's the good news. Almost every single review of the film reads as almost an apology letter to Wiig, whether it's "Sorry we have to say something bad about you" or "Sorry your movie sucked ... You deserve better."
"Kristen Wiig delivers another adorkable star turn in Girl Most Likely, which works until it doesn't," wrote Ann Hornaday at The Washington Post. "Girl Most Likley is a case of good actors in serious need of worthwhile material, " said Connie Ogle at The Miami Herald. "Unfortunately, it's just not funny enough," summarized Moira Macdonald at The Seattle Times.
Manohla Dargis captures the sentiment best in the lede of a lukewarm New York Times review: "It's impossible not to root for Kristen Wiig, even while you wait for the funny to pop in her latest." That Dargis begins a negative review with a rave of the star's mere existence is testament to the possibilities her career holds. It's certainly not something people write about Kate Hudson, Katherine Heigl, or Jennifer Aniston, three actresses who haven't exactly lit up the box office on a regular basis or excited critics in a while.
We all may have waited with bated breath for Wiig's big, first post-Bridesmaids, post-SNL star vehicle. Girl Most Likely may have been disappointingly slight, and not that vehicle. (Though Wiig does have standout moments, particularly when she gets to do those mumbling, meandering monologues that make a riot of awkwardness.) But in the end, because she's so loved, it will probably just serve as a speed bump instead of a road block in her career.
"She has the post-Bridesmaids glow," Mike Ryan, senior entertainment writer at The Huffington Post, tells The Daily Beast. "She can do three Girl Most Likelys and have those not do well, and it won't hurt her."
That's not to say that it looks like Wiig has three Girl Most Likelys in the pipeline. She's the female lead in the much-buzzed-about The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which is getting an awards-courting Christmas release. She has a supporting role in the Anchorman sequel, news so exciting that glass cases of emotion everywhere shattered at the announcement. Also coming up are quirkier (read: Wiig-friendly) fare like The Skeleton Twins with Bill Hader and Hateship, Loveship with Hailee Steinfeld.
With the exception of Anchorman, none of these movies are as mass appealing or box-office friendly as Bridesmaids ended up being. Similarly, none of these movies is Bridesmaids 2, either, which she told The Daily Beast she opted against because "it's just not something I'm interested in doing."
The result is a career that's taking a remarkably unique shape. "The reason I've always admired her is that she just goes and does things she finds interesting, no matter how big or small the project," Ryan says. "It's creatively smart that she's not doing Bridesmaids 2, but I have a feeling that the best stuff she does will be more stuff that she writes herself."
That's not to say that Wiig can keep making off-center indies and still maintain this idea that she's a Movie Star, capital letters. And maybe, even, that suits her.
"There's an edgy side to her that she plays up, but that doesn't make her accessible," one Hollywood manager tells The Daily Beast. "I think that will hinder how large her audience is."
Embracing that edginess, then, as she seems to be doing, would be key. "Stop headlining movies," the manager suggests. "Be a part of larger ensembles with people who legitimize her and give her credibility." After all, being a Leading Lady—again, capital letters—takes some compromises, which, based on her Bridesmaids 2 decision, Wiig doesn't seem to want to make. "I don't see Kristin Wiig having a Clairol campaign," the manager says, "and that stuff really does matter."
It's hard to predict what's really in store for Wiig. You can't point her toward a movie-career path to follow that's already been taken by a female SNL vet because no female SNL vet has really become a movie star—at least not in the way Will Ferrell, Eddie Murphy, and Adam Sandler have. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, probably the closest there is, are far more successful on the small screen.
"She's on a path so unique, you can't really do the whole 'ooh, Julia Louis-Dreyfus did this after SNL, or Will Ferrell did that,’” Ryan says.
In other words, she’s Girl Most Likely to Keep Us Guessing ... and happily so.