The titular Imogene (Kristen Wiig) lives in New York as a failed playwright, and has just been dumped by her boyfriend. In a desperate attempt to win him back, she fakes suicide and ends up in the hospital. Despite pleading with her doctor, she is put in the custody of her estranged mother Zelda (Annette Bening) and brought back to her childhood home in Ocean City, New Jersey. Her crustacean-loving brother Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald) still lives there, but so too do room renter Lee (Darren Criss) and her mom’s new boyfriend who supposedly works for the CIA and only goes by the name ‘The Bousche’ (Matt Dillon).
It may sound like dozens of movies and TV shows that have come before it, but rest assured, Imogene still manages to be refreshingly funny even if it should not be.
The main issue with Imogene is the writing by Michelle Morgan. While it plays many laughs on the New York/New Jersey divide, it seems stuck in the past for the rest of it. The whole ploy plays into the coming-of-age value of Imogene’s need to grow up and move on, but some of the nostalgic elements played up for laughs (such as Lee’s job being the lead in a Backstreet Boys cover band) add virtually nothing to the film.
It distracts from the plot at hand, and simply exist to get a rise out of the audience. They have no real effect on what is happening on-screen, but much too often become the focus of what we are asked to laugh at. It makes for a number of silly and lesser moments that should belong in a different film, as opposed to helping characterize this one. That being said, some of these elements do manage to be funny and off-set the rest of the really awful additions.
But the cast that directing duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini have put together is better than these script issues, and really make their roles terrific.
Wiig, who destroyed any and all expectations last year with her deeply hilarious Oscar-nominated Bridesmaids, is surprisingly low-key and subtle in the lead role. I am used to seeing her acting very over-the-top and zany, and here she is just damaged and trying to take back her life. Her deadpan reactions to what has happened at home since she left are hysterical, but her reactions later on are genuinely affecting and moving.
Wiig really makes us care about Imogene and we want to see her succeed (which is something that so many films at this year’s festival have truly failed to do for me). The film makes her do some really silly things that may seem uncharacteristic for the actress, but she manages to make the most of every single one of her idiosyncrasies. She rises above the material and puts in another performance that showcases what a gifted comedian she is.
Her chemistry with Criss and especially Fitzgerald are what really make the film special though. I did not expect much from either actor outside of a few comical follies, but they really breathe life into their characters and make them significantly more ranged and developed than the early setups do.
Criss, already wildly successful on Glee, shows that he can do much more than just sing, dance and woo the teenage audience. He is excellent in his supporting performance, and really strengthens the weaker moments in the film that Wiig is asked to go through. He is underwritten, but does a good job maintaining his performance anyway.
Fitzgerald is even better, practically stealing the show from just about everyone. His mollusk loving Ralph is an outsider and a shut-in. But his innocence really shines through in every scene, and some of the things he does are just downright hysterical. He plays the zany and quirky role usually reserved for Wiig, so it makes for quite a number of amusing moments watching her react to her own style of performance.
Smaller roles from Bening and Dillon are both well done too, and often border on the ridiculous. Their characters are never really explored and their appearances on-screen are too few and far between (Dillon’s character takes off for a good portion of the film, leaving the audience to mostly just hear about him as opposed to see him). It is disappointing to see how undervalued the two are in the grand scheme of things, but they really make the most of their characters and manage to deliver some of the funniest moments in the film. A tiny third act appearance by gifted character actor Bob Balaban is also undercut, but helps lead to some genuinely hilarious moments.
In the end, there is nothing overwhelming or original about Imogene. It does not strive to change things up or do anything different. The writing is really problematic in its similarity and use of elements from other films and sitcoms that have come before it. But therein lies the understated charm of the film.
It is a rare comedy that simply exists to entertain, and does not try to be unique or edgy. And because of this, the gifted comic cast delivers on this small goal in wonderful fashion. This may have affected many audience members’ opinions, but it suited me just fine. It is entertaining and more than a worthwhile watch.Imogene may be disposable afterwards, but you will enjoy the time you spend watching it.