(USA, 103 min.)
Dir. Robert Pulcini, Shari Springer Berman; Writ. Michelle Morgan
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Annette Bening, Christopher Fitzgerald, Darren Criss, Matt Dillon, June Diane Raphael, Bob Balaban.
Once mother and daughter are reluctantly reunited, Imogene explodes into a zany dysfunctional family comedy. As played by Annette Bening, who gives an outstanding performance in this spicy role, Zelda is a brash, uncouth floozy. It’s easy to see why Imogene’s life is such a train wreck. Zelda’s house isn’t the most shipshape place, either, as she lives with her adult son, Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald), who has a strange obsession with hermit crabs. He’s a hermit crab himself, as he hides in his room and is afraid to break free of his shell. Ralph is so obsessed with crustaceans that he owns a shop on the boardwalk and gives crabs to all the pretty ladies. In the meantime, Ralph builds himself a bulletproof crab shell so he can one day set forth into the world. (The shell even has the modern convenience of Wi-Fi.) Also rooming in Zelda’s house is her boyfriend Frank (Matt Dillon), a paranoid CIA agent who likes to eat turkey sandwiches during the day and spank Zelda’s butt at night. Living in Imogene’s room, finally, is a young boarder named Lee (Darren Criss). We know where this is going.
The trip to Imogene’s recovery begins when Zelda lets slip a big revelation. Imogene’s story of pulling herself together might be familiar, but how she gets there is what makes the film shine. This is a wacky, madcap comedy full of silly situations and clever dialogue. Imogene has eccentric and colourful characters, but they’re all well rounded and dynamic. (Uproariously so.) From the title character down to her bitchy friend Dara (a hilarious June Diane Raphael), all the faces in Imogene have an extra bit of life to them. The ensemble fills the juicy roles well, with star Kristen Wiig giving an upgraded performance from her winning work in Bridesmaids. Wiig is just as funny as she was in last year’s anti-chick-flick and she adds some dramatic chops to her awkward girl shtick. Everyone in the supporting cast is lots of fun, but Annette Bening easily steals the show as the colourful piece of white trash from New Jersey. Glee fans will also enjoy Criss’s spirited turn as Lee, and Criss is a good sport for performing a campy Backstreet Boys number when Lee takes Imogene to a night of Nineties cover songs. That’s when Imogene discovers that the cure for life is Long Island Iced Tea. “The cause of – and solution to – all life’s problems,” as Homer Simpson says.
Directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Bergman, and written by a sharp wordsmith named Michelle Morgan, Imogene is a hilarious story of how arrested development runs in the blood of every good American family. Thanks primarily to the go-for-broke efforts of the cast – namely Wiig and Bening – Imogene might be the funniest film I’ve seen all year. I haven't laughed as hard or as loud since Bridesmaids. The audience at Saturday's screening at the Toronto International Film Festival seemed to agree, as the audience consistently erupted in unison into loud bursts of laughter throughout the film. Imogene is the kind of film that anyone can relate to, as we all have family foibles that we’d like to hide, but we could never bear to since their an essential part of ourselves. It’s these wacky family get-togethers that make for the strongest memories, and Imogene shows that we’re not in Kansas no matter how drab or dreary life may seem.
Rating: ★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)