Kristen Wiig delivers another spaced-out star turn in “Girl Most Likely,” a picaresque romance of self-discovery that delivers a near-constant flow of small delights until veering too far into screwball preposterousness.
Wiig plays Imogene, who’s introduced in a prologue as a precocious young actress who, when she’s uttering the line “There’s no place like home” in “The Wizard of Oz,” turns to the director to say, “This just isn’t working for me.” Flash forward 20 years and the grown-up Imogene is an aspiring playwright whose early ambition has been thwarted by the comfort and distraction offered by her wealthy boyfriend. In its bravura opening sequence — filmed entirely from Imogene’s point of view — we hear only Wiig’s voice as her character leaves a series of voicemails for her errant beau as she makes her way into a snooty Manhattan fundraiser. By the time the camera finally reveals Wiig’s face in a powder room mirror, her carefully made-up expression of self-deception and defeat speaks volumes.
Eventually, events transpire to send Imogene back home to Ocean City, N.J., a place she has been running from all her adult life and where she’s now forced to live with her mother, Zelda (Annette Bening), a compulsive gambler; her troubled but sweet brother, Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald); and her mom’s boyfriend, George (Matt Dillon), who insists he’s in the CIA and has a coffee mug to prove it.
Written by Michelle Morgan and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, “Girl Most Likely” is larded with myriad tiny, observant details, from a hilarious moment when Imogene checks her iPhone at a particularly inopportune time to the bedraggled beauty queen with whom she at one point shares a jail cell. As a cautionary fable of class mobility and the stinging tribal rites of WASP aristocracy, “Girl Most Likely” occasionally invites comparisons to the work of Whit Stillman, who shows up for a cameo. (One of its under-used supporting actresses is Mickey Sumner, who earlier this season co-starred in “Frances Ha,” another hapless-female tale this movie recalls.)
Things don’t go wonky until the third act, when an invention of Imogene’s brother comes into play in an unexpected way. Until that scene, the gizmo — a human-size mollusk shell that anyone can use to protect themselves from a cruel world — is the repository for unexpected poignancy, but then the filmmakers turn it into an antic deus ex machina. Still, as a platform for Wiig’s considerable expressive talents, “Girl Most Likely” shows the actress off in all her gawky, painfully self-aware glory. As Imogene herself comes to realize, sometimes being satisfied with a little is enough.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains sexual content and profanity. 103 minutes.