When Bridesmaids hit theaters in the spring of 2011, it was, by anyone’s metric, a smash success. With its smart, female-centric storyline and its willingness to embrace gross-out humor, the comedy earned accolades from critics, raked in more than $288 million worldwide and was nominated for a slew of awards, including two Oscars.
The film’s star and co-writer, Kristen Wiig — then a Saturday Night Live cast member — was heralded as a hero for proving to Hollywood that women-led films could make headlines and serious coin. She was also widely slated for big things, not least of which was a long and exciting film career. Wiig was game. She left SNL the following year and, presumably in a bid to avoid being typecast as a goofy comedienne, signed on to a handful of darker film roles.
But nearly three years and a few feature films later, Wiig still hasn’t matched the critical or commercial success she earned with Bridesmaids. Now, with her most serious turn yet in Hateship Loveship, out in April, it’s time to ask: when will Wiig’s dramatic career catch up with her potential?
Admittedly, it was a sharp pivot when the hysterically funny Wiig followed her success with a series of sad, down-trodden roles, which is what she’s stuck to pretty uniformly in the past few years. Her follow-up to Bridesmaids was 2011’s Friends With Kids, an ensemble comedy-drama, where Wiig — with one of the smaller roles in the film — played the depressed Missy in a loveless marriage with John Hamm’s borderline alcoholic Ben. The film did modestly well, taking in $7.2 million at the box office and earning a decent 67-percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes — but it was hardly a Kristen Wiig-vehicle.
That wasn’t the case for 2012’s Girl Most Likely. Though it was billed as a comedy, Wiig’s character — the titular Girl — was a failed and suicidal New York playwright who hits rock bottom. With only a 20 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a measly $1.3 million take at the domestic box office, neither audiences nor critics enjoyed it. Several reviewers, however, made sure to note Wiig’s obvious talent, even if Girl wasn’t the best place for it. The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody wrote bluntly, “Kristen Wiig’s comic artistry and its melodramatic tinge are squandered in this.”
Even Wiig’s non-comedic roles in bigger-budget, more commercial films didn’t reap success. She snagged the female lead in 2013’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, playing Cheryl, the love interest of Ben Stiller’s dreamer character. Though the film only has a 50 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it did manage to take in a respectable $58 million in the U.S. (and, impressively, another $118 million overseas). Yet neither the film’s critical failings nor its financial achievement really come down to Wiig. Though her role wasn’t sad, exactly, it was dwarfed by Stiller’s — she hardly had any presence in Mitty‘s promotional campaign — and A. O. Scott, in his New York Times review, reduced her entire performance to a line about Wiig appearing “with her natural silliness in check and an adorable habit of crinkling up her nose.”
Then there’s this year’s The Skeleton Twins, a drama where Wiig plays a dysfunctional twin alongside her former-SNL colleague Bill Hader. The film earned great reviews when it premiered at Sundance in January, but there’s still no firm date set for a wider release; it’s up in the air whether it will appeal to a wider audience.
The same can be said for Hateship Loveship, which will see a limited release on April 11. Wiig stars as Johanna Parry, a mouseburger hired to look after a young girl, played by Hailee Steinfeld. The girl and a friend then cruelly trick Johanna into believing that the girl’s father (Guy Pearce) is in love with her. The film is an adaptation of the Alice Munro short story “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage,” so it certainly won’t be a laughathon — yet it looks moving and, judging from the trailer, Wiig gives an affecting performance.
Of course, Wiig hasn’t left comedy behind completely. She still does plenty of riotous late-night appearances, replete with hilarious impersonations, and earlier this year she starred in the TV comedy miniseries Spoils of Babylon. Moreover, Wiig had a much-anticipated part in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, which has to date been her highest-earning film in the U.S. — post-Bridesmaids — taking in a staggering $125 million.
So do audiences just really want to see Wiig in comedic roles, playing the quirky oddball like only she can? Maybe. Wiig built her name on comedy, yet she’s clearly wedded to the idea of a dramatic acting career. On top of Hateship Loveship and The Skeleton Twins, she has three more dramatic films in the pipeline with Welcome To Me, Nasty Baby and The Diary of a Teenage Girl. She’s also a fantastically well-rounded actress, so it’s little surprise that directors and producers are eager to keep working with her.
Our prediction? Audiences just need more time. If she can keep turning out these quietly impressive dramatic performances — with the occasional goofy part here and there — Wiig doesn’t need to worry about chasing success anymore. It’ll come.
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