This past Friday, the Toronto International Film Festival hosted the premiere of Imogene, the highly anticipated “feel-good dark comedy” from Kristen Wiig. Wiig served as both executive producer and leading lady for Imogene, heading up an all-star ensemble cast including Annette Bening, Matt Dillon, Christopher Fitzgerald, and of course, fandom’s favorite son Darren Criss, in his first feature film.
Imogene tells the story of the title character, a failed New York playwright who fakes a suicide attempt to win back the attention of her former boyfriend. The plan backfires, and she is carted back to the family home in New Jersey. Imogene Duncan, played by Wiig, attempts to re-examine her life whilst living with her mother (a gambling addict called Zelda, played by Bening,) Zelda’s boyfriend (Dillon) – an alleged CIA agent known only as the Bousche; her reclusive brother Ralph, played by Broadway veteran Christopher Fitzgerald, and Lee, the Yale-graduate lodger renting Imogene’s bedroom while he moonlights as a Backstreet Boys impersonator (Criss). The film was a passion project for Wiig, who fought hard to get it made after reading Michelle Morgan’s script, and it is directed by husband/wife team Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman. Here’s a round-up of what the critics had to say:
Straight comedy is pretty far removed from what Springer Berman and Pulcini are usually up to, though one can feel the wry influence of Woody Allen sprinkled like stardust over the characters, notably in the scenes set in uptown Manhattan at its most pretentious. Imogene is superbly introduced as the 10-year-old star of a school production of The Wizard of Oz, who has issues with sending Dorothy back to Kansas. She is next seen all grown up (ironic Saturday Night Live star Wiig) and living in New York, trying to fit in with an insufferable bunch of false friends and a boyfriend who doesn’t like her.
Wiig may have shtick, but she’s a capable performer who is capable of stretching her style to fit riskier vehicles (Paul was one such attempt). Imogene touches the surface of a twisted, dysfunctional family antics and but with Wiig at the wheel, it could have (and should have) pushed harder. The saving grace is a lovely dynamic between Wiig and her young costar Darren Criss.
…there is Kristen Wiig, and she once again proves her value. Whether smuggling a library book under her old phys. ed. shirt or weeping in the rain on a broken chair, she is adorable, heartfelt and smart. Bening is typically wonderful, of course. She’s been on a heckuva run during the past few years, and her role in “Imogene” plays to her acerbic strengths. Quite simply, the pair, and their co-stars, elevate the material.
But the real surprise is Darren Criss. For audience members who have never turned the channel to “Glee” (guilty), his name stands for little. Yet in “Imogene” he is likable, funny and poised, and plays remarkably well opposite Wiig. This could be a breakout role for the actor, whose character, the singer in a Backstreet Boys tribute band, is one of the film’s highlights.
An amusing scene at the halfway mark, featuring one of Lee’s nightly performances as a Backstreet Boy lookalike in a hokey ’90s-nostalgia lounge act, marks a turning point for their relationship as well as for the film, as Wiig and Criss begin to generate an appealing older-woman/younger-man chemistry, and Bening and Fitzgerald bring animating subtleties to their broadly eccentric roles.
This is the first bigscreen production directed but not also scripted by Springer Berman and Pulcini, working here from a screenplay by Michelle Morgan (who had a role in their 2011 telepic “Cinema Verite”). As such, the originality and conceptual ingenuity of the filmmakers’ 2003 breakout debut, “American Splendor,” are even less in evidence here than in their prior two pictures, as “Imogene” tells a thoroughly predictable tale of a needy, self-pitying city girl forced to renew bonds with the unsophisticated beach-town folk who really care about her.
Variety also listed the film as one of the most likely to sell within 24-48 hours, and this proved accurate – on Monday night, Imogene was picked up for U.S. distribution by Lionsgate, who will release the film in conjunction with its partner, Roadside Attractions.
We also found this fantastic report on Tumblr from a fan who attended the premiere screening:
On paper Imogene is somewhat similar to her character in Bridesmaids— a bit of a trainwreck, jaded, her life a total mess. However, Kristen really made this character different. It was just the way she carried herself…I was just surprised that she was able to differentiate the role from the one in Bridesmaids.
Annette Bening – I mean, not that it’s any surprise, but she was flawless. It’s a really great character role and she did fantastic with it. Her rapport with Matt Dillon, who plays her boyfriend, was hilarious, and Matt Dillon himself KILLED in his part. Christopher Fitzgerald played Imogene’s brother and again, just really fantastic.
And Darren! He was honestly, genuinely great in the role. It was not Blaine-like at all. He played Lee as much more laidback, a little sarcastic but not too biting, and charming as hell in a not slick at all way. His role is significant, but like the other characters, firmly in the supporting role of Imogene — as far as material, it was a lot of banter with Kristen Wiig, charming Kristen Wiig, and getting a little hot and heavy with her too. There wasn’t much in the dramatic department, though he has a few sweet, sort of earnest scenes with her character. It’s definitely a bit of manic pixie boy syndrome but it fit him perfectly. The writing is smarter and just better than what Glee churns out, and so I think that helped elevate him too – personally I’ve always thought of Darren as an actor who can carry strong material, but when the writing isn’t there, he can fall down on improving it, if that makes sense; if you give him dialogue that sounds like a HUMAN BEING, he is much stronger.
You can watch a cast Q&A from the premiere right here, as well as a cool video featuring Darren and the directors discussing the ensemble piece:
“In the car, on the way to the world premiere screening of Imogene… Don’t have many words other than this:”
How are you liking the sound of Imogene so far? Will you go see it in theaters?
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