Women have always been funny. Despite whatever backhanded comments delivered by Jerry Lewis or Adam Carolla, it is downright disingenuous to even suggest there is some new renaissance of female comediennes just because Bridesmaids was a big hit. The ladies had been owning Saturday Night Live for years. Tina Fey & Amy Poehler just destroyed as hosts of the Golden Globes and along with many female-centric television shows and films (Sex and the City aside), they can put many counterparts of the opposite sex to shame. Yet it is just as disingenuous to ignore when they fail as epically as some of the worst male stars out there, setting back the craft of comedy. Especially when the material is so misshapen that it never allows the talent behind the failings to shine through.
Chloe (Casey Wilson) and Kate (June Diane Raphael) are stuck in an adult existence that they are too ignorant to recognize is not one of fulfillment. Chloe works as some sort of sad go-go dancer and Kate sells her unfertilized eggs to prospective couples at fast food joints. Too dumb to fully understand the scars of their youth’s beauty pageant failings, they leap at the chance to take a road trip back home and be part of a reunion of past contestants.
With little money and even less sense, the pair set off to reclaim what they never won with the obligatory stops for wackiness along the way. There’s a brief respite with Chloe’s dad (Vincent D’Onofrio), a trailer park for aging lesbian biker chicks, a mistaken opportunity for cash at a strip bar and a run-in with one of their heroes (Brian Geraghty). From the show Intervention.
All of this is leading up to the big pageant competition and if there’s one thing we learn upon this spectacularly unfunny journey is that nobody is really intent on learning anything; Harry and Lloyd were no more smarter than they were at the beginning of their Aspen adventure in Dumb and Dumber, but from the get-go there was a sweetness and an empathetic nature to them. Romy and Michele took a very similar road trip and their personalities were not that far removed from Chloe & Kate. Except there was an arc to the discovery that their lives did not amount to the level of hipness and popularity that the best friends only believed they had back in high school. Plus there was an innocence to their cluelessness and a clever edge to their humor, all of which are absent in the never-changing, one-note personalities of the duo here.
Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael have been very funny on television, flaunting a brand of quirky and parodied sexiness that shield their characters’ more inherent flaws. Wilson plays Chloe as not far removed from her slightly more grounded persona on TV’s Happy Endings. Only there she has the benefit of some sharp writing and the ability to bounce off five other funny actors who can pick up a gag when one falls flat. Wilson does not have that cushion in A*s Backwards. Her best bit comes during a silent singing performance that works just well enough that the film doubles down on it later with a self-autotuned rendition during the talent performance that plays like déjà vu of the worst kind; much like the pageant itself.
Stupid can be funny. Ignorance is not. Particularly when it comes to recognizing what is funny or even endearing about these characters. Perhaps Wilson and Raphael (who also co-wrote the script and generated a Kickstarter campaign to finish the film) really hate Chloe & Kate and what they represent about America.
Without someone to truly call them out on their antics and borderline hateful behavior, are we not meant to root for their success? By the time they reach their goal which should translate into some semblance of a satire on pageantry (both young and old), we are actively rooting against everyone and not even Bob Odenkirk’s out-of-place stage commentary of the awfulness of it all can produce a smile. A below-90-minute running time is not even a silver lining to a film that lives up to its name in more ways than one.