Unfulfilled childhood dreams have a way of shaping adulthood, even long after people have ostensibly moved on with their lives. In Ass Backwards, it’s a little girls’ beauty pageant that haunts Chloe (Casey Wilson) and Kate (June Diane Raphael), two lifelong best friends and codependents who have never gotten over losing the competition. Laurel (Alicia Silverstone), who did win, went on to a perfect life as a successful author. Chloe and Kate, by contrast, share a bed in a tiny New York City apartment, the former standing in a glass box at a dance club, while the latter makes money selling her eggs. Claiming to be a star performer and an executive in the medical field, respectively, the two have ensconced themselves in self-delusion like a cocoon. Reality can’t help but peak through, however, and when the roommates receive an invitation to compete in a special anniversary pageant back in their hometown, a chance for redemption presents itself. They set out on a road trip from the city, which naturally doesn’t go as planned.
Some have compared Ass Backwards to Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion and Dumb & Dumber. Unlike those films, however, this film employs elements from its stars’ lives and shared history. Wilson and Raphael, who wrote the script and performed together as Rode Hard And Put Away Wet, actually did live together in New York and share a bed in their small apartment; both have said in interviews they tended to build each other up in bad ways. Chloe and Kate’s habit of singing along with their skipping CDs also comes from a road trip Wilson and Raphael took when they lived together, which involved spending a day driving in the wrong direction (a coincidental nod to Dumb & Dumber). As silly as Ass Backwards is, its stars have a personal connection to the story and struggled mightily to get the film made. (Late into the production, a financier flaked out and forced a delay that lasted two years, while producers raised more money.)
Raphael and Wilson nail the fragile confidence of their characters—and Raphael’s performance at the pageant offers top-notch physical comedy—and strong cameos from Vincent D’Onofrio, Bob Odenkirk, Jon Cryer, and Paul Scheer support them. (As the condescending Laurel, Silverstone feels a bit one-note.) Although some of the road-trip clichés are unavoidable, Ass Backwards overcomes the obvious beats with clever, occasionally dark jokes that reveal the sharpness of its stars’ writing.