Long before she evolved into her current role as a tart-tongued fashionista, Joan Rivers was a groundbreaking female stand-up comic who briefly dabbled in Hollywood features. Not only did she direct and co-write the theatrical release Rabbit Test (1978), she co-wrote this darkly comedic TV movie. Starring Stockard Channing as an ugly duckling who transforms into a beautiful murderess, The Girl Most Likely To . . . plays out like a revenge fantasy for women who are undervalued by society because they’re not conventionally pretty. At the beginning of the story, Miriam (Channing) is a chubby college coed with blotchy skin and ghastly eyebrows, so she’s treated like a worthless troll by attractive classmates. Even childhood friend Herman (Warren Berlinger), a plumber whom Miriam figures eventually will propose to her because he’s no prize either, fails to appreciate Miriam’s bright mind and sharp wit. After suffering a series of indignities, culminating in a nasty prank staged by medical student Ted (Fred Grandy), Miriam tries to kill herself in an auto crash. Instead, she survives and receives extensive plastic surgery, which morphs her into a hottie. (The effect is achieved by freeing Channing from her ugly-girl drag and slathering her with such sexy signifiers as glamorous makeup and slinky dresses.) Newly emboldened by her ability to turn men’s heads, Miriam goes on a vengeful killing spree, staging elaborate murder scenarios to get back at everyone who treated her badly.
Obviously, this is meant to be broad satire rather than anything based in reality, so director Lee Phillips presents everything in a breezy, farcical style. Some actors hit the darkly comic vibe better than others, with pros including Ed Asner, Jim Backus, and Joe Flynn finding the right campy groove, while lesser talents—notably Grandy, who later achieved fame as a Love Boat crew member and a U.S. Congressman—opt for over-the-top mugging. Channing, no surprise, is the best thing about The Girl Most Likely To . . . Her cheerfully acidic line deliveries make even the lamest lines connect. (The jokes here are strictly middlebrow, so they’re never laugh-out-loud funny but they’re plentiful enough to create a jovial atmosphere.) The Girl Most Likely To . . . also benefits from a droll ending, and because the whole movie runs its course in 73 minutes, the wicked little piece never overstays its welcome.
The Girl Most Likely To . . . : FUNKY