Libraries in pop culture: Girl Most Likely

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Usually I use this space to talk about things related to my research or teaching but every now and then I have to lighten things up with a post about pop culture and there’s one that I’ve been thinking about for a while now.

It’s a movie called Girl Most Likely.

The following post contains spoilers for the plot of Girl Most Likely

First, you probably have not seen or heard of Girl Most Likely even though it stars some pretty big names (Kristen Wiig, Annette Benning, Matt Dillon…Darren Criss, I guess). Allow me to summarize: the movie is about a woman who is placed in the custody of her eccentric mother after she fakes (?) a suicide attempt to get the attention of an ex-boyfriend. During this time, she gets into a relationship with a younger man and makes some discoveries about her father.

Girl Most Likely is not a good movie. It gets a 22% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 33% audience score. It is described as “largely witless and disappointingly dull.”

So why am I talking about it here?

Before revisiting it for this blog post, I had seen Girl Most Likely exactly one time, just after it came out on DVD circa 2013. I picked it up (from the library, natch) because I was going through a belated and somewhat regrettable Glee phase at the time(1) and, well, Darren Criss is in it.(2) That is literally the whole reason I watched it. What can I say?

Six years later, I remember exactly one thing about the movie. Well, two. Actually, three. The first is the general impression that it is not a good movie. The second is the scene where Darren Criss sings/dances to “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” which was a popular song to be singing/dancing to in movies at the time for some reason.(3)

The third is that there is a scene that takes place in a library.

Let me start by saying that all scenes that take place in libraries in movies are egregious in one way or another. They all resort to the same boring clichés. If there is a librarian even in the scene, it is usually an old person shushing the main characters. The one thing I can say about Girl Most Likely is that at least it doesn’t go there.

Here is how the library scene plays out, IIRC:

Imogene, the character played by Kristen Wiig, enters the library in search of a book written by her estranged father. She knows the author’s name and gives it to the librarian/library clerk(4) standing at the desk. Though it is a relatively simple name, the library clerk cannot seem to get it right. Imogene becomes increasingly frustrated. Finally, the librarian finds the author’s name and directs Imogene to “the history section.” Imogene goes there, locates the book on the shelf using the author’s last name, and looks through the book. She then decides to steal the book. She runs out of the library with the book in hand. The librarian chases after her briefly. The scene ends.

Okay, so look. The scene is supposed to be funny and I have no problem with them portraying the librarian as bumbling and unhelpful for laughs, even though the joke doesn’t really work. That’s not my problem here.

My problem is the fact that this scene shows a complete lack of knowledge about how libraries work. So much so that I can only assume that the scene was supposed to take place in a bookstore but maybe the bookstore location where they were hoping to film was not available so they decided to change it to a library instead without changing any of the content of the actual scene.

That’s the only explanation I can think of for why a library has a “history section” where the books are shelved by authors’ last names. True, some libraries have changed to bookstore-like systems for shelving materials rather than using Dewey Decimal (where materials are organized by subject, of which “history” without specifying American history, world history, or something else would be a very broad and unhelpful label) so maybe we’re supposed to believe that’s the case with this library. But if so, why did Imogene need to talk to the librarian at all? If she knew the subject and the author’s name, why not just go to the shelf herself?

Then there’s the part where she steals the book…without bothering to try to get a library card first. I mean, Imogene is a resident of the town where the library is located, so presumably she could get a library card if she wanted one. The movie makes it clear that she suffers from mental illness, but there’s no other evidence that stealing for no reason is one of her symptoms.

Also I’ve never seen a librarian chase someone stealing a book down the street. If someone sets off the alarm, the most a librarian will usually do is go out after them and redirect them inside to check out the book properly (and sign up for a library card if they don’t have one). Anyway, no one likes it when books go missing from the library but books that are kept in a public collection of a public library are generally pretty replaceable. Definitely not worth chasing someone down the street over.

Like I said, I think the real problem with the scene is that it plays out as if it’s taking place in a bookstore rather than a library. I don’t think the scene would have been funnier if it happened in a bookstore, but at least it would make more sense. That said, I doubt any non-librarian who watches the movie (and sticks with it long enough to see the library scene) is going to be bothered very much by the inaccuracies here, just like I’m not particularly bothered by inaccuracies in television shows and movies about doctors or lawyers or any other profession.

But for whatever reason this scene has stuck with me and I needed to get all of this off my chest. Maybe next time I’ll talk about a movie scene that gets libraries right in small but meaningful ways. Believe it or not, it does exist. It’s in The Station Agent.


(1) As is required of all millennials of a certain age, at least according to BuzzFeed.

(2) No disrespect to Darren Criss, who was very charming as Blaine on Glee and then went on to use that charm to creepy and award-wining effect in The Assassination of Gianni Versace. He’s also played Hedwig on stage, something I can’t picture but am very much intrigued by.

(3) There’s a similar scene using the same song, played for more comedic purposes and featuring actual Backstreet Boys, in This is the End, a Seth Rogen movie which came out around the same time as Girl Most Likely.

(4) I’m going to refer to this character as a librarian rather than a library clerk for the sake of convenience because it’s never made clear which she might be.

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