Sunday, November 27, 2011


Director: Paul Feig
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Chris O'Dowd, Jill Clayburgh 
Running Time: 125 min.
Rating: R

★★★ (out of ★★★★)

Dubbed "The Hangover for women" when it was released to much box office success this spring, Bridesmaids resembles that comedy as much for its weaknesses as its strengths. To be fair, it is slightly superior to The Hangover, even if that film at least extended us the courtesy of not crossing the two hour mark. No comedy should be that long. Ever. It's just unnecessary. I should really just go ahead and not recommend it for that miscalculation alone, as it joins the likes of Wedding Crashers and Knocked Up in biting off more story than it can chew and occasionally struggling with tone, but the writing and performances (namely one) ultimately save the day here. It's a slight notch above those other comedies and though I giggled more than I busted a gut, it definitely entertains the whole way through.

As with other Judd Apatow productions it faces the problem of trying to mine laughs from real life situations that sometimes feel too real, uncomfortably flirting with dramatic tragedy. That's certainly the case here as single, thirtysomething Annie (Kristen Wiig) is asked by lifelong best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) to be maid of honor at her wedding. Still reeling from her bakery business going belly up and regularly sleeping with sleazebag Ted (a hilarious Jon Hamm) the exciting announcement of her best friend's nuptuals only rubs salt in Annie's wounds, bringing all her insecurities to the surface. Making matters worse is the arrival of Lillian's prissy new best friend Helen (Rose Byrne), the trophy wife of the groom's boss who's threatening to displace her in the wedding and in Lillian's life, sparking a bitter feud. They're joined by the other bridesmaids: Frustrated housewife Rita (Wendi McClendon-Covey), goody two shoes Becca (Ellie Kemper) and Lillian's future sister-in-law Megan (Melissa McCarthy).

The movie's at its best when it's most ridiculous, not taking itself too seriously while reaching for the crassest laughs. A scene in a bridal shop when the bridesmaids suddenly and uncomfortably feel the after effects of a Mexican meal they had earlier is hilarious, as is a plane trip to Vegas where a drugged Annie unintentionally jeopardizes the well being of everyone on board. Most of the film deals with the feud between Annie and Helen, which is comical, until the movie dramatically overreaches, sugarcoating it with life lessons and trying to wring sympathy for an overly pitiable protagonist. It really didn't need to do that. The movie's funny and the characters likable so less would have definitely been more in terms of spelling out how we're supposed to feel and sending a message, but this is an Apatow movie so no surprises there.

Up until now the jury's been out on Kristen Wiig as a leading lady who can carry a film and after this I'd say the jury's still out, which isn't to say she did a bad job at all. There's no question she's a gifted physical comedienne and possibly even a great actress but it does take some getting used to seeing her as a romantic lead in mainstream comedy, which could be attributed to the goofy persona she's perfected all these years on SNL. She kind of carries that over to this so it was hard to escape the feeling I was watching a highlight reel of her best sketches strung together over a two hour period with some drama thrown in. The movie really belongs to Melissa McCarthy who deserves every bit of praise she's been getting for her award-worthy supporting performance as Megan, a butch, brash government employee with an unsatiable sexual appetite. To say she steals every scene she's in would be an understatement. I wondered how infrequently we see a female character like this in a comedy. Keeping us unsure of what this woman will say or do from one moment to the next, McCarthy creates this unusual, one-of-a-kind persona from the ground up. Most impressively, she doesn't turn Megan into a joke, but a cool lady, finding the humanity and motivation behind her outrageous behavior.  The rest of the bridesmaids are dispensable with the exception of Byrne's Helen, who's essentially a snobby, arrogant stereotype, albeit a very funny one. But a braver comedy wouldn't have attempted to redeem her. Chris O' Dowd brings a likable charm and sincerity to Officer Rhodes, a local policeman  whose fledgling relationship with Annie might just be the one dramatic element in the story that's a home run, mostly due to his skillfully understated performance and natural chemistry with Wiig.

Although this was co-written by Wiig, it's surprising to learn it was directed by Paul Feig, who created TV's brilliant, short-lived Freaks and Geeks. This definitely isn't that. There's no mistaking it's a mainstream comedy primarily aimed at women, to the point that it could easily be considered a "chick flick," and that's fine. I can see where it also definitely has appeal for both genders and it's unlikely any guy would be complaining that they were dragged to it. Every year there seems to be a comedy everyone falls head over heels for and I'm left scratching my head wondering what the big fuss was about. Expectations can be a funny thing. Bridesmaids works, but doesn't when it occasionally forgets to be a comedy and plays it too safe, hammering home the truth that each successful comedy released these days seems the same as the last. But at least this is mostly a good one.

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