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Ix-nay on the ush-may: “Bridesmaids” has bite and heart

Kristen Wiig exercises her “civil rights” in “Bridesmaids.”

Socrates dubbed envy “the ulcer of the soul.” In that case, Annie (Kristen Wiig) is in for some serious, long-term indigestion. With her life in shambles, Annie can’t help but yearn for her oldest friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) good fortune: a steady job, a wealthy fiancée, Dougie (Tim Heidecker), a lavish wedding pending. That’s not the only reason Annie has to be envious: There’s the sleek, impeccably coiffed problem of Helen (Rose Byrne), queen bee wife of the Dougie’s boss who intends to muscle in on Annie’s maid of honor duties. She’s living proof that the politics of high school don’t stop after graduation.

What is so amazing about “Bridesmaids,” co-written by Wiig and Annie Mumolo, is the many ways the film explores the rivalries, disappointments and nuances of female friendship yet still manages to be wall-to-wall funny. Even in its most awkward and earnest moments, “Bridesmaids” uses laughter — albeit with a serrated edge — to offset the very real emotional turmoil of its heroine. The edge, the rawness make “Bridesmaids” more than a splendid, side-splitting answer to the likes of “The Hangover” or “Wedding Crashers”; they transform Wiig’s movie into a treatise on what it’s like to be a woman crashing headlong into adulthood.  “Bridesmaids” comes off as uncomfortable reality. It’s refreshing to see a comedy that understands, on a deep and often painful level, what it means to be a 30-something woman who doesn’t have everything under control.

Actually, Annie’s life — from the nonsensical rom-com perspective — is a mess. To the rest of us, it’s just … life. Wiig plays Annie as a woman who’s about as close to the bottom as she can get. Her Milwaukee bakery collapsed during the recession; her business partner/boyfriend ditched her; she shares a house with two intrusive British roommates (Matt Lucas, Rebel Wilson); and her sex-only arrangement with sleazy Ted (Jon Hamm) is decidedly unfulfilling. Wiig’s reaction to news of her best friend’s engagement says it all; her artificial smile and nervous giggle show she’s inches away from hysteria. Even more difficult than keeping her cool is wrangling all the bridesmaids, a queer bunch: Dougie’s sex-crazed sister Megan (Melissa McCarthy, sensational); the prim Becca (Ellie Kemper); Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), harried mom of three sons; and Helen, the 2011 version of Heather Chandler. From the start, the broke maid of honor’s plans go spectacularly wrong, starting with a ghastly food poisoning fiasco and ending with Annie, wasted on Scotch and benzos, getting kicked off a flight to Vegas (“there’s a Colonial woman on the wing of the plane!”). Annie’s fall from grace is epic, and Wiig spins humiliation into comedy gold.

Gross as it is, the now-infamous bridal shop fiasco, which runs a bit long, is not the best “Bridesmaids” has to offer. Wiig’s meltdown on plane is screamingly funny, as is her wedding shower toasting duel of one-upmanship with Helen. Later, Wiig truly outdoes herself trying to catch the attention of good-hearted Officer Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd), the would-be suitor she rejected. The sequence of Wiig driving past his cop car repeatedly, breaking different laws — going topless; texting; swigging a 40 of malt liquor — is a work of loony genius. Wiig’s go-for-broke approach sells this madness brilliantly. She also supplies an undercurrent of anguish that tempers but never dilutes the hilarity.

But “Bridesmaids” as a whole isn’t perfect. Annie’s bizarre roommates don’t serve much of a purpose, and the late Jill Clayburgh, who plays Annie’s mother, isn’t given much to do. Plus, with a running length of more than two hours, the film could benefit from much tighter editing, not to mention a less hurried third act. With grade-A material and acting like this, though, who cares? The butched-up McCarthy runs away with every scene she’s in (just wait for her “sex tape” bit during the credits). Byrne taps a core of loneliness in the vicious Helen, and O’Dowd (of “IT Crowd” fame) has an understated nice guy appeal. But it doesn’t get better than Wiig. Since her stellar cameo in “Knocked Up,” she’s blossomed into a fully formed actress. She could be just the one to give “chick flicks” the makeover they so desperately need.    

Grade: A-

11 Responses

  1. I’m with you, “screamingly hilarious” it is indeed.

    Always great to find another lady filmblogger!

  2. This was so funny. My ribs hurt from laughing. That or falling down the stairs beforehand. Either way funniest comedy in a long while.

  3. I was a little worried that this wouldn’t live up to the hype (especially since the future of women in movie comedies apparently rests on this film’s shoulders), but I really, really enjoyed it. It’s flawed but hilarious. I’m glad you mentioned the dangerous driving sequence – that was my favourite. Great review.

    • @ Wilde.Dash — I liked the balance of funny scenes and the more poignant ones. Kristen Wiig does that very well.

      @ Steph — I do hope “Bridesmaids” signals a new direction for films aimed at women, but I suspect crap like “Something Borrowed” will continue rolling down the assembly line no matter how much I complain!

  4. I’m puzzled greatly by the critical response that reads as shock at women being funny. As though that wasn’t possible. There’s a thought process along the lines of, “this movie proves women can be funny” among some critics, which I find kind of weird.

    But regardless, great review, and I can’t wait to see this for myself. It’ll have to wait until after my honeymoon, I’m sure.

  5. Excellent review! I enjoyed this movie a lot, though I agree several scenes could have been trimmed down as some of the bits overstayed their welcome. I was really impressed by Wiig and loved the supporting cast, and it was nice to have a lot of relatable, realistic moments in a slightly exaggerated comedy.

  6. Saw this again yesterday. It’s just as hilarious the second time around.

  7. I really enjoyed this one, it really kept me laughing and entertained. And, I agree – Wiig is great. This is a breakthrough for female comedies. Nice review!

  8. Surprising to see this get such a high rating. Just looks like The Hangover with chicks.

    • @ Alex — Yes, this ought to make Wiig a star. Although I admit I hope she still does show-stealing cameos like she did in “Knocked Up.”

      @ filmgurl — My hope is that more directors will jump on this bandwagon and write smart, not-sappy comedies for women!

      @ Ronan — I’m not sure who came up with the idea to bill “Bridesmaids” as “‘The Hangover’ with chicks,” but that’s totally inaccurate. “Bridesmaids” deals with deeper issues, like marriage and growing apart, that “The Hangover” never did.

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