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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-

Brand, Hill revive oddball chemistry in “Get Him to the Greek”

Movie Lesson No. 1,287: When P. Diddy chases you, you run. Because he'll mindf*ck the sh*t out of you, motherf*cker.

As much as affection as everyone felt for Jason Segel’s Peter, the dumped schlub in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” there was no denying the real star was Russell Brand. The coiffure that suggests mental illness, the sexual pyrotechnics, that explosive Jack Sparrow/Freddie Mercury persona — Brand’s media whore Aldous Snow was the chap we couldn’t take our eyes off of. Powerless we were (or me were) to that rakish, nimble Brit wit; indeed, a rock star who blows off a stalker with “I was going to, but then I just carried on living my life” has formidable powers of observation.

As it happens, the “stalker” in question (same actor, different character) makes an appearance in Nicholas Stoller’s dirty-minded and raucous “Get Him to the Greek,” an exploration of the character Segel created two years ago. This time around, though, Jonah Hill, blank-eyed straight man to Russell Brand’s alcoholic snatch bandit, has flattened out the weirder edges of his character and made him a genuine fan sans “Single White Female” undertones. Hill, like his “Superbad” bud Michael Cera, has two speeds: crazed rants or deadpan observations. Because he does both well, he’s an excellent foil for Brand, who rushes into every experience with all the zeal of a bull after a cape-waving matador. The odd couple angle is old as time immemorial, but when the chemistry’s clicking it works like a beaut. Brand and Hill are two funnymen — both smarter than they look or act — who can sell this story.

“Get Him to the Greek” finds Aldous Snow in a different place than “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” did. His career has taken a nosedive thanks to a godawful single called “African Child.” If the song is a disaster, the video is on par with the BP oil spill, painting Aldous as a white rock star Jesus Christ. His relationship with inane British pop star Jackie Q (Rose Byrne, cheerfully tarty) has soured, so Aldous, former poster child for sobriety, hops back on the sauce. Every sauce. Fan Aaron Green (Hill), an intern at Pinnacle Records living with his girlfriend Daphne (Elizabeth Moss), devises a plan to put “the last real rock star” on top: a live concert at L.A.’s Greek Theatre to commemorate the last show Aldous played there. His ball-busting boss Sergio (Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, who apparently has a personality and, like, jokes) charges him with collecting Aldous from London, getting him to The Today Show and delivering him to the Greek Theatre. In actual world, this scenario would end in a series of shouting matches and a drug overdose, but in movie world it’s a yellow brick road to Hijinksville.

Critical to the success of this orchestrated hilary is the feeling of spontaneity and the rapport between the buddies in question. We expect certain shenanigans — clubbing, sexcapades — and then the film throws some wild cards (to say nothing of the brawl involving a “Geoffrey,” P. Diddy going medieval/mindfucking/cementing a new career dedicated to funny cameos and “stroking the furry wall,” which is not a euphemism). Every situation is funny. Brand and Hill’s reactions to situations are funny. And not since “The Odd Couple” has there been a wedding of two less similar people. Brand specializes in shoving people outside their comfort zones — he bathed with a homeless junkie on his U.K. show — while Hill specializes in looking fetchingly uncomfortable outside his box. They’re a formidable duo because Hill’s flair for understatement (only he could make a line like “I think I was raped” that funny) balances Brand’s childlike antics. Each actor gives a touch of humanity, especially Brand. There’s a moment where Aldous, seeking his deadbeat dad’s (Colm Meaney) approval, has such a wounded look about the peepers that the reasons for his behavior are painfully clear. Aaron takes notice, sympathizes in such a way that we understand how these two might become friends: They fill gaps*. You may say that’s too deep for a movie about a singer who writes a song about gonorrhea, but anything jives when Brand’s on the set.

Grade: B+

*Hands-down, the best quote in “Rocky.”