Director : Paul Feig
Screenplay : Kristen Wiig & Annie Murmolo
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2011
Stars : Kristen Wiig (Annie), Maya Rudolph (Lillian), Rose Byrne (Helen), Wendi McLendon-Covey (Rita), Ellie Kemper (Becca), Melissa McCarthy (Megan), Chris O’Dowd (Officer Rhodes), Jon Hamm (Ted)
One of the most guiltily rewarding pleasures in a comedy is watching a character crack and lose it in a way that most of us only wish we could do. That moment in Bridesmaids, which was produced by Judd Apatow (Knocked Up) and directed by TV vet Paul Feig, comes when Annie (Kristen Wiig), the much put-upon protagonist, has a full-on meltdown at an over-the-top bridal shower thrown (in her face) by her rival, Helen (Rose Byrne). Having already been one-upped by the prim, slyly officious Helen half a dozen times during the lead-up to her best friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding, Annie rips into Helen’s excessively stylized French-themed party both verbally and physically, culminating in the hilarious destruction of a giant cookie. It’s a moment of fantastically funny release, and it works because, by this time, we feel so deeply for Annie and her rapidly increasing downward spiral that we celebrate her emotional explosion while simultaneously cringing and laughing.
Annie is a fundamentally nice modern gal who just happens to be nearing the low point of her life when her best friend unexpectedly announces her engagement. The pending nuptials are a constant reminder to Annie of her own relational failures (she is currently caught up in a series of meaningless booty calls with a boorish jerk played by Jon Hamm), while Lillian’s newly blossoming friendship with Helen, the wife of her fiancé’s wealthy boss, is a reminder of her professional failures (she opened a bakery just as the recession hit and now she works behind the counter at a jewelry store, dispensing unwelcome cynical advice to all the lovebirds shopping for rings). Asked to be Lillian’s maid of honor, Annie does her best to fulfill the responsibilities, but Helen, the slinky saboteur of good intentions, awaits her at every turn with something bigger, better, and, of course, more expensive (the film’s conflation of the personal and the economic gives its comedy a particularly sharp sociocultural edge). Thus, Annie constantly finds herself being pushed to the sidelines, belittled by Helen’s sweet-voiced condescension in the one arena (supporting her best friend) in which she should be excelling.
Comedy of embarrassment is a tightrope act that requires consistent humiliation without crossing over into the simply pathetic, and Wiig deserves some kind of award for her dexterously funny and touching performance, which brings us into Annie’s frustration, disgrace, and anger, as well as her decency, kindness, and, most importantly, fortitude in the face of indignity. In other words, she is fully humanized, which means that we laugh at her predicament as release, rather than cruelty. In the company of others she maintains a relatively good façade (until the meltdown, that is), but when she’s alone she lets us into Annie’s uglier, angrier side, but always humorously and generously, in a way that makes us think that we would do the exact same thing. One of the funniest scenes is when Annie lets loose her frustration while driving home alone, brutally mimicking Helen and everything about her that she loathes. The scene culminates in her being pulled over by a state trooper who thinks she is drunk, but in that moment of supreme embarrassment lies potential redemption because Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd), the officer who pulls her over, turns out to be a genuinely nice guy who represents the potential for decency and romance to go hand in hand, if only Annie will drop her guard and let it.
The meet-cute rom-com aspect of Bridesmaids is sweet and feels genuine, maybe because so much of the rest of the film rollicks in romantic cynicism. The script by Wiig and Annie Mumolo (a member of the famed comedy troupe The Groundlings) supplies a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to lifelong love, primarily via the other bridesmaids in Lillian’s party. Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey) is a wife and mother who is sick of her kids and disillusioned with her husband, while Becca (Ellie Kemper) is a bright-faced, squeaky clean newlywed who later reveals that the blossom has already come off the rose. The final member of the party is Megan (Melissa McCarthy), a literal force of nature whose overweight physique, complete lack of style, and aggressive attitude about everything (she suggests a “fight club” theme for a wedding shower) runs counter to everything that is conventionally feminine. Although an obvious sop to the perceived need for outlandish comedy from a supporting character in the Zack GalifianakisHangover mode, Megan turns out to be one of the film’s most endearing characters, if only because she is the only one who is truly, fundamentally honest (even when stealing puppies).
And that is ultimately why Bridesmaids works as more than just a female riff on traditionally masculine raunch comedy: Beneath the gross-out gags, frank sexual exchanges, and absurd situations, the movie is really a moving look at the sometimes difficult nature of friendship. It is, in this respect, much like the Apatow-produced Superbad (2008), essentially extending that film’s celebration of the resiliency of its teenage protagonists’ friendship over their romantic travails. They are both hetero same-sex romances. Granted, the final third of Bridesmads feels a bit too loose and cobbled together as all the loose ends get tied up and amends are made, but credit is certainly due to a movie that manages this much emotional involvement when its comedic highpoint involves a quintet of women suffering the worst symptoms of food poisoning while clad in ridiculously expensive couture.
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
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