Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011)

The success of Bridesmaids prompted the usual round of hollow "Why doesn't Hollywood make more movies like this for women?" hand-wringing on the part of critics and commentators who immediately answered their own rhetorical question by stacking it against the upcoming sequel to The Hangover. The comparison is not totally unjustified, of course; both films revolve around an impending marriage and the far-fetched, manic trials of the wedding party leading up to the date. But to posit this movie, featuring a sharp, human script by Annie Mumolo and star Kristen Wiig, as a rival to The Hangover Part II is to implicit stage it as a rip-off of a far more generic movie.

To be sure, Bridesmaids itself has its predictability—no wedding movie can hold much in the way of outright 'surprise'—yet it approaches even the most tired, overdone twist from a fresh angle, and not simply because it is entirely from the women's perspective. Each character, however exaggerated and caricatured, has moments of three-dimensionality that add depth without shifting into the maudlin and sacrificing humor.

Opening on shots of Annie (Wiig) having rough but clumsy sex with a rich, handsome asshole (Jon Hamm) who jackhammers away over Annie's fleeting, timid requests to go a bit slower, Bridesmaids certainly adheres to Brian De Palma's belief in the importance of throwing an audience off their game from the start. Much of the film's humor comes across in this beginning, its overt raunchiness as well as the quiet, dark, Office-like comedy of awkward interaction. When Annie meets her friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) for breakfast, their frank but loving banter brings out the warmth of the film, penis impression and all.

But when Lillian announces her engagement, Annie—still reeling from losing her bakery to the recession and her boyfriend, to boot—shifts uncomfortably. Lillian's rich fiancĂ©, Doug, brings the normal Milwaukee gal into high society, and the penny-pinching Annie feels unwelcome in this world. Worse, Lillian's new friend, Helen (Rose Byrne), tries so hard to buy her bud's affections that she essentially sets a bidding war between herself and Annie for Lillian's affections.

That Bridesmaids never devolves into hair-pulling screech fests is the first sign of its superiority over reductive fare like Bride Wars. Annie's and Helen's conflict plays out as a blatant but subtle and Machiavellian war of wills and image. In the movie's best scene, the two meet at Lillian's engagement party and battles lines are instantly drawn through the toasts, which become an almost literal tug of war of pleas for Lillian's approval. Eventually, they come to a stalemate by locking themselves in a sung duet.

Caught in the No Man's Land between Annie and Helen are Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), a bored housewife worn down by attention-deficit, desensitized kids; Becca (Ellie Kemper), a cute-as-a-button newlywed whose sunny optimism clashes with seemingly everyone; and Megan (the wonderful Melissa McCarthy from Gillmore Girls), a volatile, boorish maelstrom who always looks as if she's one talking dog away from a murder spree.

At all times, Annie's and Helen's battles, however hilarious, always reveal something about themselves: Helen's lavish excess belies an intense loneliness, while Annie's exploitation of her childhood connection to Lillian shows her clinging to the one shred of normalcy left in her life, even as she ignores how much Lillian has changed since they were young; Annie ultimately spirals so far out of control that she threatens a clear chance for growth and mature happiness in the sweet Irish cop Nathan (The IT Crowd's Chris O'Dowd, who made my audience of American women who'd never heard of him completely swoon, much to my delight).

Even the other characters enjoy multifaceted high comedy: Megan, who occasionally veers dangerously close to mining Zach Galifianakis' off-the-wall performance in The Hangover, finds a moment of emotionally candid honesty in a silly segment that forces one to view her as a person, however manic. The late Jill Clayburgh has only a few scenes as Annie's mother, but her radiance and innate complexity allows even a teetotaler who goes to AA just to hear other people's embarrassing stories to have something more to say.

I saw Bridesmaids during a mid-afternoon super-matinee nearly two weeks after it opened, with no more than a dozen other people. It didn't matter; we laughed hard enough to sound like a packed house. This film isn't a great comedy for women; it's a great comedy for everyone. It belongs at the top of the heap of the Apatow Productions films, as raunchy and wild as the most blatant "dude film" and with as much heart as Forgetting Sarah Marshall. An admission of bias: I have adored both Wiig and Rudolph for years, and I was thrilled at the chance to see them headline a film (seeing Chris O'Dowd in a high-profile American film was also a big plus). Nevertheless, I cannot imagine a perspective from which I would dislike Bridesmaids; it works on too fundamental a level.

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