America’s two great preoccupations—sex and money—tend to get short shrift in American movies. Sex is too messy and personal, and too inclined to limit prospective audiences, while money is, well, why aren’t money problems tackled directly in American movies? The answer, I think, lies in the (probably mostly correct) studio assumption that audiences fork over cash in order to escape issues of money, as well as the pains of having to waste most of your life working jobs that tend to inspire caustic, dispiriting mixtures of indifference and contempt. Theoretically understandable, but the fantasy the studios tend to offer in the place of reality, particularly in the contemporary American romantic comedy, is generally gross: parables of conformity that feature shrill harpies, often played by Katherine Heigl and Sarah Jessica Parker, who have jobs that involve no tangible work and that effectively render money as no object whatsoever. These films furnish their heroines with trivial problems, usually the search for a man with abs of a specific perfection, and then offensively ask audiences to relate to these characters as if they’re embodiments of something universal.
In many ways, the funny, shrewdly made Bridesmaids is a conventional mass-audience pleaser, but it offers the distinction of featuring a few characters that are detectably human. Annie (Kristen Wiig), the film’s heroine, isn’t an editor of a large magazine who spends her days waltzing up and down long glamorous corridors barking meant-to-be-charming orders at underlings, and she doesn’t spend her nights inhaling cosmos at bars with her rich-bitch friends. Annie does have a hottie to occasionally crash with (played, amusingly, if broadly, by Jon Hamm), but he’s an ass who overtly exploits her loneliness and desperation. Edging into her mid-30s, Annie is an intelligent woman with talents that are unmarketable in a landscape that seems to basically only value business and math majors, and, for this, Annie finds herself watching as the middle-class life that she assumed was her birthright passes her right on by. In short, Annie is a typical American woman.
The truth that some people are stranded as others go about obtaining that spouse, nice house, and job with income that’s positioned ideally north of six figures is a touchy one that few films wrestle with head on, and that’s because most of us are facing that awkwardness in one way or another, as many of us are either stranded and feeling inferior to our friends, or in the position of having to feign modesty to the stranded. Bridesmaids is the rare popcorn movie to acknowledge that many of us don’t get what we want, and I think that audiences, whether they were entirely aware of it or not, were relieved to see a film that offers most of the pleasures of the modern American romantic comedy without squandering all in the name of day-to-day common sense as to how many rigorously average people live.
Bridesmaids follows Annie as she temporarily loses her mind when her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), announces that she’s marrying her longtime boyfriend. We can tell that a quiet resentment has already been brewing between these two women, as Annie delivers sharp, almost intangibly passive-aggressive little verbal jabs to Lillian about her always being in Chicago with her beau (most of the film is set in the decidedly unglamorous Milwaukee). Lillian, after showing Annie her ring, calls her boyfriend to tell him how happy Annie is, and Annie’s response—“No, I’m not!”—is an instance of truth-telling masked as a joke. The camera lingers uncomfortably long on Annie’s face as it tries not to crumble, which tells us that our heroine is in for a long and bumpy ride that’s made all the more bumpier by the revelation that all the other bridesmaids are far more successful than her. Annie is the maid of honor, but she can’t help but suspect that she’s inherited that position by default, and that the honor should’ve really gone to Lillian’s new friend, Helen (Rose Byrne), one of those infuriatingly rich, attractive creatures who can seemingly pull the greatest wedding shower of all time out of a hat.
Bridesmaids has been praised as a comedy, produced by bromance pioneer Judd Apatow no less, that allows women, for once, to occupy the center stage—and, while that is, sadly, a novel concept, it’s pretty much the least interesting reason to celebrate the movie. Bridesmaids is really a quietly subversive film about The Way We Live, particularly after the most recent economic crash, and it has a number of scenes that are shocking in their emotional directness. Annie’s reaction when she discovers that Helen has bought Lillian the trip that she, herself, longed to take with her friend is authentically heartbreaking. And the fallout from that encounter, which finds the poignantly odd bridesmaid Megan (Melissa McCarthy) tracking Annie down and telling her to pull her self-pitying head out of her ass, is bracing in its refusal to pander to audience insecurity. Annie isn’t the kind of lovable loser that many movies offer us, but a creative misfit whose failures are beginning to harden her into a self-absorbed monster.
For years, Wiig has been popping up in movies, many for Apatow, in bit roles that have only allowed her to do the shtick that she perfected on Saturday Night Live. Wiig’s specialty is a character that projects a contemptuous indifference that’s so blitzed by self-regard that it becomes goofily unthreatening; the joke is ultimately on her. Her timing is often almost frighteningly superb. I can’t think of a contemporary actor who’s better in this regard, but the roles she’s played are usually amusing little one-note grace notes. Annie is an expansion of the actress’s trademarks, but the surprise of Wiig’s performance is the amount of vulnerability and panic, not to mention the occasional oddball flourish, that she brings to the role. This performance isn’t simply the work of a comedian awkwardly shoehorning their stand-up persona into a feature film (like Chris Rock, or, God help us, Adam Sandler), but the work of someone who might be a real actor.
Director Paul Feig, an alumnus of numerous television shows including a few produced by Apatow, lends the film a shagginess that compliments the uniformly excellent cast. Most Apatow productions are egotistically overlong, but Bridesmaids benefits from a leisurely tone that pointedly plays against the hustle-bustle of most career-woman chick flicks, and it’s a mark of the filmmakers’ generosity that Helen, the initial villain of the film, is eventually allowed to be every bit as confused and self-questioning as Annie. Bridesmaids isn’t a great movie (there are a number of off spots that indicate an unwillingness to stray from the broad Apatow tent pole too much), but it’s been made with empathy and a kind of slob grace. This movie, to quote a character in the film, sticks.
Universal comedies, particularly those produced by Judd Apatow, tend to be somewhat unappealing visually, but this DVD sports a considerably better transfer than the eyesore that was The Dilemma. The image is notably clean and pristine, with no haloing, sometimes even improving upon the occasionally harshly lit print that played in theatres. The dialogue and score are mixed evenly and unobtrusively, with a 5.1 surround that affords one the ability to really crank up the Wilson Phillips performance at the film's climax, if you're so inclined.
The extras are just okay. Like most unrated versions of supposedly raunchy comedies, the alternate cut of Bridesmaids is an only marginally altered film that features little bits here and there that were cut for understandable reasons. The feature commentary includes director Paul Feig and all of the titular bridesmaids, which makes for a boisterous party atmosphere that was obviously more fun for the participants than for those of us listening at home. The commentary is appealing here and there, but it soon becomes clear that nothing of much interest is really being said, which inspires temptations to switch back to one of the regular audio tracks—a temptation I gave into. The gag reel, Line-o-Rama, deleted scenes, and extended and alternate scenes features all amount to basically one extra: a collection of alternate ad libs that were discarded in favor of the sequences that actually made it into the movie. There is, however, one authentically funny deleted moment with Paul Rudd in a blind date that goes ridiculously awry. Watch the Rudd scene (the first in the deleted-scenes section) and skip everything else.
Typical extras, yes, but Bridesmaids is a strong transfer of an unusually humane American comedy that's well worth owning.