Review: Bridesmaids

It deftly navigates the ins and outs of platonic-pal sentimentality while reveling in the sublime pleasures of gross-out nastiness.

Photo: Universal Pictures

Silliness and sexiness are comfortable bedfellows from the outset of Bridesmaids, in which Annie (Kristen Wiig) has wild goofball sex with callous booty-call Ted (John Hamm), and is then conspicuously depicted the morning after (via a va-va-voom from-behind shot) in Victoria’s Secret-skimpy underwear. That balance between attractiveness and uglified anything-goes absurdity is SNL star Wiig’s calling card, and she strikes it quite successfully in her maiden big-screen headlining turn, which delivers a female-centric brand of producer Judd Apatow’s trademark formula: individual and interpersonal bonding, friction and anxieties mixed with crass humor. It’s an audience-approved template that Wiig (who co-wrote the screenplay with Annie Mumolo) has little problem personalizing, sincerely and ridiculously confronting issues of beauty, wealth, loyalty, monogamy, marriage, and sex through the tale of a character whose life spirals downward after her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), gets engaged and she’s forced to battle for sole possession of BFF status with Lillian’s glamorous and wealthy new sidekick, Helen (Rose Byrne).

The catty competition between Annie and Lilly is the driving force behind Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig’s film, and a sturdy one at that, allowing for a blend of sappiness and insanity that’s similar to, and yet in at least one crucial area distinct from, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. Despite revolving around nuptials, Bridesmaids does away with most men to focus on female camaraderie. And though it suggests (with a second-act smooch) that such relationships are quasi-sexual in nature, it nonetheless refreshingly differentiates itself from its bromance forefathers by dealing not with the maturation of a woman-child, but with a spazzy grown-up’s process of re-finding her footing.

Having lost her cake-bakery business and been forced to live with a British brother and sister who resemble a mentally handicapped Tweedledee and Tweedledum (no surprise, given that one is played by Alice in Wonderland’s Matt Lucas), Annie sets about attempting to restore her confidence and dignity. Both are cataclysmically shaken by Helen, whom Byrne embodies as the height of conniving evil snobbishness, and who Annie initially spars with during a hilariously embarrassing engagement party toast-off in which they vie to lavish the most over-the-top praise on Lillian. Pitting awkwardness and self-doubt against physical and economic perfection, their polar-opposite dynamic is at once universal and specifically female in nature, which is also true of the other bridesmaids, a rag-tag bunch of types composed of cheerfully naïve conservative Becca (The Office’s Ellie Kemper), disillusioned mother-of-three Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), and overweight horndog Megan (Melissa McCarthy).

As Annie and Helen’s game of one-upmanship escalates, a potential love interest for Annie arrives in the form of state patrolman Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd), who encourages her to resume her baking career. For all their earnestness, however, such character-based concerns are given somewhat undue attention by director Feig, who, embracing a less-desirable Apatow-ism, distends his story to the point that its funniness eventually begins to fade. Still, if the third act is light on laughs, it has, by that point, built up considerable good will thanks to Wiig, a sharp, endearingly strange presence whose flights of freakiness (her intoxicated, loose-limbed ludicrousness when trying to infiltrate an airplane’s first-class cabin; her exaggerated anger and clumsiness when destroying a wedding shower spread) regularly keeps the proceedings unpredictable, and helps make up for Feig’s featureless direction. With Wiig as its sweetly unhinged MC, Bridesmaids deftly navigates the ins and outs of platonic-pal sentimentality while recognizing and reveling in the sublime pleasures of gross-out nastiness, which—via a raunchy food-poisoning sequence set in a bridal gown shop that culminates with a gratuitous vomiting-in-the-hair gag—the film ultimately and effectively claims as not just the province of guys’-guy comedies.

 Cast: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Wendy McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O'Dowd, Matt Lucas, Jill Clayburgh, Rebel Wilson, Michael Hitchcock  Director: Paul Feig  Screenwriter: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo  Distributor: Universal Pictures  Running Time: 124 min  Rating: R  Year: 2011  Buy: Video

Nick Schager

Nick Schager is the entertainment critic for The Daily Beast. His work has also appeared in Variety, Esquire, The Village Voice, and other publications.

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