Directed by Paul Feig
We laugh, that we may not cry. Paul Feig’s “Bridesmaids”, with its rueful wit and a startlingly introspective performance from Kristin Wiig, has the courage to infuse its gratuitous, adult humor with sizable human drama. It bears more in common with the likes of the Coens’ “A Serious Man” or Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” than with the films of Judd Apatow - like “Knocked Up” or “The Forty Year Old Virgin” - who served as this film’s producer.
Apatow’s hand is certainly visible, however. Feig’s female cast deals with many of the same social insecurities and ordinary character flaws that Apatow’s cast of bros have regularly dealt with, and in largely the same raunchy fashion, including a frantic bowel movement scene that Seth Rogan would have been right at home with. But “Bridesmaids” is its own monster, less-focused and more juvenile, but also, perhaps, more comically inspired. Feig allows the rather depressing undertones of his lead character’s (Wiig) shortcomings to overthrow the film’s humor entirely, and what emerges is something akin to touching.
Wiig’s Annie has found herself in somewhat of a slump recently. Her quaint little Milwaukee bakery has recently gone under, and with it left her boyfriend. She lives in an apartment with a slovenly British immigrant and her brother, passé about the peculiarity of their relationship, indifferent to Annie’s privacy, and impatient for rent. She’s having sex with a meathead (Jon Hamm) who treats her as if she’s disposable. Also her taillights are out. But that’s another issue.
The central issue is the engagement of her lifelong best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) to her Chicago fiancé, and the wedding party from which no end of chaos will ensue. It is customary in comedy weddings to assemble a cast of ragtag misfits for the wedding party, and “Bridesmaids” is certainly no exception. The two most prominent are Annie and Helen (Rose Byrne), Lillian’s new friend from Chicago who, oblivious to the notion that she isn’t in charge of the wedding, sparks a contentious rivalry with Annie for Lillian’s attention. The rest of the bridesmaids are essentially cartoons, but I appreciate that Feig took the time and effort to give each of them their moment.
Helen is one of those wealthy sorts, chipper, always pristine, often left alone by a travelling husband, who slyly grasps that her wealth can be threatening to her new, less fortunate friends. She assumes control of the wedding plans not out of competition, but simply because that is her nature. Why wouldn’t she? The problems arise when Annie mistakes Helen’s ceremonial expertise with favoritism on the part of Lillian, and involves herself in an ill-advised quest to win back the preference of her best friend.
The one-upmanship leads to a series of comic yarns, some more inspired than others, including a chaotic plane ride to Vegas and one of the more ambitious and sustained poop jokes in recent memory.
Produced by Judd Apatow, the picture has positioned itself as a bit of a “Hangover” style raunch-comedy with female leads. It is new ground to some extent, and, if only for the novelty of it, is occasionally quite funny. Director Feig juggles this varied band of bridesmaids with no deficiency of tact, often developing three or four gags simultaneously in order to keep them all involved. Clocking in at around two hours, its duration is a direct precept of the size and scale of its gags, most of which are well-sustained sequences.
But Wiig’s performance is the breakthrough. This is not the ditzy scatterbrain flailing about “Saturday Night Live” every week. She seems instead, in all seriousness, to have drawn her queues from the likes of Bill Murray, finding a dead-pan humor in apathetic sadness. Illuminating and making transparent Annie’s shortcomings, she incites both sympathy and ire, even at her most ridiculous. The film manages to make a comedy out of Annie’s moral and social collapse, but not a joke out of Annie herself, who not only never hams for a laugh, but never disconnects from her undercurrent of pathological sadness. It is a high-wire performance, and Wiig is transformative.
If “Bridesmaids” appeals to a mass audience, it does so as an outspoken bridge between chick-flicks and the frat-boy humor sentimentality, which may or may not be fair, because women have never been strangers to the sex and vulgarity upon which that demographic had imposed a monopoly, unlike the puritan rubes that populate most romantic comedies. This was a bridge that had been there all along, waiting for someone to traverse it. We are not ushering women into the circle of frat-boy humor, but rather setting free that very humor across the gender line. With any luck, the chick-flick, as we had come to know it, is dead.