Film Review: “Bridesmaids”

by Jason LeRoy on May 13, 2011

Ellie Kemper, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Rose Byrne, Maya Rudolph, and Wendi McLendon-Covey in BRIDESMAIDS

starring: Kristen Wiig, Rose Byrne, Maya Rudolph, Ellie Kemper, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jon Hamm, Jill Clayburgh, Matt Lucas, Rebel Wilson, Chris O’Dowd

written by: Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo

directed by: Paul Feig

MPAA: Rated R for some strong sexuality, and language throughout.

When I really, really like a movie, I want to tell everyone I’ve ever met about it. I will look for any excuse to bring it up in conversations. I’ve been this way since I was an annoying girl-voiced child. And now that I’m an annoying girl-voiced man, I realize there’s a big risk I run by being so excitable and outspoken about things I love: the risk that I will oversell it. I am a serial oversell offender. The ratio of times I’ve gushed all over some poor bastard about how much I just loooooved a movie to the number of times I’ve doomed that bastard to experience nothing but disappointment when they finally see the movie is roughly 1:1. So, when I experience the kind of all-encompassing orgy-of-pleasure joygasm I felt while watching Bridesmaids, I immediately grow cautious. I don’t want to oversell it. I want to let people experience it for themselves.

So, if you don’t want me to oversell Bridesmaids to you, I recommend that you stop reading now and simply heed my call to go see it. Go. Go see it. NOW.

Well, that’s out of the way. So if you’re still reading, then hopefully you won’t mind if I tell you that BRIDESMAIDS IS ONE OF THE BEST COMEDIES I HAVE EVER SEEN AND IT COMPLETELY OBLITERATES/TRANSCENDS/REINVENTS DECADES OF CHICK FLICK BULLSHIT AND IT IS THE BEST FEMALE-DRIVEN COMEDY SINCE MEAN GIRLS AND I LAUGHED UNTIL I FELT SICK AND IT IS AN INSTANT CLASSIC THAT I WILL WATCH OVER AND OVER AGAIN FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.

Ahem. So, Bridesmaids is the story of Annie (Kristen Wiig), a down-on-her-luck woman in her thirties who thinks she’s hit bottom. The once-proud owner of a defunct bakery called Cake Baby, Annie is now barely scraping by, sharing an apartment with a pair of oddball British siblings (Matt Lucas and Rebel Wilson) and working a shitty jewelry store job she only got because her mother (the late Jill Clayburgh, in her excellent final performance) is the AA sponsor of the owner (Michael Hitchcock).

Her love life is also in a rut; her last serious boyfriend left her when her bakery failed, and she is now the too-casual fuck buddy of Ted (Jon Hamm, in an uncredited but vastly amusing role), who is, to say the very least, emotionally unavailable. But at least she’s got Lillian (Maya Rudolph), her lifelong best friend. Or so she thinks, until Lill blindsides her with the news that she’s gotten engaged. And not only is she engaged, but she’d like Annie to be her maid of honor. And now, Annie’s true journey to rock bottom will begin.

At the engagement party, Annie meets the rest of the bridesmaids. Since she lives in Milwaukee while Lill has been spending most of her time in Chicago, these women are strangers to her. Becca (Ellie Kemper of The Office) is a sweet, sheltered newlywed. Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey of Reno 911) is a jaded, tart-tongued wife and mother. Megan (Melissa McCarthy of Mike & Molly) is the eccentric sister of Lill’s fiancé. I hate the lazy and inaccurate Hangover comparisons people have been drawing to this movie, but let’s just say she’s the Galifianakis.

And then, there’s Helen (Rose Byrne of Damages), the impossibly polished and poised wife of Lill’s fiancé’s country club buddy. Helen is the type of woman who always wonders why she has no female friends. Helen is the Camille Grammer, and she wants Annie’s title. Annie is immediately threatened by her, and their rivalry begins playing out very publicly just moments after they are first introduced. I’m a huge Damages fan, so I was like, “Annie girl, that bitch fought one of the most savage, brutal female rivalries ever committed to screen. She has been through it and she is not the one.”

Now that she’s met the bridal party, Annie begins working her way through her various duties as maid of honor. Unfortunately, each seems to go wrong, and Helen somehow saves the day every time. Annie’s resentment of Helen continues to skyrocket, as do her own feelings of inadequacy and shame. She starts to feel increasingly distant from Lillian, who has been worn down by all the mishaps. Meanwhile, Annie meets a cop named Rhodes (the adorable Chris O’Dowd), a solid stand-up guy with the misfortune of meeting Annie while she’s plummeting downward.

So here’s the thing: I know the trailers were bad. And I know that, even reading the description, it might sound like just another chick flick. But it isn’t. Oh, it isn’t. For one thing, it is gut-bustingly hilarious. I actually felt nauseous from laughing so much, and that was after I’d seen it for the second time. You can tell this film was created by sketch comedy writers, because it has more successful comedy bits than any film in recent memory. It’s just one hit after another, from beginning to end. But those comedy bits are punctuated with genuinely powerful character-driven moments where we sit with Annie and experience her sense of failure and disappointment.

This is a towering showcase for Wiig’s seemingly limitless gifts as an actor and comedian. She invests her portrayal of Annie with her unmistakable, impeccably offbeat comic timing, but she also has several genuinely piercing dramatic moments. And perhaps most importantly, she has co-written (with Annie Mumulo, who has a very funny cameo as a nervous plane passenger) a film that gives powerhouse comedic roles to five other gifted actresses. In a culture that is constantly searching for good female roles and cross-examining Tina Fey at every turn about the role of women in comedy, Wiig has done a remarkable thing. By sidestepping girlfriend roles in dude comedies and writing her own female-driven comic masterpiece, she has thrillingly answered these questions. And it turns out, that answer is Annie Lennox crossed with Virginia Woolf: sisters doing it for themselves in rooms of their own. Or something.

Each actress does such wonderful, hilarious work here. Kemper takes the sweet, girlish character she plays on The Office and subversively turns her on her head. McLendon-Covey gives an unapologetically caustic and brutally honest voice to wives and mothers stuck living in houses full of boys. Rudolph, who has previously displayed her dramatic strengths in Away We Go, is compellingly unaffected and resonant as Lillian. She and Wiig clearly still share their nimble SNL comic chemistry. Byrne is shockingly good as Helen. She takes what could have been a superficially cartoonish bitch and fleshes her out in unexpectedly moving ways. And then, there is Melissa McCarthy. There are simply no words. And yet, here are a few: she steals the show. This is a delightfully deranged comic performance of such dizzyingly unhinged heights, it should be studied.

Is there anything I’d criticize about Bridesmaids? Some have complained that it’s too long, but I’d have happily watched another hour. Some have complained that it’s too vulgar, to which I say go fucking fuck yourselves, you fucking fucks. When I first watched it, I thought I’d be able to criticize it for having a too-soft final scene (which also features a musical sequence a bit too similar to the climax of Spring Breakdown, a vastly inferior but fun all-girl comedy co-written by Wiig’s SNL costar Rachel Dratch), but then it shocked me with a horrifically raunchy tag at the beginning of the credits. So, no, I don’t have anything to criticize about Bridesmaids. I will be pleasantly surprised if I see a better comedy this year. This is an early candidate for one of the year’s best films. Ugh, I’m so overselling it.

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