Bridesmaids (***½)


With any justice in the world, Kristen Wiig should be a huge star after this...

Refreshingly honest and as insightful as it is hilarious, “Bridesmaids” is a terrific comedy. With a winning cast led by Saturday Night Live (“SNL”) star Kristen Wiig, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Annie Mumolo, “Bridesmaids” is easily one of the nicest surprises of 2011.

After a failed attempt at running a bakery, Annie (Wiig) is down on her luck and seemingly stick in a downward spiral. Losing virtually all of her savings when her bakery failed, Annie is renting a room in an apartment shared by a quirky and unsettling brother and sister (Matt Lucas, Brynn Wilson), and Annie has little to call her own. Her car is old and often broken down, her job prospects are reduced to a thankless clerk’s position in a mediocre jewelry store, her boyfriend (Jon Hamm) is reprehensible but always up for his “fun” and the comfort of depression seems to be enveloping her. And yet, she still has her lifelong best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph) to lean on and help her through.

But then, Lillian shows off a new engagement ring and while Annie is excited for her friend and agrees to be her Maid-of-Honor, a part of her sees this as one more hole in the canopy of her world. Soon, Annie meets Lillian’s wedding party and realizes she does not know any of them. Affable and supportive, Annie welcomes the opportunity to embrace these women and share with them the events and activities which will lead up to Lillian’s wedding to an always-smiling Dougie (Tim Heidecker).

As Annie meets the distinctive personalities Lillian has assembled for her bridal party, she finds a naive newlywed, Becca (Ellie Kemper), an abrasive and wine-soaked mother of three, Rita (Wendy McClendon-Covey), the in-your-face, carefree, and aggressively nice Megan (Melissa McCarthy), and Helen (Rose Byrne), a wealthy debutante who has a possessive and overbearing love of her new “best friend”, Lillian.

Annie also meets a kindhearted police officer, Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd), who remembers her bakery and feels a connection to Annie that she does not seem to know what to do with. The wedding on the horizon, the rivalry swelling with Helen, and an interested new suitor all adds to Annie’s stress as she tries to find her way through the fog of her life.

Many have already championed “Bridesmaids” as the female version of 2009′s game-changing comedy, “The Hangover”. It’s not. Nor is it as arrogant and brash as that film either. Sure, these five bridesmaids and one bride-to-be head out to Vegas on a whirlwind bachelorette weekend, and in “The Hangover” three groomsmen and a groom-to-be woke up in Vegas on their bachelor party weekend. The similarities however end there. While “The Hangover” was a hilarious and ridiculously over-the-top comedic gem, “Bridesmaids” is a bit of a different animal. Engagingly witty and funny throughout, but more focused on the realities of everyday people, “Bridesmaids” is much more in tune with how people tend to respond to life and its unexpected challenges on a day-in and day-out basis.

At the risk of comedic blasphemy, “Bridesmaids” might be a better film. The screenplay, written by Wiig and Annie Mumolo is smart and irreverent. Despite giving into R-rated indulgences of language, sexual content, and a few moments of gross-out humor, much of “Bridesmaids” focuses on Annie idling down as she fumbles from one moment to the next, desperately trying to retain her status as Lillian’s best friend. At times, the film doesn’t go for laughs in every scene and instead builds to a funnier and more worthwhile scene. In other moments, the film is hysterically funny, including a must be seen to be believed Vegas flight sequence that not only moves beyond a familiar one-note set up, but provides Wiig an opportunity to show off her adventurous and unhinged comedic abilities. All of this balances impressively well – the varying degrees of comedy, the anecdotal conversations, the detailed introductions of most of these characters. Where other films have failed in this regard, “Bridesmaids”, like the most successful of Judd Apatow’s creations, hits a confident and rhythmic tone.

Watching “Bridesmaids”, I was reminded of “Mean Girls”, a film which helped launch fellow SNL star Tina Fey into the stratosphere and achieve a new level of credibility for Fey, both within the industry and with the moviegoing public. Although Fey had a small supporting role in that film, she co-wrote the adaptation and helped craft and deliver one of the most memorable films of 2004. Wiig is a wonderfully gifted actress who can find the perfect pitch when the moment calls for it. When Helen continues to one-up Annie and sinks to unimaginable lows to impress Lillian, Wiig holds in her anger only for so long and launches into a unrelenting and hilarious verbal smackdown that embodies everything the viewer is thinking at that time. It is pitch perfect writing but equally as impressive a performance. Elsewhere, when other characters say or do uncomfortable things, Wiig is there offering a softly spoken aside to herself that encompasses not only how uncomfortable she is but also how we are reacting as well. If there is any justice in the world, “Bridesmaids” will make Kristen Wiig a huge star.

The ensemble is expertly cast. Melissa McCarthy steals the movie as Megan and her uncouth and unpredictable nature keeps everyone on their toes. Maya Rudolph has terrific chemistry with Wiig, undoubtedly from their years working together on Saturday Night Live, and Rose Byrne flourishes as the woman with all the money in the world, but no ability to relate to anything non-material. In lighter roles, Wendy McClendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper are the forgotten bridesmaids here, unfortunately relegated to the background and afforded a rather distracting sequence in the chaos of the Vegas flight scene that never really materializes.

Although it runs a bit too long, an ongoing trait with Judd Apatow features, “Bridesmaids” never tries to be something it is not. While the film juggles a handful of subplots alongside Lillian and Dougie’s wedding, the film deftly avoids being bogged down and never loses it focus. Most of the subplots get their time and each storyline gets its moment and there is something to enjoy in nearly every scene.

“Bridesmaids” is a test for Hollywood. Typically, males make the Vegas road trip movie and/or the raunchy ensemble piece. Perhaps largely against the expectations of a male-centric industry, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo have defied the odds. I certainly do not want to saddle “Bridesmaids” with the title of “gamechanger” or position it as the film that could alter how people perceive females on the big screen. But let me offer this…everyone wins if this film does well. “Bridesmaids” is not a “chick flick” and it is not a “Women-can-do-what-men-can-do” film either. It is a comedy – a tremendously entertaining and brilliantly conceived comedy – and worthy of everyone’s attention and appreciation.

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My love of film began at the age of 7 when my parents not only gave me a television, but HBO to boot. My first theatrical experience was "E.T." My first movie cry came with "Old Yeller". "The Usual Suspects" made me decide to make movies and film writing a priority in life, even knowing the twist beforehand. My passion for film, music, and pop culture in general can be isolated to my youth. My love for film took root in high school. Above all else, movies and art, in any form, exist to entertain and I remain much more interested in how art affects others, more than with myself. But I love the conversation and to have a chance to share my thoughts and be a part of the community here is a unique and enriching experience.