Wednesday, May 25, 2011
In Theaters: Bridesmaids
It’s a sign of how bad things have gotten for the “chick flick” genre that Bridesmaids essentially was promoted and given buzz for not being terrible. There’s something sad about how what should be a totally legitimate function of the film industry- catering to a demographic that makes up 50-odd percent of the population of the world- has been reduced to a cinematic ghetto, with each new ripped-from-Cosmo’s-advice-column entry filling critics and film buffs of both sexes with dread. Hollywood’s been accused of not getting women more than usual lately, and the way this genre has become a toxic dump site makes me think there’s something to it.
I was looking forward to this film from the start, since it looked to have a crudeness and outright irresponsibility that the genre so desperately needs, but even though I’m biased the picture more than met my expectations. The analysis of what this picture means for women in film has gotten a little ridiculous, and it shouldn’t have to carry that weight, but it is a really smart and well-put-together picture that transcends its “The Hangover for women” marketing and successfully strikes a balance between bad taste comedy and emotional realism.
Kristen Wiig is Annie, a woman whose life is not great and bordering on awful. She once owned a bakery, which went out of business, and now works unenthusiastically selling jewelry and having rather meaningless sex with a strangely unappealing Jon Hamm. Her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged (to a decidedly nontalkative Tim Heidecker), and asks Annie to be her maid of honor. This puts Helen in contact with the other titular maids, including the newlywed Becca (Ellie Kemper from The Office), burned out wife Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey from Reno 911), hard living Megan (Melissa McCarthy), and the rich, dainty, and all too perfect Helen (Rose Byrne). Helen takes on most of the planning duties for the wedding, and starts to muscle in on Annie’s duties of planning the bridal shower and bachelorette party as well, touching off the most passive-aggressive of feuds. Annie thinks she may actually be losing Lillian, not to her fiance but to Helen, and this starts to wear at her mind, touching off a spiral of freakouts, fights, and generally destructive behavior which puts her friendship- and a potential relationship with a charming patrolman (Chris O’Dowd)- in jeopardy.
This is Wiig’s picture, and where Saturday Night Live usually has her trotting out a succession of one-note characters, here she gets to prove what she can do with an actual role to play. (It likely didn’t hurt that she’s the co-writer.) Annie goes through a lot of emotional damage in this film, and Wiig manages to make it ludicrous and funny while also staying strangely believable. It’s a challenging comic performance that calls upon all her skills for timing, body language, and inflection, and while I can’t be sure what improvisation there may have been I’m going to wager there was at least some.
Wiig is backed up by an excellent cast. Rudolph has a great rapport with her fellow Not Ready For Prime Time Player, and Rose Byrne takes what could have been a broad caricature and gives Helen a certain gentleness- we see that she probably means well, she and Annie just don’t get along. McCarthy has the most off-the-wall character, the kind that has to be in every movie like this to establish the upper limits of outrageous behavior, and she steals several scenes. It’s disappointing that McLendon-Covey and Kemper don’t get more screen time- they clearly have interesting stories but don’t get to tell them because the movie’s running long. It’s the picture’s one real flaw.
As one might expect from a film with Judd Apatow’s involvement, Bridesmaids blends some very lowbrow jokes with genuine insight into how we behave. The low we see Annie hit in this picture is very recognizable and relatable; it’s mostly her own doing, but we can understand the reason she gets into such a state, and we see it from her perspective. The themes of self-loathing and projection are strong, and what we find is a woman who never pulled herself up from the last time she got knocked down. There are no real bad guys, for once- it’s all about the obstacles we throw in our own way. The jealousy that Annie feels as Helen starts to become Lillian’s close confidant is also really well-handled; again, nobody’s entirely in the wrong, everyone has good intentions, but it creates something sour.
Of course, this is a comedy, so there’s a chance at redemption as well as a lot of very funny business. The film’s shift from broad comedy to deeper material can be jarring, but it feels like it earns it. Whether or not Bridesmaids saves the chick flick, or even if that means anything, it’s a really fun experience with loads of talented and funny people, mostly women, whom I very much enjoyed spending time with. I can’t think of any reason not to see it.
Written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo
Directed by Paul Feig