May 17, 2011
I was afraid that this comedy with Kristen Wiig (splendidly written by Wiig and Annie Mumolo and hilariously directed by Paul Feig) was going to turn out to be women behaving just like men (hurling, farting, burping and cursing), and up to an extent they do, but they are also unmistakably female, and that's what works about Bridesmaids.
I could have done without the gross out bits, but somebody decided that in order to get guys into a theater, all current comedies need to have a gross out clause. The world has laughed since the beginning of cinema without such inane thrills, but now apparently it can't. Even in an excellent female comedy like Bridesmaids, it's in the contract. However, there is a gust of real transgression here, as one cannot possibly find a more apt visual metaphor for these insane, expensive wedding customs, as literally crapping all over them. To see Maya Rudolph have a digestive emergency while buried under a cloud of tulle is one of the funniest, most transgressive and enduring images involving a wedding dress we're ever likely to see in film.
Bridesmaids is less farts and puke than extremely funny, knowing laughs at the ambivalence of Annie (the incredible Kristen Wiig) at being chosen as the maid of honor for the wedding of her best friend Lilly, Maya Rudolph, also excellent. As any single woman nearing her past her prime years knows (not only in America, but the world over), you can be very happy for your friend and still feel that you want the earth to swallow your lonely ass to have to deal with all that wedding mishegoss. There is a lot to mine here and Wiig and Mumolo do it with great gusto, smartly anchoring the laughs in reality while making fun of the competitiveness between women and the crazy, corny bridal bullshit.
Bridesmaids is firmly rooted in our current reality and it deals head on with the increasing class differences in America, a fact that is somewhat surprising for such a frivolous comedy. Annie was wiped out by the economic downturn. She drives a shit car, lives with two bizarre and inexplicably British roommates, and can't pay her bills, let alone splurge on bridesmaid dresses and bachelorette parties. Her foil is Helen, the very game and funny Rose Byrne, a control freak as ridiculously rich and unshakably perfect as Annie is a mess and struggling hard.
In the movies of producer Judd Apatow there is always plenty of crass humor, but there is true empathy for the characters, who do not live in Hollywood fantasyland but in the real world (Bridesmaids takes place in Milwaukee). Apatow roots for the losers, the misfits, the stragglers, because he estimates correctly that that is where most of us stand and with whom we all can relate. His movies are not generally nasty or mean spirited, like The Hangover. They are funny and sweet. He pretty much created the bromance genre (the buddy movie with a gentler, more emotional streak) and it was about time he gave a chance to female driven buddy comedies (he has created artistically and commercially successful hybrids that appeal to men and women, like The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up). It's a pity that nobody takes comedy seriously at awards time, because some of his films are among the best American movies of recent years. I wanted The 40 Year Old Virgin to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. I love Anchorman, I adore Talladega Nights and Stepbrothers (the man-child premise taken to a meta extreme), I really liked Knocked Up and enjoyed Superbad, even though I felt I had to wash my ears with lye, it was so shockingly vulgar, yet at the same time, super sweet; Apatovian, in short. Having lived in Israel in the 80s, I literally rolled on the floor with laughter with Don't Mess With the Zohan, which Apatow co-wrote. Bridesmaids is Apatovian too. There are many laughs, both crass and classy, but there is true feeling.
Kristen Wiig is a major comic talent. She is capable of being genuinely happy, hysterical, depressed, twisted with envy at the same time. The way in which she says "what is happening?" as she squeals through her friend's good news is tinged with terror. She is unafraid to be full of contradictions, not all of them adorable or particularly mature, and she is fearless with slapstick, like in a devastating sex scene that looks like she's being ridden like a stagecoach. She tries to please the cad (none other than Jon Hamm, clueless and brutal in a handsome kind of way), so fast and rocky it is, as he likes it, not slow like she would have it. Very true and very funny. Wiig is as good or better than Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler or any of the big guys of comedy. There needs to be much more of her on the big screen.
Now, is this movie a feminist fantasy of empowerment? Not really. It is a classic romantic comedy with a happy ending: all the women (a fantastic ensemble cast) get their guy. Is this so terrible? Nope. As is true of the Apatovian universe, the important romance in the movie is not really between the guy and the girl, but between the girl and her best friend. Theirs is the relationship that counts, that gets frayed and that one hopes will survive all that corny wedding crap. Rudolph and Wiig actually have a lovely chemistry together, and their bond feels deep.