At various times in recent years, Hollywood has tried to follow up on the success of the latest raunchy guy comedy by doing a version with a female cast. It's usually failed, for a few reasons.
In movies like The Sweetest Thing, the humor usually feels forced, desperate and formulaic, while the filmmakers haven't understood what worked about the original films in the first place.
At last, we have a female-fronted R-rated comedy that's truly great, and it's Paul Feig's Bridesmaids. The film, co-produced by Judd Apatow, works because it has absolutely all the right people both in front of the camera and behind it, it goes all out for laughs that are totally earned, and it at last provides a cinematic showcase for its star/co-writer, the comedic treasure that is Kristen Wiig.
Sure, Bridesmaids practices the comedy of discomfort and humiliation—with lots and lots of daring physical comedy—and you'll likely be cringing for large stretches of it.
But it's not mean-spirited and doesn't hate its characters. Also, it understands the key lesson of the Farrellys and American Pie and Apatow's previous work: This sort of comedy works when it has heart, and fails when it doesn't.
Wiig stars as Annie, a 40-ish single woman whose life is thrown for a loop when her lifelong best friend (fellow SNLer Maya Rudolph) gets engaged.
Already bummed about the failure of her bakery business, and a doomed affair with an uninterested jerk (Jon Hamm), Annie clashes with the other bridesmaids, especially Helen (Rose Byrne), the ice-queen trophy wife of the groom's boss. The two battle through a series of setpieces, including fittings, wedding showers and a disastrous flight to Vegas, while Wiig also has a tentative romance with a sweet traffic cop (Chris O'Dowd).
Just as Wedding Crashers was based on the pretty well-established phenomenon of men using the romantic atmosphere of weddings to try to get laid, Bridesmaids is based on another not-so-rare-in-real-life scenario—who hasn't been involved in a wedding in which two or more bridesmaids were at war with one another?
Bridesmaids' plot makes it sound like Bride Wars, the noxious comedy from a few years back with Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway as rival brides tearing each other's hair out.
But Bridesmaids is so much better than that, and the furthest thing possible from a standard chick flick. For one thing, it's set and shot in Milwaukee, and missing the high fashion and gloss of most movies of this kind.
Wiig is the best thing about the movie, going for broke in a performance that's full of all sorts of ingenious physical comedy. The best thing about Saturday Night Live for several years—at least, until she recently began playing annoying one-note characters like Target Lady and Gilly—the actress is at her best here.
You get the sense she knows this could be her one and only shot at a starring role and she needs to deliver, and does.
But the film is full of other standout performances. Byrne, who was the best thing about Get Him to the Greek, shows again that she's really, really good at comedy. The film is the first to make good use of Hamm, who shows that if you take Don Draper and drop him into the 21st century, he's just another sleazebag with a sportscar.
Melissa McCarthy, from Mike and Molly, steals several scenes as a bridesmaid who's like a female version of Zach Galifianakis' Hangover character. Ellie Kemper (Erin from The Office) and Wendi McLendon-Covey have a couple of great scenes together as two of the other bridesmaids, while Jill Clayburgh, in her final role, is hilarious as Wiig's mother.
Sure, the comedy gets a little clumsy and draggy around the 90-minute mark, and at slightly over two hours, the film feels very long for a Hollywood comedy. But, my goodness, is this movie a delight—and as good as bet as any to emerge as the comedy classic of 2011.
Why does Katherine Heigl get to front four movies a year, while Wiig gets just one if she's lucky? That ratio needs to reverse itself immediately.
My rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Directed by: Paul Feig
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Ellie Kemper, Chris O'Dowd, Jon Hamm
Now playing at:
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- Regal Warrington Crossing 22
2, 4:50, 7:40, 10:40; Digital Projection: 12:50, 4, 7:10, 10:10