A film review by Craig J. Koban June 14, 2011

BRIDESMAIDS j
j
½ 

2011, R, 128 mins.

 

Annie: Kristen Wiig / Lillian: Maya Rudolph / Helen: Rose Byrne / Rita: Wendi McLendon-Covey / Annie's mom: Jill Clayburgh / Ted: Jon Hamm

Directed by Paul Feig / Written by Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig.

If the aim of the makers of BRIDESMAIDS was to cross-pollinate the raunchy, gross-out, and potty-mouthed comedy with the chick flick, romcom aesthetic then, bravo, mission accomplished. 

‘Tis true, comedies featuring a smorgasbord of gutter language, lewd behavior, and all out debauchery are chiefly the domain of male-centric ensembles, so the estrogen-infused BRIDESMAIDS certainly is unique in the sense that it’s just as crass, crude, and unsavory as any bromance.  However, to call it a breakthrough for feminist cinema and woman-dominated stories…that’s a hilarious joke in its own regard. 

I mean…seriously…it’s somewhat unsettling to see how so many critics have come to BRIDESMAIDS’ defense by championing it as a progressive minded comedy for how its virtually all female cast embarks on a journey full of f-bomb riddled dialogue, disgusting bathroom humor, and overall smuttiness.  Conversely, I found BRIDESMAIDS to be just as regressive minded as any other scatological, testosterone heavy comedy and, to be fair, it's not nearly half as smart and finely tuned as many films, say, in the Judd Apatow canon (interestingly, he serves as producer here).  There is nothing inherently wrong with a dirty-minded film with dirty-minded women, but to campaign it as a watershed and revitalizing jolt to the chick flick genre as a whole...well...I call bullshit. 

That’s not to say that there’s nothing good here: The film is directed by Paul Feig, who created TV's FREAKS AND GEEKS as well as helming several memorable episodes of 30 ROCK and ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT.  BRIDESMAIDS also has Kristen Wiig, who gives a standout and breakthrough comedic performance.  I remember her fondly from her very brief – but sidesplitting – cameo in KNOCKED UP where she went to not-so-subtle levels as a destabilization TV network assistant.  What makes her such a double threat is that (a) she is disarmingly and naturally pretty and (b) she is able to become characters that awkwardly traverse between likeability and disdain that are also perpetually uneasy within their own skin.  Her good, everywoman looks and deeply attuned self-deprecating, deadpan wit and timing are a dynamite formula.  It also helps that she is paired with Maya Rudolph (who gave a thanklessly effectual performance in the criminally little seen AWAY WE GO) and the two have a palpable chemistry and easy going charm; you do believe that they have been BFFs for a lifetime. 

BRIDESMAIDS is about, of course, a wedding: the bride-to-be is Rudolph’s Lillian, who has finally gotten engaged after a long courtship with her boyfriend and now must rely on her anointed maid of honor and best friend, Annie (Wiig) to help her plan the wedding and bridal shower of a lifetime.  Annie is indeed happy for her friend, but she has hit such an egregious low point in her life that she often lets her own self-loathing interfere with the lives of those around her.  

Her bakery, a dream business, tanked during the recession, and she works a 9-5 job at a jewelry store that she despises.  She has two slacker-esque British roommates that are secretly conspiring to evict her.  She has no meaningful relationships with men, outside of a purely sexual one with a rich himbo, played briefly, but hysterically in a scene stealing turn by Jon Hamm, who is quickly establishing himself as a reliable go-to actor for either drama or comedy.  He has a moment with Wiig in bed during the film’s opening scene – its funniest – where the two exchange sexual positions and make decidedly unerotic faces while having intercourse.  When Annie stays the night and engages in some morning cuddling, Hamm kisses her, pauses, and then deadpans, “I really want you to leave, but I don’t want to be a dick about it.”  

Annie does have an interesting meet-cute with a potential suitor, a traffic cop (Chris O’Dowd) who pulls her over because of a damaged tail light.  Annie is somewhat smitten with the cute and pleasant-minded officer, but she hates herself so much that she sabotages any good chance of a romance with him.  While she’s not damaging that opportunity, she finds herself knee deep in a confrontation with her other bridesmaids, especially the annoyingly rich yuppie Helen (Rose Byrne) who seems to take pleasure in upstaging Annie as a friend to Lillian and wedding planner.  The rest of the film becomes a heated catfight where Annie and Helen battle for the right to be Lillian’s most cherished friend.  

The other fellow bridesmaids are made up of cardboard cut-out types: there’s the shy and timid red head newlywed, Becca (Ellie Kemper); the cougar that hates her life and marriage, Rita (Wendi-McLendon-Covey) and, lastly, the overweight, undignified, and foul motor-mouthed Megan (Melissa McCarthy).  Everyone in the theatre uproariously laughed with every vile word and putrid bodily function perpetrated by McCarthy, but she’s easily the most unfunny element of BRIDESMAIDS, mostly because she’s playing more of a broad and overbearing caricature and not a flesh and blood woman.  In over-the-top slapstick farces it’s easy for the grossly obese woman to be the vulgar and coarse one, whereas making her an introverted and inhibited persona would have been more interesting.  

Again, Wiig is clearly a standout here and I really liked how she did not go out of her way to write and play a character that instantly invites our sympathy.  Even when we find her amiable and winning, Annie is capable of making catastrophic social choices.  Wiig's scenes with Rudolph are sublime (watch, for instance, an early exchange between the two chums talking about men's behavior while during sex, where Wiig gives a knee-slapping impersonation of an erect penis).  Wigg’s relationship with O’Dowd’s officer is nicely handled, but the script is sort of nicely convenient for setting up artificial contrivances in the way of their happiness, which somewhat betrays the gentle charm the two actors have on screen with one another.  And, uh-huh, a lot of Jon Hamm goes a long way, who is an undignified hoot as a male floozy with only one thing on his mind. 

Yet, BRIDESMAIDS is beset with too many glaring faults, the first of which being its exasperatingly self-indulgent running time of nearly – gasp! – 130 minutes, which is 30-40 minutes way, waaaaay too long for this material.  The film, moreover, is not only routinely and dully shot, but it's also uneven in the laugh department.  Some individual scenes (like an engagement party toast or a moment on an airplane with the bride and her maids) develop strong comic edge early on and then go on and on and on well after they have peaked.  Too many scenes feel more like extended alternate takes worthy of a DVD special edition supplemental section and too many of them simply have a difficult time finding closure.  BRIDESMAIDS unmistakably proves how vital editing is to forging successful comic pacing. 

Then there are scenes that tested my patience, like an overly telegraphed and woefully forced sequence where the girls gorge on Brazilian food, then get food poisoning, and then have, uh, digestive issues while trying on wedding dresses at a posh bridal shop.  Again, BRIDESMAIDS has been tailored and promoted as a watershed girly flick that can match and beat the opposite sex at their own game.  If the status quo for female filmmakers is to usurp the coarseness and bawdiness away from the male comedy genre and pioneer it as an invigorating turning point for their own genre efforts, then frankly I worry.  A more daring and creative approach for BRIDESMAIDS perhaps would have been to make a scathing black comedy of manners, but the film plays things too safely and too predictably.  BRIDESMAIDS does not push the envelope as much as many thinks it does, which makes it hard to sincerely recommend. 

Oh…and I have always heard how poorly some male filmmakers portray women in comedies.  Even though that's true, please ponder this: There’s a moment near the end of the film when all of the groomsmen are seen grooving to the vocals of Wilson-Phillips.  Only in the misguided fantasyland mind of a female writer would earth-bound men ever engage in such abnormal behavior.

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