Tuesday, May 31, 2011
After going back and forth for weeks about whether to see Bridesmaids, I’m kicking myself for having avoided it so long. You’d think I would have been convinced by the viral movement that sprang up early on, calling all feminists to buy tickets so Hollywood would make more “chick flicks” that aren’t “vapid rom-coms or something about shopping.” But the more you care about feminism, the warier you get about movies that are supposedly about girl power or female friendship.
The muttering I’d heard about the diarrhea blowout in the dress shop didn’t help: would Bridesmaids lean too hard on gross-out humor for my taste? More than that, what put me off was what I’d seen of Kristen Wiig’s Annie in the trailers. I usually like Wiig, and there’s a sense of nerve-shot decency in even her most annoying characters that makes it hard to hate them, but when she starts playing endless variations on just one note she can wear out the funny pretty fast. Annie looked like she might be another Gilly or Penelope, tired long before she got retired. Like we need another movie about a tiresomely crazy chick.
But Annie turns out to be one of the most fully fleshed-out contemporary women to show up in the movies for ages. Wiig, who cowrote the script, is in nearly every scene, and the camera often lingers on her face to catch a kaleidoscope of emotions as someone else is speaking. Even—maybe especially—at her most ridiculous, Wiig makes Annie sympathetic, finding the loyalty, love and, yes, neurosis and insecurity that drive her a little nuts sometimes and make her nearly derail her best friend’s wedding and her own life.
Yet she’s no train wreck just because her life has gone off the tracks. Bridesmaids’ favorite comic tool is exaggeration. It takes almost every situation a little—or a lot—too far, but even its wildest slapstick is anchored in totally relatable emotions. In one of the movie’s sweetest scenes, Annie resorts to desperate measures to regain the attention of a lovely traffic cop she briefly dated and then dumped. That scene’s pleasures come as much from the suspense of waiting for his inevitable surrender as the joy of watching her ridiculous siege.
Realistic emotion blended with balls-out comedy and laced with a strong dose of nerdy discomfort is Judd Apatow’s signature style, of course, and Apatow is one of this movie’s producers. Aside from the bit in the dress shop, I suspect that a lot of what he contributed was the talent that maintained that distinctive tone, starting with director Paul Feig, one of the directors of Apatow’s so-funny-because-it‘s-so-true Freaks and Geeks. Maya Rudolph is Annie’s best friend, the warm, funny, grounded ur-BFF any woman would want; Jill Clayburgh (in her last role) is loving and comically ditzy as Annie’s mother; and a murderer’s row of funny women make the other bridesmaids “a stone cold pack of weirdos,” as Lillian affectionately calls them. Great comic actors, including Terry Crews as a fascistic exercise drillmaster, Michael Hitchcock as Annie’s uptight boss, and John Hamm as Annie’s odious “fuck buddy,” make even the small parts vivid.
Weddings are fertile ground for parody, and Bridesmaids digs in with gusto. The much-discussed gross-out scene turns out to be a welcome fart in the face of a snobbish, criminally overpriced bridal shop, but most of the humor is a little less obvious. After Annie messes up her maid of honor duties, Lillian hands the reins to fellow bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne), making Helen the victor in a battle for best-friend status that provides the movie with most of its funniest moments. Helen then proceeds to execute the “perfect” wedding, an obscenely upscale affair we see through the eyes of the broke and resentful Annie. The bridal shower is particularly ludicrous, each guest riding a white horse from the parking lot to the door of Helen’s palatial estate and leaving with a “party favor” in the form of a live puppy, so it’s fun to watch Annie crack, railing at the event’s over-the-top pretension and attacking “that fucking cookie,” a huge heart-shaped tribute to the bride and groom on display in the garden.
A sometimes wince-inducingly funny index of socially awkwardness, Bridesmaids has a heart as big as that cookie. Without resorting to snark, condescension, or cheap shots, it finds the funny in the winning trifecta of female friendship: love, loyalty, and competition.
Written for TimeOFF