Review By: Gordon K. Smith
Kristen Wiig is currently being declared the next big thing, the new Tina Fey, Lucille Ball, Judy Holliday, etc., in the sadly short list of great film comediennes. I’ve had a harder time warming up to her, mostly because I find most of the characters she’s given to play on “Saturday Night Live” as irritating/grotesque/pointless as the skits in which they’re featured (and face it, after their rebirth in political humor of the last couple of years, SNL has pretty much gone back to bad skits — maybe in 2012 they get to be funny again). She’s been okay, if underused, in the limited roles in which I’ve seen her, such as Walk Hard or MacGruber, but she needed her own starring vehicle to earn her comedy stripes.
She gets it with Bridesmaids, performing triple duty as star, co-producer and co-writer (with her former Groundlings comrade Annie Mumolo, who has a cameo). Wiig earns A’s for all of the above. For comedy rauncheteer Judd Apatow, producer of 40 Year Old Virgin, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Knocked Up (the latter two featuring Wiig), this is his ultimate “Girls Gone Wild”, a chance for the ladies to go beyond the supporting roles of his earlier films and beyond the usual standards of chick-flick/rom-com humor. They get to be both down-center and down-and-dirty in Bridesmaids, and do to female bonding what Apatow’s been doing to male bonding for years.
Wiig is Annie, a slightly neurotic Milwaukee more-or-less single, having a perpetual bad-hair day. She’s lost her bakery business, her friend-with-benefits (an uncredited Jon Hamm trashing his Don Draper image) won’t commit to anything, her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is getting married and naturally wants Annie as her maid of honor. What should be an uplifting gig for Annie starts heading south when she meets her nemesis, the all-too-perfect fellow bridesmaid Helen (the Aussie stunner Rose Byrne). The resulting struggle of wills and class (high vs. low) between these two is the setup, but the other three “maids” — Ellie Kemper (“The Office”), Melissa McCarthy, and Wendy McLendon-Covey, all get their moments as well.
That women don’t get enough chances to both celebrate sisterhood on the big screen and laugh at themselves was proven at the screening I attended, wherein the predominantly X-chromosome crowd was elevated to some kind of comic ecstasy for most of the two-hour plus running time. I’ve seen a lot of comedies, and I have never heard a longer fit of audience hilarity as that which accompanied the sure-to-be-legendary bridal shop sequence; it must tap into a secret female desire to see those bastions of immaculateness desecrated in ways most foul. I’ll have to rewatch it on DVD some day to hear the drowned-out lines.
All the ladies are hysterical, and improvised a lot of their best bits. What makes Apatow’s brand of comedy work, when it does, is perfectly honed here. He, and director Paul Feig, know the beats, know how to pace a gag, when to back off and the let the imagination do the rest, and which bit players need to be playing it straight, and which for the laughs. The one male who gets to play it straight here is Irish actor Chris O’Dowd as Annie’s on-off cop love interest; he affects a very strange accent that is either supposed to sound Canadian or is just a bad attempt at American. What problems are there, are the same in all of Apatow’s comedy; the pace slows down in the last act; it goes on too long (125 minutes is too much for raunch comedy); at the same time the character stuff veers toward mean-spiritedness, leaving a downer note that takes some time to recover. Yet, and take this as high praise from someone who’s not the biggest fan of made-you-look comedy, this has summer superhit writ large upon it.
It should also be noted, in a film that marks the breakthrough for Kristen Wiig with promises of great things to come, a goodbye appearance for the great Jill Clayburgh as Annie’s mom; she died in November of 2010. A trooper to the end, and not looking well, she still knew how to get a laugh out of a line. She will be missed.