Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Perhaps not the feminist manifesto that it's being sold as, but in Bridesmaids, the first in the Judd Apatow-produced canon of naughty-but-nice R-rated comedies to be headlined as well as authored by women, does offer a generosity of spirit, and a witty and often blunt deconstruction of female bonding.  All the while, it's also perhaps the sharped comedy to come around in some time, mostly due to the infinite talents of its star and co-writer Kristen Wiig, demonstrating a single woman at her most pitiful and insecure, exhibiting such ugly (yet natural) behavior of passive aggressive self loathing, Wiig has that rare sparkle that despite it all, she's also undeniably appealing and utterly sympathetic.  And so it need not matter of the silly debate of whether the girls can out gross out the boys (Bridesmaids proves they can, but still have a shred of dignity left), but instead savor the riotous, if a bit over-extended, raunchy, but sweet, silly, but painful hilarity of what's likely the most memorable Apatow-ian affair since his 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Wiig plays Annie, a baker, whose shop closed down as a product of the recession; she also single, but partakes in meaningless sexual trysts with a rich cad (John Hamm, hamming it up as the worst bachelor in cinemas in some time) whose insecurities and demons are all unleashed when childhood friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces her engagement.  The already unstable Annie really starts to crumble as she's introduced to her fellow bridesmaids-- all of whom richer, and nuttier than herself.  There's Megan (Melissa McCarthy), a butch and blunt woman, who would be the brunt of a joke in any guys raunch-fest, but her is given an odd self-confidence.  Then there's Rita, played with a tough glare by Reno 911 vet Wendi McLendon Covey, a bored an unsatisfied stay at home mom, Becca (Ellie Kemper), a prim, recently married Charlotte-type, and finally Helen (Rose Bryne), a glamorous trophy wife who becomes Annie's rival.  There's a beautiful pained sequence where Annie and Helen make competing toasts at Lillian's engagement party that's gut-busting in it's hilarious, and naked truthful in it's spot-on portrayal of female one-up-man-ship.  The substance in Bridesmaids comes from its female relationships, and it makes witty asides on both romantic and class envy; the audience is bruised by Annie's immediate disadvantage.

Bridesmaids is hardly a comedy of manners however, it promises the same level of gross out shenanigans, a delivers them.  Two sequences in particular should please the Farrelly Brothers devotees-- one involving an ill-fated fitting session for the bridal party gone terribly wrong thanks to some bad Brazilian food; the best part of the scatological-enriched sequence is the extended shot of Wiig's embarrassed but sickly face trying to hold the whole thing together.  The other sequence, and the best of the entire film, is a comedic tour-de-force as the party heads to Las Vegas where Wiig's plane phobia morphs into a blisteringly funny and spiteful mania after a tranquilizer-induced diatribe, mostly at the expense of Helen.  The beautiful thing about the extended sequence, is firstly that the girls never make it to Vegas (thus ending it's silly comparison with 2009's The Hangover), and the wondrous showmanship of Wiig's manic timing as she tries so hard, through the entire movie in fact, to remain quiet and unassuming, but that's just a mask for the rage and jealousy and insecurity that slowly eating her up.  That Annie remains so likable and charming throughout such ugly and painful behavior makes it possible to see Wiig as a far more sparkling star.

And while Bridesmaids may not perhaps be the transgressive female driven comedy that well set the standard for a better and more equal tomorrow.  It's not, and no movie could ever leave up that kind of hysterical nonsense, it is irresistibly charming, even when it succumbs to genre cliches.  It is also a romantic comedy by trade, and Annie does meet a nice man in an Irish cop (Chris O'Dowd) who calls her bluff early, as she struggles to let her own guard down.  There's also a lessons learned finale in which as sort of sisterhood is established between the crazy bridal party.  But even the pricklier moments, there's enough fun and generosity between the actors and characters, that no one feels excluded and that warmth not only feels fleshed out, but finally earned, for these women, nutty and silly most of the time also come across as real, with insecurities that are as relatable and human.  Bridesmaids gets what the Sex and the City movies long forgot-- that the fairy tale is nice, but it come from some place real.  There might even be room for a brief commentary on female-centered films of the past as well, notable for the casting of the late, and great Jill Clayburgh as Annie's mom.  This was her final film, but many will remember Clayburgh as a defining actress of the moment during the late 70s and early 80s in such sexual revolution landmarks as An Unmarried Woman (1978) and Starting Over (1979.)  Stretching a bit perhaps, but Clayburgh's gentle rhythms of mixing the silly with the painful paved the way for people like Wiig.

Mostly however it the vehicle that hopefully will upshot Wiig to the top of the comedic food chain.  In slight roles in movies like Ghost Town, Knocked Up, Paul and Whip It, as well as countless SNL sketches, even the terrible ones, there is always this unassumingly gentle vivacity to her.  With a rich nuance of simple facial gestures, Wiig has the ability to seem absolutely cute and lovable and deranged within the same beat.  In short, this is her at her brightest and most unbridled, and shines in the best mainstream piece of entertainment so far this year.  B+

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