May 29, 2011


As I was sitting in the theater howling at the insanely funny Kristen Wiig in the new comic tour de force Bridesmaids, I started thinking about movies where the main character is an underdog who can do no right, and how movies with such characters tend to milk our sympathy--even subconsciously invoking our self-pity as though pulling the strings of our emotions without our consent. I thought of that poor schmuck in Meet the Parents, and how, by the end of the movie, I wanted him to leave those people behind and never speak to them again. I felt the same way for Kristen Wiig's character, for a while, but the beauty of Bridesmaids is that it doesn't let you completely lapse into a pity party for her character. It's not like the horrendously unfunny You Again, which was pure lazy indulgence. In Bridesmaids we are not just feeling the gut punches to Wiig's character, we're also receiving the pride-diminishing life lesson that, eventually, you have to stop playing the victim and take control of your own life.

Bridesmaids' plot operates in a mostly standard fashion: chronic failure Annie (Wiig) must compete with elegant, snotty, rich Helen (Rose Byrne) as she takes on the duty of being the maid of honor for her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph). We identify with Annie right away, even though Helen isn't a complete bitch. She's close, but the movie isn't going to let us hate her with impunity.

In fact, the complexity of these women and their relationships is what gives Bridesmaids such personality. Besides that, director Paul Feig doesn't rush the humor. He knows how talented the cast is, and he lets them take time building the jokes to a crescendo. You laugh so much you'll miss half the gags, but what's going on visually is just as funny as what's being said, so you eventually become exhausted because you're laughing so much of the time. Bridesmaids is like a really good mixed drink and a really crude joke combined. The crudeness goes down easier because of the buzz you're feeling--as well as the sweetness, which isn't saccharine but genuine sugar.

I enjoyed the predictable relationship developing between Annie and a likable Irish cop, played by Chris O'Dowd. And Melissa McCarthy stole every scene she was in as the bride's sister-in-law to-be, a plump, plucky, and socially awkward self-made woman whose eccentric personality seems to render her oblivious to the drama that's unfolding between the other women. Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper round out the group of bridesmiads (the first one is a discontented housewife and mother of three, and the second a dreamy-eyed newlywed who's obsessed with Disney World and domestic life).

Wiig's comic timing is impeccable. She reminds me of Tina Fey, but with a dose of Goldie Hawn. She's utterly likable even when she's being stubborn, and her humor is genuine. There's something so natural and unforced about her performance. She seems to be having a wonderful time with Rudolph, who projects her own comic radiance while playing the straight gal. Byrne is wonderful too as the spoiled rich thing with a heart of platinum. With Jon Hamm as Annie's insignificant other and the late Jill Clayburgh as her mom. Written by Annie Mumolo and Kristin Wiig.

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