Josh Reviews Bridesmaids!
When you combine the two main creative forces behind Freaks and Geeks (one of the greatest television shows ever made) with some of the funniest actresses working today, is it any result that the resulting film is an uproariously funny, ferociously entertaining comedy from start to finish?
Kristen Wiig stars in Bridesmaids as Annie, a young woman whose life is on a bit of a downturn. Her boyfriend left her, which would be painful enough if the withdrawal of his financial backing didn’t also cause her bakery business to go under. Annie is at first happy to hear that her life-long best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), has gotten engaged, but soon that happy news turns bitter as Annie begins to feel that Lillian has found a new best friend in one of her bridesmaids, the wealthy, perky Helen (Rose Byrne). As she feels Lillian slipping away from her, Annie tries ever-harder to plan perfect wedding-related events for her friend, but those efforts wind up exploding in increasingly spectacular fashion.
In addition to starring in the film, Kristen Wiig co-wrote Bridesmaids with Annie Mumolo. No one could possibly survive and thrive on Saturday Night Live for as long as Ms. Wiig did without clearly having a strong comedic voice and some writing skills, but this film firmly establishes her as a powerhouse talent. She and Ms. Mumolo have crafted a script that is screamingly funny but also endearingly human. There is some exaggeration in the film, to be sure, and there are some characters who drift closer to comedic archetypes than they do to real people. But the central story-line of the film is very real and very honest. The description of the film’s plot in the above paragraph could just as easily be the plot for a somber, depressing drama. Obviously, Bridesmaids is anything BUT a depressing drama! But the idea of a life-change driving a wedge between long-time friends is a story that rings emotionally true, and that gives the film a weight that many other raunchy comedies don’t have.
Having a potent, real emotional story at the core of the craziest of comedies has been one of the reasons why the films directed by and produced by Judd Apatow over the last several years have been so terrific. Mr. Apatow produced Bridesmaids, and I can see immediately why he responded to the script by Ms. Wiig and Ms. Mumolo. It’s also easy to see why this story appealed to Mr. Apatow’s former Freaks and Geeks collaborator, the amazing Paul Feig. (Mr. Feig created Freaks and Geeks, while Mr. Apatow served as the executive producer. Mr. Feig directed Bridesmaids, which was produced by Mr. Apatow.) You might not all recognize his name, but Paul Feig is no less a comedy giant than Judd Apatow. His involvement in Freaks and Geeks easily merits him my worship for life, but he has also directed some of the very best episodes of The Office and Arrested Development. Mr. Feig knows exactly how to ramp up a comedic sequence until your sides are exploding, and he also knows how to be sure the audience never loses the through-line of the characters’ stories. It was without question hiss involvement at the helm that got me as excited as I was to see Bridesmaids, and I was not disappointed. I hope this film does for Paul Feig (and for Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo) what The 40 Year Old Virgin did for Mr. Apatow.
Speaking again of Mr. Apatow, ehe other hallmark of his work since Freaks and Geeks has been his ability to surround his main character(s) with an incredibly rich ensemble, and here too Bridesmaids shines. All five Bridesmaids are phenomenal — funny and unique characters, each of whom could be carrying their own movie. Much acclaim has aleady been heaped upon the head of Melissa McCarthy, and rightly so, for her scene-stealing performance as Megan. This is a woman without any internal monologue — she says what she means and acts on all of her craziest impulses. She’s fabulously profane but also surprisingly sweet. It’s a wonderfully brave performance and it pays off in spades. Ms. McCarthy gets most of the movie’s biggest laughs, whether it’s at the sight of her doing something unspeakably horrible in the bathroom of a fancy wedding dress boutique or tormenting a fellow passenger on a flight to Vegas. (Or stealing dogs or tackling people or rolling over a couch or any one of a hundred other things!)
Wendi McLendon-Covey brings hysterically dry line-readings to her role as Rita, a woman who has three kids and has become a bit soured on the whole wedding-thing. No surprise, her character quickly forms a terrific comedic pairing with Ellie Kemper’s Becca, an unceasingly upbeat newly-wed. Ms. Kemper has been a lot of fun on recent seasons of The Office (as the dim secretary Erin) and she plays a similar version of that character here, but it’s nice to see that she can shine outside of The Office, and she gets some great moments in the film. I’ve already mentioned Rose Byrne, who plays the beautiful but somewhat stuck-up Helen. Ms. Byrne was the best thing about the otherwise mediocre Get Him to the Greek, and she does a great job with Helen, making her a delicious enemy for Annie while keeping her just on the right line of human behavior. She never does anything that is completely insane. In fact, much of her behavior is borne from an understandable desire to please her new friend Lillian. It’s a great performance, and when we do get to see Helen suffer a bit towards the end of the film it feels richly deserved.
I’m not sure I’ve ever liked Maya Rudolph more than I did in her role as Lillian. Like Ms. Wiig, she’s been knocking ’em dead on SNL for years, and she’s had some great film roles, but she really shines here. Ms. Rudolph makes Lillian extraordinarily likable at the start of the film, and she really sells her friendship with Ms. Wiig’s Annie. That makes the distance that grows between the two women, as the film progresses, so emotionally real. As with Ms. Byrne’s performance as Helen, Ms. Rudolph gives Lillian’s actions a solid enough grounding that we never feel like she’s does anything out of character or over-the-top cruel to Annie. We understand why Annie does what she does, and why Lillian does what she does, and how the events that unfold wind up creating a chasm between the two. Here again, the smart script provides a strong backbone, but Ms. Rudolph really sells it. She also — don’t get me wrong — gets some VERY funny moments in the film, whether it’s her antics trying to scam an exercise class with Annie at the start of the film, or the very unfortunate event that transpires in her wedding dress in the middle of the street mid-movie.
There are really only two men in main roles in the film — this film is carried by the amazing women — but both of the fellas are great. John Hamm (Mad Men) is spectacularly smarmy as the handsome but obnoxious man Annie sometimes sleeps with. Mr. Hamm is an absolute riot — he throws himself into the performance, and the crazy sex montage at the top of the film sets the absolute note-perfect tone for his role (and for the entire movie). On the other end of the spectrum is the sweet cop Rhodes, played by Chris O’Dowd. This is a tough role, as he has to be the “good guy” without coming off as too plain and boring. But Mr. O’Dowd (working from the great script) hits just the right sweet spot — his Rhodes is interesting and weird, while never losing the qualities that clearly make him a much better match for Annie than Mr. Hamm’s character.
I’m not sure the trailers do a good job expressing the crazy comedic heights that Bridesmaids climbs. Suffice to say the film is very, very funny from the first scene right up to the last, with some terrific set-pieces along the way (the dueling engagement party speeches, the escalating craziness in the dress boutique, the flight to Vegas from Hell, and more)
Speaking of the last scene, I was smiling when they cut back to a song from the wedding to end the film. Ah, I thought, that’s a fun, crowd-pleasing way to end the flick (and certainly the Apatow-directed 40 Year Old Virgin had great success in ending with a song). But then the filmmakers cut away, and the actual final scene of the movie is something much, much crazier, and also much, much more perfect. I won’t spoil it of course, but bravo to the filmmakers for their choice.
Really my only complain about the film (and it’s very minor) is that it feels to me like the final third of the film was the victim of some tough edits to keep the film moving along. Two of the bridesmaids (Rita and Becca) drop out of the story, and I was stunned we didn’t get any follow-up to an eyebrow-raising moment between the two of them on the flight to Vegas. There’s also a funny bit of business involving the revelation of Lillian’s wedding dress, but there’s a weird cut right from that sequence to the wedding that seemed very abrupt to me. Lastly, I was surprised the story didn’t circle back to Annie’s bakery. I guess her baking something for Rhodes is our signal that she’s decided to open herself back up to that aspect of herself that used to bring her so much joy. Still, after all the times in the movie we see her longingly looking at her boarded-up old bakery, I was surprised we didn’t get one last little call-back to that at the end. Maybe on the DVD’s deleted scenes!
If you’re a fan of The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad, I highly recommend Bridesmaids. Don’t let the generic romantic comedy sounding title dissuade you! This one is a real winner.