Sunday, May 22, 2011


Spoiler alert-o-meter: A few spoilers ahead, but nothing to worry about.

In the new Judd Apatow-produced comedy Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig graduates from SNL and co-starring/cameoing movie roles (Adventureland, Paul, Date Night, MacGruber, Whip It, Extract, Knocked Up) steps into the forefront and perfects a character type I’ll describe as a charming, passive narcissist. Well, not always that charming. If you’re a fan of contemporary comedies starring today’s funnymen (Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Jonah Hill) you already know that narcissism, both passive and aggressive, is definitely a part of these characters' descriptions.

Maybe what makes Bridesmaids so groundbreaking is that all the main characters are women, and they share many of the same characteristics as those funnymen. Except in Bridesmaids they feel like actual people who talk honestly and are allowed to experience honest feelings. It shouldn’t feel like a revelation, but because so few movies explore the relationships between women, it does. [Nicole Holofcener has been doing this for years with movies like Friends with Money, Walking and Talking, and Lovely and Amazing, but her films are niche marketed to the Art House crowd, and aren't laugh-out-loud funny.]

Kristen Wiig plays Annie, a woman in her thirties who is treading water in her life: her bakery has tanked and she now works retail in a jewelry store whose owner is doing her mother a favor by hiring her. Her boyfriend is not really a boyfriend per se, but a sleazy booty call (which Jon Hamm plays with gleeful, guileless douchiness). And her best friend since childhood, Lillian (earthy, straight-gal Maya Rudolph) has just announced she’s getting married.

This news hits Annie hard sending her on a mini mid-life crisis. Next to Lillian, Annie’s life suddenly feels pathetic. As comic fodder, weddings and funerals exacerbate any mid-life reflection, and in Bridesmaids Lillian's impending nuptials are played up for all the comic possibilities.

Lillian chooses Annie to be her maid of honor, but Lillian’s fiancé’s boss’s wife, the rich and perfect Helen (played with condescending snobby perfection by Rose Byrne) decides to trump and/or steal every good idea Annie has for the festivities. Helen can’t help it. She needs to be perfect. And being perfect is a kind of unspoken ideal in Bridesmaids. Either you are perfect, or you have to accept the realization that you aren’t, can’t, and never will be perfect. We can see the concept of female perfection (the right guy, the right marriage, the right job) infect every decision made by these women.

In a male-centric comedies (The Hangover, I Love You, Man, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad, Funny People, Grown Ups), guys don’t even strive to be perfect. Being perfect is for losers, it’s an idea that doesn’t exist. Guys in modern comedies have other things on their minds and the audience is relieved. A comedy of humiliation plays off of any attempt at guys trying to be normal—talking to the cute girl, sticking up for themselves, dealing with bullies. Just to get through these relatively minor life decisions makes even the most schlubby loser a charming lady-killer. Maybe it’s a revenge of the nerds mentality. Nerds are now cool. Being a popular jock/Adonis type is the new loser.

The ladies of Bridesmaids have it a hundred times tougher. Each Bridesmaid has regrets. There’s Megan (the brilliant Melissa McCarthy), overweight and awkward but dealing with it. Rita (Reno 911’s Wendi McLendon-Covey) is married with kids to a guy who is great in bed but who never kisses her any more. Becca (The Office’s Ellie Kemper) is the young innocent one, a newlywed who is married to a totally sweet guy, and who has a rosy image of what her marriage will be like even if her man is often too tired to make love to her. Even Helen, the pretty perfect one, dislikes herself for how she competes with Annie during the wedding plans. These women have all struggled with their hopes of ideal careers and marriages, and by the time they hit their thirties have to deal with reality.

Okay, if all this sounds internalized, tedious, and the stuff of Oscar-bait drama, it’s not. It’s a Judd Apatow production so there are no dull moments. And director Paul Feig (The Office, Freaks and Geeks, Nurse Jackie, Arrested Development) has the comic timing of a TV veteran (I mean that as a compliment) to craft scene after scene of unforgettable, hilarious, and yes often humiliating set pieces.

There’s the engagement lunch at a questionable ethnic restaurant Annie picks out. Afterwords almost everyone gets horribly sick while shopping for the wedding gowns a chic bridal gown boutique. Oh, you’ve seen men do what these women are forced to endure, but until you see a woman drop to her knees in a wedding gown in the middle of a busy street to take an emergency shit, you have not quite lived.

Then there’s the bachelorette party. After the ladies board a plane to Las Vegas all hell breaks loose. The extended in-flight sequence showcases Wiig’s comic timing; she comes alive as a character within the character she’s playing. Drunk and sedated at once, Annie’s fears and anger bubble up in a tour de force of her id gone wild. And this sudden streak of discomposure rubs off on the rest of the bridesmaids. I won’t give away the many wonderful comic moments of this scene.

The film is never boring, but after Annie’s mid-flight debacle the film lapses into a stretch which finds Annie acting sorry for herself in a way that made me want to reach up and slap her out of it. Lillian rescinds the maid of honor offer and gives it to Helen. Annie gets fired from her lame job because she continually talks customers out of buying jewelry. She ignores the advances of the nice guy cop she genuinely likes. She gets kicked out of her apartment by her creepy British brother/sister roommates and has to move back in with her single mom played by Jill Clayburgh (in her last performance).

And just when I started down the aisle to slap some sense into Annie, the comic wonder that is Melissa McCarthy’s Megan shows up at Annie’s door and does it for me. Another wonderful moment. From here, literally snapping out of her funk, Annie starts taking control to put her life back on track.

Here's to more movies where all the main characters are women. Here's to more movies starring Kristen Wiig. Here's to more ribald, hilarious, and honest movies Bridesmaids.


Theater location: Lowell Showcase, Saturday night, May 14th, 6:40 pm. Price: Free Movie Passes (thanks Laurie!). Viewed with Liz. Snack: Derrell Lea Strawberry Liquorice, Diet Coke.

Coming Attractions:

Bad Teacher. Cameron Diaz is a sexpot teacher, a role she was born to play if this trailer is any indication. With Justin Timberlake as a hot, nice-guy sub.

Change Up. Ryan Reynolds is a single guy popular with the ladies, but tired of his lifestyle. Jason Bateman is a married guy with a couple kids, also tired of his lifestyle. After pissing in a magic fountain (seriously!) the two switch lives. It's an R-rated Freaky Friday rip off. But, this one has potential.

Horrible Bosses. The summer of Jason Bateman continues. He, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis play guys who have bad bosses. So, what do you do when you have a bad boss? Quit? Complain to their bosses? Not in this movie: They set out to kill their bosses. It's a comedy. Really. Although, with bad bosses played by Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, and Kevin Spacey, it has potential.

Larry Crowne. This one could be cute in a not-too-cloying way. Tom Hanks plays a guy who is fired from his job, downsized because he doesn't have a college degree. He goes back to school, and gets grumpy but cute teacher Julia Roberts. Lessons and love ensue. Tom Hanks also directs.

Super 8. The kind of movie Spielberg (who produced) would have made when he was ten. It's about a bunch of kids making a little home movie, on Super 8 film, about an alien invasion. And then, guess what happens? Do I really have to spell it out for you? Let's just say, they inadvertently capture some cool stuff on film.


Liz's Mom said...

I enjoyed reading this review.Your writing is always fresh, always interesting.

It sounds as if there are some uncomfortable scenes in this movie, some honest stuff too.

I like the way you praise a movie where the main characters are women. Well done.

Dell Smith said...

Thanks Liz's Mom. This was a fun review to write. I feel like there's more to say about a movie, always more to say, but how much can people (all my many readers) put up with?

Obehi Janice said...

I just saw BRIDESMAIDS with one of my best friends from college and I was smitten. I had so many declarations post-viewing: "I'm buying this when it comes out on DVD!" "I am Annie! Noooooooo" "This is why I love acting". I'm not the biggest Apatow fan, but I can see how he makes an amazing producer: the movie's goodness carries through from the trailer I saw months ago to the ending credits (complete with that ridiculously funny hidden scene! oh my God!)

Dell Smith said...

Hi Obehi. Yes, Annie (and all the characters really) come across as thoroughly truthful and mostly sympathetic. Hard to do in this kind of anything-goes comedy. Thanks for reading.