In prior comedies, Kristen Wiig has always been the bridesmaid, never the bride. Which is no longer a negative, states Kimberly Gadette, as the emphatically unbridled Wiig takes the wedding cake to delicious new lows.
We first noticed Kristen Wiig stealing the show as the quietly-denigrating TV executive in Knocked Up. As did that film's creator, Judd Apatow, who suggested that Wiig write a comedy for herself that he might champion and produce. She got to work with writing partner/comedienne Annie Mumolo (who also portrays a passenger with an advanced fear of flying), and five years and many drafts later, this, um, altar-cation finds itself boldly marching down the comedy aisle.
Bridesmaids isn't so much a story about a wedding, or even bridesmaids, as it is the experience of watching a close friend's life change for the better. When Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces her engagement, Wiig's Annie is torn. She wants only happiness for her best friend – yet can't help feeling a combined jab of jealousy and self-pity at her own shabby circumstances. Worse, the one person who used to commiserate with her is now moving on.
For a comedy to incorporate the checkbook is also refreshing. So many films featuring funny women turn a blind eye toward economics – but in Bridesmaids, Wiig's sporadically-employed Annie and her financial troubles are pivotal to the plot. She's currently struggling to make ends meet by working in a dead-end job at a jewelry store, having lost her own start-up bakery to hard times. Her living situation is unbearable to the point that she may have to move back in with her mother. Even her love life is poverty-struck, with Annie playing third fiddle to wealthy, handsome and self-involved Ted (a priceless Jon Hamm) whenever he's feeling amorous, and can't get a hold of either of his other two girlfriends first.
Having accepted the role of maid of honor, Annie's situation goes from bad to worse, realizing that she'll have to come up with some cold hard cash. How else will she be able to throw Lillian a fancy bachelorette party or buy a designer bridesmaid dress? However, Lillian's new, fabulously-rich friend Helen (a surprisingly funny Rose Byrne) is always around, eager to take over.
By mixing input from both genders (Paul Feig as director, Apatow as producer), combined with many improvised moments from the movie's ensemble of six comediennes, Bridesmaids allows for a zippy blend of the girly with the frat boy. While we experience familiar petty female humor (i.e., nasty interloper Helen going to whatever means necessary to put a wedge between Annie and Lillian), we also get hints of the ruder male variety (i.e., drunken behavior and flatulence). Yet even as the bridesmaids trash the scene with as much mayhem as groomsmen would, they still remember they're ladies ... making it all the more funnier.
Wiig and Mumolo seemingly had no ego about keeping the script loose, throwing out their lines in favor of something funnier that came out of an improv here, a volunteered idea there. While some films by committee end up with far too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen, here it works, with director Feig effectively sculpting scenes that read as fresh and credible.
It also helps that the terrific cast works together seamlessly, perhaps in part due to the fact that writers/co-producers Wiig and Mumolo turned to actors they'd worked with before in the LA-based comedy troupe The Groundlings: Rudolph, Wendi McLendon-Covey (Reno 911!) and Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly). Of the female bridal party, McCarthy delivers a career-changing portrayal as the oddball sister of the groom, a nuclear engineer who is extremely self-confident ... though her appearance would suggest otherwise. Looking like Ricky Gervais' younger, pudgier sister, McCarthy puts her big, beefy arms around this comedy and lifts it one notch higher. Like the supposedly similar comedy The Hangover, the wacky once again comes via the marrying party's wild-card sibling (i.e., Zach Galifianakis).
But at the film's center is Wiig who, until now, hasn't had a role that allows her to shine. Other than a few promising scenes, she's worked in a string of films that only hint at her talent. But here, Wiig is all that we'd hoped. A charming, vulnerable funny woman, she takes the outrageous and makes it palpable. When she tries to pretend not to care when Hamm's Ted kicks her out of bed; when she feels the pinch of poverty as she drives up to a sumptuous hotel in her dirt-riddled clunker; when she inadvertently lets her mask slip and a potential new beau (the winningly off-beat Chris O'Dowd) sees her genuinely-aching heart – she is at once a comedienne and an actress.
Kudos to this veteran of the low-brow who finally gets her well-deserved place at the top of the heap ... or, correction, the top of the wedding cake.
Rating on a scale of 5 Bridezillian maids: 4
Release date: US: 13 May 2011; UK: 24 June 2011
Directed by: Paul Feig
Written by: Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O'Dowd, Jon Hamm, Jill Clayburgh, Matt Lucas, Rebel Wilson
Rating: US = R; UK = 15
Running time: 125 minutes