Monday, May 16, 2011

Something Blue: BRIDESMAIDS

While the plot is set in motion by the announcement of an upcoming wedding, Bridesmaids is anything but a typical wedding comedy. It focuses not on the couple – the groom, in fact, has barely a line of dialogue in the entire picture – but on female relationships instead. It’s directed by Paul Feig (creator of Freaks and Geeks) and produced by Judd Apatow, but the true auteur here is Kristen Wiig, who co-wrote the film with her friend Annie Mumolo and stars as the maid of honor. This is a sometimes very crude R-rated film in which women are allowed to be raunchy and rowdy, to be both beautiful and silly, even in the same instant. It’s a broad comedy with nicely observed friendships and competitions between these recognizably human characters.

In the film, Wiig plays a woman whose longtime best friend (Maya Rudolph) is happily ready to be married. But, unfortunately, Wiig’s life happens to be falling apart. Closer to 40 than 30, she has a failed business, a dead-end physical relationship with an emotionally distant jerk (Jon Hamm), and two deeply strange roommates (Rebel Wilson and Matt Lucas) who would very much like it if she could either pay the rent or move out. Her mom (the late Jill Clayburgh in her final role) isn’t much help. That last thing Wiig wants to do is move back in with her mother, but that seems to be an increasingly necessary option.

She clings to her relationship with her soon-to-be-married friend, even as it picks up a slight strain under the pressure of the impending ceremony. Weddings can be expensive and are full of situations ripe with the potential for massive social embarrassment. Wiig plays a woman completely unprepared for this stress, especially with the added strain that comes in the form of Rudolph’s new friend (Rose Byrne), a wealthy, glamorous lady for whom party planning and social graces seem to come naturally. It’s clear from the moment that their characters first meet that Wiig and Byrne are on a collision course.

The film walks through the various events leading up to the big day, from an engagement party to dress fittings, the bachelorette party and a wedding shower. At every turn, events get weird. Propriety breaks down. Strange faux pas pop up. Feelings get hurt. Along for the ride are the rest of the bridesmaids, a naïve newlywed (Ellie Kemper) thoroughly dazzled by the concept of a wedding, a weary mother (Wendi McLendon-Covey) who evokes the state of her chaotic household by mentioning that the other day she broke a blanket in half, and a jolly goofball (Melissa McCarthy) who seems to grow ever more cheerfully strange with each passing scene.

This is a comedy with several great scenes, the kind of hilarious moments that provoke squirm-in-the-seat, tears-down-the-face, jagged-breathing laughter. There’s an engagement party toast that becomes a slow build of increasing hilarity, as it becomes an elaborate game of one-upmanship between Wiig and Byrne. There’s a pristine, glowing, high-end dress shop which is the perfect setting for a sequence of unbelievably, hilariously gross mass gastrointestinal crisis (“I need to get off this white carpet!”). There’s a flight to a bachelorette party destination that becomes the perfect enclosed space for a jittery flyer to devolve into crazier and loopier goofiness. These sequences start small and are allowed to build momentum until part of the humor is that the embarrassment is still going on.

Through all of these moments, the very funny cast of scene-stealers keeps stealing scenes out from under each other, but Wiig looms large above them all. She has a rubbery elasticity, not just to her face and physicality, but to her emotional state as well. She’s a normal person with a life that’s falling apart, being slowly driven insane by extra pressures of social situations going horribly awry. It’s very comical, but what makes it all the more funny is that it’s built upon believable character relationships. Wiig and Rudolph have an unforced naturalness that seems to spring from a real, deep friendship. Wiig and Byrne clash in ways that feel specifically truthful in the passive-aggressive ways they play out. (There’s even a sweet romance between Wiig and a lovely cop played by Chris O’Dowd that is surprising in both its effectiveness and its relative lack of screen time).

Unlike terrible recent wedding-themed comedies that are, at least partially, about female friendships, like Bride Wars, which plays like some man’s awfully reductive and retrograde concept of how women relate to one another, Bridesmaids is a comedy by women and benefits from the sparks of truth that drive the story. It’s a bit long, sometimes uneven, but it more than makes up for it by laying out convincing groundwork for sequences of high flying vulgarity that occasionally turns into complete and total comic pleasure.

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