The word out on “Bridesmaids” is that it’s a successful port of the Judd Apatow-style bromantic comedy to the chick-flick platform. That’s partly true: The coarse humor, the emphasis on how people act when members of the opposite sex aren’t around and the emotional honesty that’s lurking behind all the fart and fellatio jokes are all straight out of the Apatow playbook. (No surprise, given he’s one of the film’s producers.)
But a better description might be that “Bridesmaids” is the comedy version of Mike Leigh’s “Another Year.” That film featured Lesley Manville playing a fortysomething office lady with fading beauty and a history of bad relationships, and who’s desperate to land a man. That also describes to a tee the heroine in “Bridesmaids,” Annie — played by “Saturday Night Live” comedienne Kristen Wiig. Her boyfriend has left her, her bakery business has gone under, her mom (Jill Clayburgh) is neurotic, her roommates (Rebel Wilson and egg-man Matt Lucas) are invasive pests, and she’s stuck in a going-nowhere relationship with a sex-only hookup (Jon Hamm).
At least she has her trusted friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) to confide in; that is, until Lillian tells her that she’s getting married to her sweetheart and moving out of town. “I’m so happy for you!” insists Annie, but her face says something different.
Lillian asks Annie to be the maid of honor and she throws herself into the task, only to be effortlessly one-upped at every turn by Helen (Rose Byrne), the rich, beautiful trophy wife of the groom’s boss. Helen means well, but she inspires in Annie a feeling not unlike that which a tagger gets when he sees a clean wall.
If the “Hangover” movies confronted dudes’ sheer terror at their own poor impulse control, then “Bridesmaids” plunges straight into the female heart of darkness: the catty competitiveness that invariably summons up the “B” word.
Coming from a male director, Paul Feig (mostly known for his TV work, and a friend of Apatow’s), this could be called stereotyping. But what comedy doesn’t trade in exaggerated stereotypes? Anyway, “Bridesmaids” did great business with its female demographic when it was released last year in North America and Europe: It clearly struck a chord. In a sense, the film is payback for all those Apatow-inspired bromances where the girlfriend is either a pedestal-dwelling object of unattainable perfection or a total harpy who gets in the way of the dudely things that dudes do.
Here the women all take center stage as well-rounded characters, while the guys are relegated to boy toys, sugar daddies, libido-driven jerks and too-sweet-to-be-true nice guys (such as Chris O’Dowd’s highway patrol officer). While there are a few too many characters among Lillian’s bridesmaids — Ellie Kemper and Wendi McLendon-Covey get short shrift as naive newlywed and bitter alcoholic mother-of-two, respectively — the four core characters get plenty of chances to prove their comic chops.
Melissa McCarthy, as the groom’s butch sister, gets the Zach Galifianakis role, annoying as hell and socially clueless, while Byrne excels as the too-perfect Helen, insincerity dripping behind every line.
Rudolph is mostly the straight (wo)man here, but Wiig more than picks up the slack. She manages to take a character who is, by almost any definition, miserable and on the brink, and turn her travails into rich comic material. Some of her scenes here are bust-a-rib hilarious, like when she’s working her minimum-wage job at a jewelry counter, and tries to convince a teenager not to buy a “Best Friends Forever” bracelet, because, you know, it will never last, girl. This escalates quickly, as do the laughs.
Too much of the film, though, relies on the same-old risque humor. There may be an American comedy out there that doesn’t have a blow-job joke in the first five minutes, but “Bridesmaids” sure isn’t it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude — John Waters remains an all-time favorite director — but neither am I in junior high school. Transgressive humor, in the wake of the Farrelly Bros., “South Park” and “Family Guy,” is feeling a bit lazy and knee-jerk these days.
“Bridesmaids” does manage one truly transgressive moment, when something gross happens in a bridal boutique, amid all the Cinderella-dream gowns. The sheer glee with which the filmmakers demolish this cherished icon of feminine perfection (via over-priced shopping) really does evince the required jaw-drop sensation of “I can’t believe they are doing this!”
They must have been on to something: “Bridesmaids” outperformed even “Sex and the City” at the box office, and has pretty much opened the floodgates for R-rated women-behaving-badly comedies — which we may still live to regret: See next month’s review of “Bad Teacher.”