When I saw Bridesmaids, the audience in the theater was almost exclusively female; what few guys were to be seen were in the obvious company of a girlfriend, which I’d normally expect from a Merchant-Ivory picture or a mediocre romantic comedy. Could it be that the normally under-25-male demographic targeted by most raunchy comedies — whether as good as The Hangover, as well-intentioned as Due Date, or as flat-out offensive as Hall Pass — feels threatened by a bunch of girls not only walking all over their turf, but actually doing it better? Despite a trailer promising fart jokes and the ever-present chance that in any movie featuring multiple women two of them will kiss, boys don’t seem to be interested. And they’re really missing out.
Annie Walker (Kristen Wiig) and Lillian Donovan (Maya Rudolph) have been best friends since they were kids. They still live in Milwaukee where they grew up, but lately they’ve been drifting apart a bit. Annie’s bakery venture went down the tubes and she’s stuck in a dead-end job trying to sell jewelry despite an increasingly sour outlook on happiness in general, which she only got with the help of her mother (Jill Clayburgh, in her final appearance). She’s also in a dead-end relationship with a colossal douchebag (Jon Hamm), and her ex-boyfriend doesn’t sound like much of a prize either. Lillian, on the other hand, has a good job which has been taking her down to Chicago, where she met Dougie. And Dougie just proposed to her, which of course triggers hijinks.
At the engagement party Annie meets all of Lillian’s other bridesmaids: the frustrated housewife, Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), the chipper newlywed, Becca (Ellie Kemper), the raucous sister of the groom, Megan (Melissa McCarthy), and the wealthy trophy wife of Dougie’s boss, Helen (Rose Byrne). Helen, it seems, has positioned herself as Lillian’s new best friend, and of course Annie feels slighted.
At turn after turn, Annie’s best-laid plans as the maid of honor go awry, and Helen’s resources allow her to outshine Annie without any effort. Helen’s personal connections get them in the door at a boutique where bridesmaids’ dresses go for $800 at a discount, though Annie’s choice of a pre-fitting lunch at an iffy churrascaria throws a monkey wrench into the works. Helen can buy Lillian an original couture wedding dress while Annie can barely make her rent. Annie’s plan for a pleasant weekend at Lillian’s parents’ lake house turn into a stunningly ill-fated trip to Vegas in Helen’s hands.
With the involvement of Wiig and Rudolph it would be fair to call this an SNL-inspired movie at the least. And indeed Annie is pretty much another version of Wiig’s standard character. But Bridesmaids succeeds where others have failed, because Wiig has the good sense to dial it way back. A sketch is a very short piece, and there’s not much time to get an idea across. Pretty much everything must go to reinforce the concept, and characters become caricatures. When this style of writing is carried over the length of a feature film it can go from entertaining to obnoxious by about the ten or fifteen minute mark. But Annie, though irritatingly awkward and annoying at times (like Judy Grimes, Aunt Linda, Penelope, Gilly, or the Target Lady) is far more relatable than any of Wiig’s sketch or cameo characters. I’ll fully admit to going in skeptical about her ability to carry a feature-length film, but she did it, and well.
The banter between Annie and Lillian — and even between Annie and Helen — flows smoothly; the actresses find some great chemistry between themselves. And if McCarthy had performed like this last fall I might still be watching Mike & Molly. It’s not just the actresses, but the script by Wiig and Annie Mumolo that deserve credit, along with Paul Feig’s direction.
Together the whole group have managed to walk the line between raunchy and romantic comedy. They never quite get so girly that it gets sappy, nor do they get so gross that it insults the cast and audience alike. We get a funny, warm, character-driven movie with a late-night bite to it, and I really hope guys can get over themselves to go see it so we can get a lot more.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: pass.