'Bridesmaids': Girls Gone Funny
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
"Show me your 'love is eternal' face," a pushy boss demands of Annie (Kristen Wiig), a once ambitious and creative bakery-store entrepreneur, now stuck behind a counter at a cheesy, romantic-jewelry joint. Contorting her jaw line and nose and screwing up her eyes, as Wiig often does with many of the socially maladroit characters she concocts for "Saturday Night Live," the resultant expression ... lacks, as they say.
After the failure of her business ("Leave it to me to open a cake shop in a recession," she shrugs resignedly early on), the implosion of a serious relationship, that relationship's replacement -- a hookup arrangement with a hunky, hilariously crass lout (Jon Hamm of "Mad Men") and a particularly grotesque roommates-from-hell situation (don't ask; it's in fact the weakest component in the film), Annie can't much get it up for anything, let alone "love is eternal." Then her childhood best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces her engagement and picks Annie for her maid of honor, and the switch is on, at least for a little while.
"Bridesmaids," co-written by Wiig and Annie Mumolo, proposes, in part, to do for girl-bonding comedies what the likes of "Wedding Crashers" and "Superbad" did for guy-bonding comedies, and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up" did for rom-coms. That is, kick those genres in the metaphorical 'nads, add some realism and realness, and sprinkle an awful lot of never-even-gonna-come-near-a-PG-13-rating humor on top. For the most part, "Bridesmaids" (which was coproduced by Judd Apatow, whose name also figures in the credits of three out of the four above mentioned older films) accomplishes this mission with admirable smarts and briskness.
Once Annie tries to get her maid-of-honor mojo working, she encounters a pretty formidable obstacle in Helen (Rose Byrne), a rich, new friend of Lillian's, whose very proper attitude and expensive tastes in gowns and showers fly in the face of Annie's directness, modesty and budget. The other maids are not unfamiliar types, all kicked up a few notches in the vulgar-jokes department: fed-up, ostensibly hot-to-trot housewife/mom Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey, of TV's "Reno 911!"), who explicitly demands a bachelorette party that will wind her up in jail; virginal naïf Becca (Ellie Kemper of TV's "The Office"), and very hefty wild card (as advertised, and in more ways than one) Megan (Melissa McCarthy of TV's "Mike and Molly" and "The Gilmore Girls"), a character for whom fat jokes are merely the appetizer for the gross-out weirdness. Annie's self-medication for fear-of-flying interferes with a Vegas jaunt, setting the stage for things going from bad to worse; Wiig's character rather resembles Bill Murray's cab-driving, perpetual screw-up in the classic "Stripes," only Annie can't use the Army as an escape. While she does meet a pretty good man (Chris O'Dowd), she, of course, can't see that, and by the film's climax she's alienated just about everybody except for her mom (the late Jill Clayburgh, in her last film role), and a rather unlikely self-help guru in the form of a previously introduced character.
I won't spoil the inevitable uplift here. It goes pretty much as expected, but it does seem earned, in part because the writing is so sharp. As it's Wiig who has to carry most of the picture, viewers who aren't in tune with her particular brand of awkward-annoyance humor won't have as good a time as viewers who relish it, but there is something for everyone here, including gross-out material in the form of an elaborate food-poisoning-strikes-at-a-gown-fitting scene. This proves, among other things, Wiig and company's good taste in even these matters, as it vaguely references "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life," just as some of Wiig's character's inappropriate airplane antics hark back to "Fawlty Towers."
In most Apatow-associated movies, there's a certain incongruity between the raw and real character stuff and the over-the-top comic set pieces, an incongruity that "Superbad" director Greg Mottola did the most convincing work of smoothing out. "Bridesmaids" director Paul Feig, a creator of "Freaks and Geeks" and a veteran of "The Office," doesn't prove quite as adept at that here; a pretty tart observation of how roundly the status-conscious Helen is despised by her stepchildren is followed up by a goofy tennis montage and a punch line that undercuts said observation. And then there's the aforementioned unlikely-character-to-the-emotional-rescue gambit near the end. But conventions are conventions, they're not too egregiously played here, and in the end, "Bridesmaids" gets to the church on time, still funny and with an amusing bit of '90s music-video nostalgia thrown in for good measure.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.