Thus far this century, women have been given a raw deal when it comes to comedic films. Gone are the hilarious comediennes of the Mae West / Lucille Ball stamp, being replaced by boorish fellas in gag inducing misadventures, mostly at the expense of their female counterparts. In cinema, comedy has been male dominated for decades and any time a female lands a comedic role, it’s usually in some sappy rom com or an overly sweet made for Lifetime picture. Women are rarely allowed to be cringe inducing, maybe due to societal paradigms, lack of taste for it by audiences or both. Luckily for most of us, that limitation has finally been shattered in what just may be the funniest comedy of the year, Bridesmaids, a hilarious, honest and, yes, fairly gross film that cements lead and co-writer Kristen Wiig as a genuine comedic film star.
In Bridesmaids, Wiig plays Annie, long time friend and maid of honor to bride to be Lillian, played by Maya Rudolph. Immediately you can tell that these former Saturday Night Live cast mates have a natural chemistry and the result is an instantly believable friendship. They talk frankly about the male anatomy, discuss sexual partners and it becomes obvious from the get go that this isn’t going to be your standard sweet female comedy. The language is raw, unrelenting and usually gut bustlingly funny. While Rudolph plays the part of a bride on the cusp of moving from the middle class to high society rather well, Wiig is the star of the show. In the role, Wiig displays uncanny comedic timing and is easily relatable as an emotionally disconnected bridesmaid, mining comedic gold from the depths of pain and longing. Just as her best friend seems to be on the rise, marrying rich and meeting fabulous new friends, life is falling apart all around Annie. Her bakery has failed, her boyfriend has left and she’s relegated to sleeping with a Porsche driving douche who glibly states he really wants her to leave right after making love. The character’s comedy is rooted in real drama and while her decent is borderline melodramatic, Wiig plays it straight, making the moments when she drunkenly makes a scene on a plane or gets the entire bridal party sick with food poisoning not only hilarious but emotionally resonating. A tough balancing act to be sure, but one Wiig pulls off brilliantly.
Of course, this isn’t a solo effort and the rest of the bridal party, while shoehorned into strict archetypes, makes the freefall of Annie even more fun for the viewer. The main antagonist of the film is Helen (Rose Byrne), Lillian’s newest friend from the upper crust who does everything she can to make Lillian’s wedding over the top and magical, much to the chagrin of Annie. This immediate clash of wills and status provides the catalyst for the rest of the film and while Byrne plays the part almost too structured, the dichotomy between the snooty Helen and the grassroots Annie makes for some exceedingly entertaining rifts. The rest of the bridal party rounds out nicely featuring Wendi McLendon-Covey of Reno 911 fame as Rita, an ex-partier mother of three, Ellie Kemper as the almost virginal newlywed and Melissa McCarthy as the rough-necked wild card. While the entire cast is perfectly suited for their roles and pulls them off wonderfully, it’s McCarthy who deserves extra recognition. Stealing every scene she’s in, McCarthy is a joy to watch rampage in and around the many situations the bridesmaids find themselves in. Crass, raw and unabashedly rude, McCarthy not only pulls off the sight gags but much of the final denouement, a tricky feat to be sure but one that she knocked out of the park. High marks also has to given to Chris O’Dowd as the Wiig’s eventual love interest, Rhodes. Being the only male in an all girls party can be a tricky pitch to hit but O’Dowd plays it perfectly, injecting the right mix of Irish charm, patience and good guy sweetness into the role. In a word, Bridesmaids is the best cast movie I’ve seen thus far this year and I doubt another comedy will be able to beat it.
But none of this fine comedic acting would be worth it without some fine material from Wiig and co writer Annie Mumolo and some smart directing by Paul Feig. I’d be interested to find out what percentage of the movie was off the cuff, as it really feels like these women are naturally conversing much of the time but my guess would be a careful mixture of improv and an actual script. Feig does a great job in allowing these ladies to not only be very funny but be very real within their characters. More of a female buddy comedy than anything else, Feig tows the line between gross out humor and real pathos, creating a film that is satisfying on all fronts. This is not a “stupid comedy” by any stretch and one that gives the viewer a chance to laugh and feel in equal measure.
At the outset of this review, I spoke about the paradigm of females being relegated to either objects of male desire or the butt of their jokes. With a blend of fine acting, hilarious comedy and moments so crude you’ll be shocked that they actually agreed to do it, Bridesmaids not only smashes through that barrier, it redefines what it means to be a female fronted comedy. While I hesitate to say this is a landmark film, this is certainly the first step towards comedic equality in filmmaking. Easily the funniest movie you’ll see this year and on par with the equally side splitting The Hangover, Bridesmaids is comedy gold from beginning to end and establishes Kristen Wiig as a brilliant writer and comedic actress. Although the more conservative critics may tisk tisk about his film being too gross, to crass and too “unladylike”, it’s exactly that close-minded nature that Bridesmaid attempts and succeeds at breaking down. Women can be just as crude, silly and irreverent as the boys and in this critic’s opinion, it’s about damn time.
Score – 90%