Bridesmaids (United States, 2011)May 11, 2011
One of the positive qualities often attributed to movies in which Judd Apatow claims involvement (here, he's listed as a producer) is that, beneath all the raunchiness and profanity, lies a core of sweetness. It's the Tootsie Pop philosophy of R-rated comedies. Bridesmaids contains many of the common characteristics of Apatow movies, as filtered through the pens of screenwriters Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo and the directorial stewardship of Paul Feig. However, at the center lies not a pleasurable confection but the bitterest bile. Bridesmaids is bipolar filmmaking at its most disconcerting, with changes in tone so abrupt that they can cause whiplash. In part because of this and in part because the writing is often lazy and self-indulgent, the movie rarely works. The setup is ripe for a black comedy but the movie never fully embraces the darkness and the level of humor is on par with the limp skits for which Wiig is responsible on Saturday Night Live.
Comedies that cross the two-hour mark rarely work, and this is no exception. In this case, however, it's not a case of a film running out of comedic momentum, because Bridesmaids never has any to begin with. It's slow getting out of the gates and, once it has fallen behind, it does nothing to catch up beyond turning into a quasi-tragedy about a rather unpleasant protagonist with serious self-confidence problems. It's noteworthy that about 33% of the material to be found in the Bridesmaids trailer didn't make it into the final cut, which means the original vision of the production must have been a lot longer than 124 minutes.
As one might surmise from the title, Bridesmaids is about a wedding. Lilian (Maya Rudolph) has finally been asked the question by her boyfriend and now the time has arrived to begin planning the festivities. For her Maid of Honor, she chooses her oldest, dearest friend: Annie (Kristen Wiig), who's not in a romantic mood at the moment. Her boyfriend has broken up with her, her current bedmate (Jon Hamm) likes the "friends with benefits" relationship, and she can't see a future with the cop (Chris O'Dowd) who is besotted with her. Meanwhile, she has the rest of the bridal party to contend with. Since the Sex and the City crew was unavailable, Lilian chooses four others: the sainted Helen (Rose Byrne), who can do no wrong; the naïve Becca (Ellie Kemper), who is a newlywed; the uncouth and uncensored Megan (Melissa McCarthy); and the past-her-prime sexpot Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey). Despite being Maid of Honor, Annie finds that she has a rival when it comes to every nuance of her duties. Helen is a Type A personality with a lot of money and a need to turn everything into a competition. So the wedding becomes not about Lilian, but about who is her true best friend: Annie or Helen.
Bridesmaids, which may have been designed with the Sex and the City demographic in mind, is unable to commit to what it wants to be. There are comedic elements, but these are unfunny more often than not. On one occasion, the filmmakers appear inspired by the Mr. Creosote sketch from Monty Python's the Meaning of Life, but they don't take things far enough. So, instead of being so over-the-top disgusting that you can't help but laugh, it's merely gross. By trying not to be too offensive, the joke ends up not being too funny. Wiig's "humorous" contributions are obvious because they fail in pretty much the same way that her Saturday Night Live sketches fail.
There's a dramatic element in all of this but the filmmakers are too busy playing for laughs to venture far down that path. The same material could have been fodder for a really dark comedy; again, the director and screenwriter are unwilling to push the envelope. Bridesmaids could have been a lot of things. What it ends up being is an overlong, frequently tedious snapshot of a Best Maid who comes unglued as she tries to help her best friend to the altar.
After having watched Wiig in a number of movies, I am convinced she's a better-than-average dramatic actress and a below-average comedienne. On those occasions when the screenplay requires her to play things straight, she does a good job. When she's trying to be funny, however, she's annoying. Of her female co-stars, only Melissa McCarthy will have viewers taking note, and that's because she has the plum role of the woman who does all sorts of socially unacceptable things. Rose Byrne is dull, never developing Helen beyond a caricature. As a side note, this represents Jill Clayburgh's final screen appearance, so there's something unintentionally sad about her handful of scenes. Fortunately, her character is one of the few treated with a modicum of dignity.
The only hope for Team Apatow with Bridesmaids is that the Sex and the City crowd turns out in droves, because there's little in this movie for anyone else.
Bridesmaids (United States, 2011)
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Rose Byrne, Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O'Dowd, Ellie Kemper, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jon Hamm, Jill Clayburgh
Screenplay: Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo
Cinematography: Robert D. Yeoman
Music: Michael Andrews
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures