Movie review in the Friday the 13th Oregonian....
In an age of increasingly bland, formulaic rom-coms that seem to star the same three actresses, "Bridesmaids" is almost a revelation.
"Bridesmaids" is a semi-romantic comedy, produced by Judd Apatow and directed by Paul Feig, in which an ensemble of women get to play characters as full-bodied, hard-R raunchy and screwed-up as the men in, say, Apatow's "Knocked Up" and "The 40 Year Old Virgin." At no point does "Bridesmaids" star Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson or Katherine Heigl. At no point does any character have a fantasy publishing career in New York. At no point is any character punished for focusing on her career instead of dithering about boys.
Of course, none of the above matters if the movie isn't funny. And while it's uneven in a couple of key areas, "Bridesmaids" is frequently very funny -- playing like an entire film populated by the Wacky Best Friends in other, lesser comedies.
This includes the lead character, Annie (Kristen Wiig, who also co-wrote). Annie made the mistake of starting a gourmet bakery with her boyfriend in Milwaukee, Wisconsin during the recession. It failed. She lost the boyfriend. Now she works as a jewelry-store clerk, shares an apartment with two creepily infantile British siblings, frets about money, and has meaningless sex with a self-involved jackass (Jon Hamm).
Annie's sole emotional support is her easygoing best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph). And when Lillian announces that she's engaged and names Annie as her maid of honor -- forcing Annie to worry about Lillian's well-being instead of whining about her own -- the sudden loss of her support system sends Annie on a downward spiral. The tailspin is accelerated by Lillian's new friend and fellow bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne), a gorgeous upper-middle-class stepmom who serially undermines Annie to gain control of the wedding and Lillian's affections.
An Irish cop (Chris O'Dowd) provides Annie some emotional relief. The remaining bridesmaids -- a "stone-cold pack of weirdoes" that includes a cynical housewife (Wendi McLendon-Covey), a Disney-obsessed newlywed (Ellie Kemper), and the sex-and-violence-obsessed sister of the groom (Melissa McCarthy) -- provide us with comic relief.
As you may have gathered from the last few paragraphs, "Bridesmaids" follows the lead of other Apatow productions and finds much of its comedy in pain, horrifying awkwardness and the difficult work that goes into building and maintaining relationships. If you liked this in "Knocked Up," you'll probably like it here. Feig (who created "Freaks and Geeks" with Apatow) takes standard wedding rituals -- the bridal shower, the bachelorette party, the dress-fitting -- and lets each of them fly off the rails during long, digressive, occasionally disgusting set pieces in which he's clearly given his cast plenty of room to improvise. His cast rises to the challenge, especially McCarthy, who tears into her wild-woman role like a police K-9 gnawing a fugitive's arm. (She's a mini-revelation all her own, given that her previous work includes far-less-unhinged turns in "Gilmore Girls" and "Mike & Molly.")
If I have beefs with this often-laugh-out-loud movie, they're mostly minor, and they're mostly the same beefs I have with Apatow's best work. Like "40-Year-Old Virgin," "Bridesmaids" doesn't quite seem to know how to end. Like "Knocked Up" and some of Apatow's collaborations with director Adam McKay, "Bridesmaids" feels just slightly overlong. I also wish I could have seen more of Wiig and Rudolph's hugely likeable, laid-back buddy relationship at the beginning of the movie. More crucially, I wish Wiig spent the entire movie giving the same performance.
In her best moments, Wiig is vulnerable and natural and sad and even angry in a way I hadn't quite seen from her before. She finds laughs while tapping into a human, wounded place, and it's a thrilling departure from her "SNL" stylings. But during some of the comic set pieces -- especially during a heavily medicated airplane ride and an engagement-party toast in which Annie and Helen try and one-up each other -- Wiig seems to lapse into her clipped-voice sketch-comedy mode. Don't get me wrong: It made me laugh (especially when Annie gets some embarrassingly false courage from a bad mix of pills and Scotch), but it also made me feel a little like I was watching Wiig in two slightly different movies.
(125 min., rated R) Grade: B
'Bridesmaids' (The Oregonian, Friday, May 13, 2011)