Friday, May 13, 2011

'Bridesmaids,' one of the best comedies in years

Bridesmaids, the newest release from comedy juggernaut Apatow Productions, has been alternately described and marketed as The Hangover with girls, a chick flick guys can enjoy and a long-awaited raunchy comedy for women. It might be all of these things, but the reason Bridesmaids is a great comedy isn’t its ties to comic conventions, but its confidence to be itself.

Annie (Kristen Wiig, who also co-wrote the screenplay with fellow Groundling Annie Mumolo) is falling behind in life. Her dream cake business went under, she lives with a pair of annoying (but hilarious) roommates, she works in a jewelry store where she can’t seem to stop dropping reality bombs on happy couples, and she’s under a mountain of debt. When her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged, Annie sees it as an opportunity to celebrate something good in her life, but when she meets Lillian’s pushy, super-rich new friend Helen (Rose Byrne), planning the perfect bride experience for her best friend becomes a power struggle.

As Helen steadily gains influence over Lillian, Annie searches for a way to overcome, looking to fellow bridesmaids Megan (Melissa McCarthy), Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and Becca (Ellie Kemper) for help, spending more time with her caricature painting mother (the late Jill Clayburgh) and befriending a good-natured Irish highway patrolman (Chris O’Dowd).

What starts as an unambiguous rivalry comedy pitting Annie against Helen evolves into a kind of soul search picture that feels neither pretentious nor posed. Annie becomes less concerned about overcoming her fellow bridesmaid and more concerned about what’s happening to her and how she can fix it. It’s a welcome dose of true heart to a genre of films often missing an emotional core.

It’s a challenge to present such a touch-feely concept in a comedy setting anyway, but Bridesmaids makes it work. Director Paul Feig (a veteran of TV shows like The Office and Freaks and Geeks, both of which walk a similar line) masterfully balances relentless, often raunchy jokes with moments of genuine humanity. This comedy could have been all about an over-produced wedding or a bachelorette party gone horribly wrong. The fact that it isn’t, but it still manages to be funnier and better than any movie of that kind made in the last decade, makes it all the more charming.

It seems to be a universal truth that Kristen Wiig is funny, but Bridesmaids proves she’s a star. She carries the film, both as actress and writer, and manages to maintain a glowingly beautiful sense of being both a real woman and a really funny woman throughout, even in her character’s moments of absolute despair. Her supporting cast is each equally wonderful in their way, and made even more wonderful by their diversity. The stand-out, though, is McCarthy, who steals every scene she’s in (which won’t surprise any viewers of Gilmore Girls, where she regularly upstaged Lauren Graham).

All these ingredients (well, these and a cameo by a certain 80s pop group that will go unnamed for fear or spoiling it for you) add up to a comedy that’s rare in a world of mass-produced raunch. Unlike so many of the comedy films that have rolled out of the Hollywood machine in the past decade (many of them quite good in their own right), Bridesmaids takes the high road. It manages to pack in a truckload of dirty jokes and various and sundry gags - all of them well-placed and most of them gut-bustingly funny - while still giving a sense that it’s populated with real people, real problems and real love. It manages to fit perfectly into the comedy scene while standing distinctly outside of it in a new, maybe better, category. Bridesmaids is a rare gem, a comedy that made all the right moves and kept its heart in the right place.

1 comment:

  1. Had no idea it was Judd Apatow... maybe I'll actually watch it.