The takeaway from Bridesmaids shouldn’t be “Look! Women can be raunchy too! Equality!” If Bridesmaids simply featured a bunch of women engaging in gross-out humor, it would be a tiresome, soulless exercise just as gross-out humor between guys is a chore if you don’t care about the guys. What makes Bridesmaids work isn’t just that some sophomoric gags are expertly timed and executed. Bridesmaids comes alive because of rich characters and tremendous performances, particularly from co-writer and star Kristen Wiig and co-star Melissa McCarthy. While the film does begin to drag its main character a little too low in the third act and there are some pacing problems in its romantic subplot, Bridesmaids is ultimately heartfelt, witty, and damn funny.
Annie’s (Kristen Wiig) life is a mess and not in a cute, oh-she’s-so-overworked, rom-com kind of way. She’s a talented pastry chef, but her business went under in the recession, she’s pretty much broke, she’s the booty-call of a handsome grade-A douchebag (Jon Hamm), and she lives with two awful roommates (Rebel Wilson and Matt Lucas). When her lifelong friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) asks Annie to be her maid of honor, Annie leaps at the chance, but soon finds herself in competition with Lillian’s new, wealthy, little-miss-perfect friend Helen (Rose Byrne). As the wedding inches closer, Annie keeps trying to maintain control of the bridal party but finds that her decisions keep screwing everything up and she’s being undermined by Helen at every turn.
Don’t be put off if that description sounds more like a drama than a comedy. While the film gets a little too heavy in the third act, Bridesmaids keeps the laughs coming and it’s humor that both genders can enjoy. What’s fantastic about the movie isn’t just that it recognizes chick-flick clichés and breaks away from them in a bold, outlandish manner. It’s that the alternative it provides is actually hilarious. There’s one scene where Annie and Helen are giving competing speeches about how much they love Lillian and it’s the kind of joke that you would never see in your typical chick flick but you probably wouldn’t see it in a dick flick either. There’s an escalation and timing to the back-and-forth that’s playful rather than abrasive but still manages to be hilariously awkward. There’s a major gross-out gag in Bridesmaids, but the scenes that I keep coming back to are the ones where Wiig just shows off her uncanny comic talent and warmth.
There’s a dearth of quality roles for women and as a result some actresses have taken to just writing themselves awesome parts. Wiig has been a strong supporting comic presence in films for years now, but the Bridesmaids script she co-wrote with Annie Mumolo provides the actress with not only wonderful comic scenes, but also with dramatic work she rarely been allowed to showcase before. One of my favorite scenes in Bridesmaids isn’t comic. It’s a point in the film where Annie is feeling depressed and decides to create a single cupcake. It’s not only a pointed critique of the typical chick-flick trope where the female protagonist eats junk food when she’s sad. It’s a moment where we see that Annie isn’t just some constant screw-up. She’s an artist and she can create beautiful things, but because her dream was crushed, she feels like she can’t go back to it in earnest.
If the film is a success at the box office (and it certainly deserves to be), expect Bridesmaids to boost not only Wiig’s career, but that of her co-star Melissa McCarthy. While the entire cast is terrific, McCarthy is the scene-stealer as Megan, a bridesmaid and sister of the groom. Rather than just give her fat jokes or let her carry the grossout humor, Bridesmaids let the character be a bastion of self-confidence, crude dialogue, and outlandish ideas that perfectly bounces off Annie’s self-doubt and the restrained, subtle humor of Wiig. With the wrong actress, Megan could have simply been a clownish, unbelievable character who goes for cheap laughs, but McCarthy understands how Megan relates to the rest of the cast and not only what makes the character funny, but worth caring about. It’s an essential comprehension because of a vital scene between Megan and Annie that takes place in the third act.
Despite the wonderful scene between Megan and Annie, the third act is also where Bridesmaids encounters most of its problems. Like most Judd Apatow-produced comedies, the film comes in at around two hours and while this allows for plenty of laughs and character development, a fatigue begins to set in and it’s exacerbated by how low Annie is brought down. Most three-act films tend to throw their main character down an emotional well at the close of the second act so that the protagonist can confront their problems, triumph over adversity, and make everything right. However, Bridesmaids throws Annie down a well that’s so deep you start wondering if it’s a bottomless pit. The story is unrelenting in how much it’s willing to crap on its main character and while Annie deserves some of the blame for her problems, there’s a balance to keeping the film light while bringing the main character low. Bridesmaids loses that balance and our cheers for Annie’s success start becoming desperate pleas. The film also has some difficulty maintaining the romantic arc between Annie and a local cop (Chris O’Dowd). There’s wonderful chemistry between the two characters, but the pacing of the relationship is awkward. Their conflict comes too soon and their attempts as resolution feel forced and uncomfortable.
Despite these issues, Bridesmaids is a wonderful comedy that deserves better recognition than “The Hangover with chicks” or some other ill-fitting description. It’s an original story that takes aim at some clichés but never gets bogged down in having to prove itself as a particular kind of comedy. It knows what pitfalls to avoid and sidesteps them with not only grace but raucous humor. Bridesmaids isn’t a parody or an imitation. It’s simply one of the funniest films you’ll see all year.