Movies: Bridesmaids review

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Bridesmaids opens with a (literal) bang — a slapstick sex scene between (actress, co-producer, co-writer) Kristen Wiig’s soon-to-be named maid-of-honor, Annie, and her “friends-with-benefits” Jon Hamm. (He addresses her by the cruder R-rated version of “FB” in a later moment that epitomizes the “bottom,” Annie’s mother, the late Jill Clayburgh in her last role, suggests she might have to hit before her life gets any better.)

As the title suggests, this is a movie largely by, about, and for women (written by Wiig and Annie Mumolo) — but it is also, in every respect, a Judd Apatow Movie (he produces), for better and for worse. The only thing missing is Paul Rudd. For better, Apatow knows when to splurge on expensive music to set a scene (in this case, Blondie); he earns his R ratings and his comedies are far funnier for it (suck it Baby Mama); and he likes to showcase funny women (he constantly casts wife Leslie Mann, and Kristen Wiig is very much in her mould). For worse, his movies are always too long by at least a half an hour (e.g., the Vegas sequence in Knocked Up); there are too many side characters to keep up with; and he allows his productions to rely too heavily on improvisation. Yes, he casts very funny people — even if comedy isn’t what they’re best known for (it might be difficult to buy Jon Hamm as Don Draper after this) — but that’s no substitute for screenwriting.

That said, Bridesmaids is funny. Very funny. It might not be quite as hilarious as the audience guffaws suggested at the advance screening we attended (where everyone apparently smuggled in alcohol), but there was a high ratio of genuine, laugh-out-loud moments.

Kristen Wiig (as evidenced in Knocked Up) has a consistent gift for underplaying a scene, and Maya Rudolph (as Lillian) has to be one of the few comedic actresses who could get away with firing her best friend as Maid of Honor (better-dealing Wiig with newer, richer friend Rose Byrne, as arch-rival, Helen) and still seeming likable.

The plot is an old one: Rudolph’s character Lillian gets engaged, and her best friend Annie gets lost in the shuffle of planning both a wedding and a new life. But the movie takes a silly premise and (much like 40 Year Old Virgin) manages to make it a little bit sweet and touching, while at the same time, vulgar and hilarious.

Annie is at a crossroads. She has a failed business under her belt (a bakery); a pair of grotesque siblings as roommates (see also: too many peripheral characters); the aforementioned booty-caller Jon Hamm who clearly does not like her, or any woman (he’s advised her to get dental work); a beater car that doesn’t even have cupholders; and a job in retail selling jewelry to people who have already found love. This character appears in every Judd Apatow movie. It’s just usually played by Seth Rogen. In a theoretical hat-tip to woman-power, this time it’s played by just an “ordinary” and “average”-looking funny girl, Kristen Wiig (instead of Katherine Heigl).

Lil is at a crossroads too. She’s marrying into the corporate world her fiance already lives in, complete with new corporate wife friends. (Her fiance is fortunately unattractive, so Annie — and the audience — won’t feel any sincere jealousy.) The two have lived on parallel tracks since childhood, and now those paths are deeply diverging. The wedding plot is just the skeleton this coming-of-age story between best friends is built around. As a meditation on friendship and growing up, it has just as much in common with Stand by Me (there’s class warfare! there’s vomit!) as it does The Hangover.

There is a subsidiary romance plot  (Annie and a cop meet-cute and have to work against her low expectations), but refreshingly, it isn’t the point of the movie. We know he’s a Nice Guy, because he loved her bakery and tells her, “just because you didn’t make any money at it doesn’t mean you failed at it.”

Along the way, some sketches work: the cupholder turns out to be a funny touch, and the “swag” Helen provides at the bridal luncheon leads to truly inspired sight gags. Annie’s history as a baker is appropriately mined for food porn scenes reminiscent of Keri Russell’s pie-baking in The Waitress and Meryl Streep’s croissant-crafting in It’s Complicated. Other sketches start off strong but limp long past the point where they should be shot and put out of their misery — an endless toast-off between Annie and Helen is initially funny, but is three times as long as it should be. The sequence on the plane — literally — goes nowhere.

And then… there’s the much-discussed wedding planning scene in the Brazilian restaurant, followed by the fitting in the white-on-white bridal shop. Now, anyone who’s ever had food poisoning, obviously realizes it’s a comedy goldmine. But this is where the movie abandons Judd Apatow territory and goes straight for the Farrelly Brothers. It starts out crazy funny, but goes so far beyond too far, even Dumb and Dumber fans might be uncomfortable.

This audience will know exactly where the movie’s going to end up, just like sports fans will always know what’s going to happen in Hoosiers. Formulas are formulas for a reason. They work. The wedding is the big finish it needs to be, complete with 80s music, and Annie gets her moment of riding off into the sunset.  Her life with her best friend, as she knows it, is over, but she’s at least paid a little attention to Lil’s early advice, “Make room for somebody who’s nice to you.”

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