Deflating That Big, Puffy White Gown
Published: May 12, 2011
“Bridesmaids,” an unexpectedly funny new comedy about women in love, if not of the Sapphic variety, goes where no typical chick flick does: the gutter. Well, more like the city street that Lillian, a soon-to-be wife played by a wonderful, warm Maya Rudolph, dashes into, dressed in the kind of foamy white gown that royal weddings and the bridal industrial complex are made of. Suddenly realizing in a salon that she’s been hit with food poisoning, she flees like a runaway bride, except that it isn’t a man who’s making her, uh, run, but the giddy, liberating humor of the writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo.
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THE 6TH FLOOR
That may sound disgusting, perfect for the reigning naughty boys of American screens, and it is, a little. Yet the worst is only implied, and given how most wedding pictures enforce the hoariest clichés about the sexes, the go-for-broke outlandishness of Lillian’s pratfall — nicely handled by the director Paul Feig, holding the shot as she sits in a deflated puff of white — is welcome. In most wedding movies an actress may have the starring part (though not always), but it’s only because her character’s function is to land a man rather than to be funny. Too many studio bosses seem to think that a woman’s place is in a Vera Wang.
There is a big dress here, of course, an aggressively foolish Gordian knot of silk and wit that slyly speaks to how women need (and want) to be packaged as brides, dolled up in satin and all but lost in a cloud of tulle and the appreciative din of family and friends. The movie doesn’t push hard in that direction — more than anything, Ms. Wiig and Ms. Mumolo want to make you giggle and snort — but they get at the layers of insanity in weddings as well as the joys. They ask the question facing every modern woman who jumps at the chance to enact the latter-day equivalent of being passed from man to man, father to husband, if without a bushel of dowry corn and 12 goats: How do you survive getting down the aisle?
With a little, or rather a lot, of help from your friends, or so say the filmmakers, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till misunderstanding, jealousy, other people or just life us do part. To that intimate end, Lillian, after announcing her engagement, asks Annie (Ms. Wiig) to be her maid of honor. Best friends since childhood, the two are still tight, but Lillian’s news throws Annie, who, after her cake shop has gone under, is struggling with her crummy job, junker car, weird roommates, everything. She isn’t with anyone, though the hot stuff played by Jon Hamm, playfully riffing on his persona as the thinking woman’s brute, figures into her life with humor and almost too-true pathos.
And so Annie screws up again and again, giving parties that fail and insults that don’t. Along with the other bridesmaids — an excellent Melissa McCarthy and the very fine Rose Byrne, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper — Lillian and Annie laugh, cry, hurl and board a plane to Vegas to test the bonds of friendship en route to a hangover of their own. There’s a guy on the side, too (Chris O’Dowd), but he’s so nice that cranky, complaining Annie almost doesn’t notice. A lanky-limbed blonde who evokes Meg Ryan stretched along Olive Oyl lines, Ms. Wiig keeps her features jumping and sometimes bunching. She’s a funny, pretty woman, but she’s also a comedian, and she’s wonderfully confident about playing not nice.
It would be easy to oversell “Bridesmaids,” though probably easier if also foolish to do the reverse. It isn’t a radical movie (even if Ms. McCarthy’s character comes close); it’s formally unadventurous; and there isn’t much to look at beyond all these female faces. Yet these are great faces, and the movie is smart about a lot of things, including the vital importance of female friendships. And it’s nice to see so many actresses taking up space while making fun of something besides other women. Perhaps the biggest, most pleasurable surprise is that “Bridesmaids” doesn’t treat Annie’s single status as a dire character flaw worthy of triage: she’s simply going through a rough patch and has to figure things out, as in real life.
Ms. Wiig, a longtime cast member of “Saturday Night Live,” and Ms. Mumolo, a veteran of the Los Angeles comedy troupe the Groundlings, know what female moviegoers want: honest laughs with, and not solely about, women. Contra Christopher Hitchens and his 2007 assertion in Vanity Fair that women are not funny, they offer irrefutable proof that along with producing and starring in a hit TV series (thank you, Tina Fey), women can go aggressive laugh to aggressive-and-absurd laugh with men. All they need, beyond talent and timing, a decent director and better lines, is a chance. It helps if the director has a clue, and if everyone involved sees women not just as bosoms with legs, but as bosoms with legs and brains.
“Bridesmaids” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Raucous jokes and salty language.