Friday, July 01, 2011

Do you want a bite of my big bear sandwich? It's got meat and cheeses.

The marketing campaign for Bridesmaids successfully positioned it as "the female Hangover." While both are raunchy ensemble comedies revolving around wedding festivities, this is a misleading comparison. The humor of The Hangover was completely situational, stemming entirely from the "What happened last night?" premise. While Bridesmaids also has more than its share of sight gags, physical comedy and random humor, the laughs in Paul Feig's movie are much more character-driven. It works as well as it does because screenwriters Kristen Wiig (also the star, of course) and Annie Rummalo and director Paul Feig understand that, for all its broader jokes (which are very funny), the biggest and deepest laughs come from our sympathy/identification with struggling maid of honor Annie (Wiig) as she slowly unravels. Aided by a strong ensemble cast, Bridesmaids is the best comedy of discomfort in recent memory.

We're introduced to Annie as she's having awkward sex with boneheaded stud (Jon Hamm) with whom she's stuck in an unfulfilling "friends with benefits" relationship. Annie's boyfriend recently left her after the cake shop they ran together went out of business, and she's stuck in a rut. When her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) asks her to be her maid of honor, she is quickly overwhelmed by the job and increasingly upstaged by Lillian's wealthy new friend Helen (Rose Byrne). Watching Annie unravel over the course of planning the wedding leads to several raunchy setpieces, most famously the collective bout of explosive food poisoning the bridal party suffers while trying on dresses. But what distinguishes Bridesmaids are scenes like the one where Annie and Helen repeatedly one-up each other in giving the most heartfelt toast at the engagement party. Feig smartly allows moments like these to breathe, running past frustration into disbelief at the escalation of all-too-relatable embarrassing behavior. At its best, Bridesmaids recalls early Albert Brooks in its precise observation of people behaving poorly.

At the center of it is Wiig's performance - she's been one of the best things about SNL for years (along with Bill Hader), and she's given strong supporting performances in Walk Hard, Adventureland and several dozen other movies. As Annie, Wiig reveals that she's not just funny but also a solid actress, finding laughs in each scene while also convincingly playing the emotional truth behind the joke. When Annie watches Cast Away, sobbing as Wilson drifts out to sea, we laugh because most of us know how that moment feels (maybe not specifically Cast Away, but that's beside the point). Bridesmaids is funnier because we can relate to Annie and want to see her dig herself out of her hole. And Wiig also kills in the movie's broader moments - when a food poisoning-stricken Annie eats an almond to demonstrate that she feels fine, the blend of repulsion, nausea and denial on her face is priceless. The best comedians can be hilarious without ever saying a word, and Wiig is quickly becoming one of the best.

Some critics have argued that the film's raunchiness is actually sexist; as Karina Longworth put it, "Comedy of humiliation is one thing; a fat lady shitting in a sink is another." To this, I say baloney. It's Feig's willingness to allow the female characters to make complete asses of themselves that makes Bridesmaids far less sexist than the many romantic comedies that pander to self-perpetuating assumptions about what women want. Besides, it's the men that are completely marginalized in Bridesmaids; I smiled when I noticed Tim Heidecker as the groom, but I'm not sure he had a single line of dialogue in the entire movie. The men who do make an impression are Hamm (I love his super-serious delivery of the line "Cup my balls") and Chris O'Dowd as a kind cop who may be the perfect guy for Annie because he's willing to tell her the truth. That said, it's Wiig, Rudolph and the stable of bridesmaids who own this movie, the standout being Melissa McCarthy as the tough, stocky, perpetually horny Megan. When Megan, giving Annie a pep talk, explains that her tough exterior came from a lifetime of bullying, the scene both earns its pathos and makes a later scene involving Megan and some Subway sploshing even more hilarious. Bridesmaids walks a fine line between empathy and belly laughs, and does so beautifully; unlike a lot of "chick flicks," it earns its late-in-the-movie sing-along.