'Bridesmaids' Delivers Loads of Raucous, Affective Fun

Directed by: Paul Feig, Runtime: 123 minutes
Grade: A-

Let's be honest here: comedy, as a genre, has been wading in a semi-stagnant pool for a while now, where we're lucky to see even one true belly-laugher a year -- and a swath of mediocrity or, even worse, downright stinkers cluttered around it. Bridesmaids appears as if it could be of the latter breed, another tepid dip-in-the-pond of clichéd femme focuses (sure, whatever, a "chick flick") that simply doesn't have a clue about raunchiness or genuine wit, appearing as if it'll remain safe and secure while it cheekily tinkers with the ins-and-outs of prepping a bride for her big day. While 2011 has output the expected stream of ho-hum comedies, Paul Feig's crude, unsafe, yet sincere chronicle of pre-wedding shenanigans -- penned by SNL vet Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo -- easily breaks away from the pack by surprising with its ability to embrace the boundaries of the film it somewhat purports itself to be, and then, knowingly, pushes the envelope with versatile, often side-splitting takes on what's expected.

Though Wiig has popped up recently in Whip It and Adventureland, to fine successes, Bridesmaids marks her first leading performance, and she's found the right one to start with in Annie. A broke, cynical chef who's recently closed her Milwaukee bakery, losing her boyfriend in the process, she now works in a jewelry store, sleeps with a handsome but asinine man-child (Jon Hamm) looking for a no-strings sex-buddy, and avoids her odd British brother-sister roommates. Annie's sad-sap state makes for a near-perfect character in which Wiig can flaunt her ill-at-ease style, uncomfortable in her unerring self-created awkwardness. She's a sad character, almost aggressively so, which might rub some the wrong way because of how resolutely she keeps herself at arm's length from contentment. Yet there's something relatable about her self-deprecation, especially once her childhood friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) asks her to be the maid-of-honor at her wedding -- and to do the planning and organizing that comes with the territory.

Naturally, Annie meets an eclectic group of Lillian's friends and soon-to-be family who will fill out the rest of the wedding court: a sex-minded mom (Wendi McLendon-Covey, Reno 911) with a ton of kids and a biting attitude; a virginal mouse of a newlywed (Ellie Kempler, The Office); bullish sparkplug Meghan (Melissa McCarthy, Gilmore Girls), the government-employed sister to the groom; and Helen (Rose Byrne, Get Him to the Greek), a well-to-do housewife trying to strong-arm her way into Annie's spot as maid-of-honor. Feig realizes that these are all types, and he lets them run loose with their quirky mannerisms, but he doesn't go too outlandish to make them feel like far-removed caricatures. That's also part of the fingerprint that producer Judd Apatow imparts, who worked similar magic in The 40 Year Old Virgin and, alongside Feig, in Freaks and Geeks, crafting genuine characters that serve distinct purposes -- sure, a little one-dimensionally -- without feeling too phony. And from a set of graduates from the Grounlings comedy troupe to faces from SNL and The Office, they're in capable hands.

Annie's rattled by the duties and the feeling that her friend's slipping away, not to mention her own monetary and relationship woes, which zigzags along the significant events in Bridesmaids that hallmark most pre-wedding lead-ups. Sure, if you want to boil it down to the least-common denominator, Feig's picture can essentially be labeled a female iteration of The Hangover, where the ritual of strippers, alcohol, and wild partying in the groom's rite of passage are replaced with luncheons, dress-fittings, and bridal showers. But this isn't a frilly affair, nor is it simply a fantastical lampoon on idealized planning. Compliments of Wiig and Mumolo's sharply-written script, Lillian's path down the aisle turns into a stylized elevated-reality daze of misfortune, often due to her best-friend trying to cling onto what she finds familiar by her own means. But it's got something else behind its gags: when it hits over-the-top notes that play to the dreamed-up fantasies of weddings and the gleeful pre-events, it also double-backs to Annie's shambled life, lending genuineness to the missteps she makes.

No matter how someone feels about Annie's clueless desperation, the humor delivers in droves and doesn't merely play up the gross-out gags and exaggerated lunacy of wedding events just so the girls can have the same brand of comedic fun that the boys have. Sure, there's plenty of obvious, crude slapstick and physical humor -- sharing some DNA with Apatow's comedies -- and it gets over-the-top uproarious; there's a scene in a bridal boutique that mixes food poisoning and flatulence with the haughty glitz of expensive garments, as well as a booze-and-pill-driven stretch involving Annie, dejected and poor, stumbling all over the first-class compartment of a commercial plane. But there's also delightfully uncomfortable, well-telegraphed deadpan humor as well, from an overextended back-and-forth wedding speech to watching a sick-and-sweaty Annie forced to eat a sugar-coated almond, and they're exquisitely timed to the right excruciating length. Some might claim that these scenes go on too long, but I feel they're all bravely extended as they deliberately revel in discomfiture.

Maybe it's because the humor's supported by a heartfelt backbone that it's both effective and affective, extending beyond its gags into this clever, modest portrait of a woman in a growing stage that just so happens to be hysterically funny. Annie's shown at her most desperate -- sleeping with a slimeball, losing her penniless and destitute battle with the rich-and-beautiful Helen, and slowly but unsuccessfully building a relationship with an affable cop, Rhodes (Chris O'Dowd), who's got a thing for carrots -- and her state informs the hoopla that Wiig and Mumolo have written, always with some underlying purpose that ties back to the lowly baker trying to maintain a stranglehold on her old life. Bridesmaids might be out to prove that the girls are capable of playing just as dirty as the guys, as perverse as out-there as the crudity of bromance, and it evens that playing field. But it's also as interested in expressive composure while doing so, and the comedic minds at-work here have delivered one of the year's best comedies by balancing its jocular outlandishness with an eye for the stuff that other "chick flicks" squander.

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