Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bridesmaids Movie Review

Bridesmaids tries desperately to be the female answer to the glut of bromance comedies in recent years that have generated laughs through scatological humor and over-the-top situational comedy. Just so you know it’s in the same vein, Bridesmaids is even produced by Judd Apatow, the father of the bromance comedy. Where this sub-genre trades in male stereotypes of masculinity and fear of commitment, Bridesmaids goes just as far with equivalent female stereotypes: backstabbing; jealousy; in-fighting; insecurity. Perhaps it’s my male perspective, but I just didn’t find this to be fertile ground for great comedy.

Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph play Annie and Lillian, the very bestest of childhood friends. Annie is the more unstable of the two. She has a habit of returning to the bed of a chauvinist lout (an un-credited Jon Hamm) in spite of his throwing her out of his apartment early in the morning and referring to her by a not particularly charming nickname that I shan’t repeat here. She drives a decrepit old car and works miserably in a jewelry shop since her cake shop went out of business. Lillian, however, is getting married. Unlike the male-centric films of this genre, her partner doesn’t figure significantly in the story – neither as a perfect match she has to learn to feel comfortable with nor as the horrendous man her friends need to rescue her from.

The story involves preparations for the bridal shower and wedding. Lillian chooses Annie as her maid of honor, but she faces some competition from Lillian’s other close friend, the prettier, wealthier, all-around more perfect Helen (Rose Byrne). She also meets the other bridesmaids including the non-descript Rita and Becca and the crass and boorish Megan (Melissa McCarthy, in a performance that can only be described as the female version of Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover, but without the same sense of dim-witted unawareness that made him so memorable). She is the kind of stock character who is the placeholder for funny. We’re meant to laugh at everything she says by virtue of the fact that she’s not too bright and the physical comedy is supposed to tickle us given her rotund body. Fat and stupid are not de facto amusing.

The problem is that the screenplay by Wiig and her old Groundlings colleague Annie Mumolo hardly contains a single development not drawn directly from a screenwriter’s handbook: here’s the part that sets up the conflict; here’s the catastrophe; and another; now the part where the two friends have a falling out; etc. This is a script that gives Annie a potential love interest in a milquetoast cop (Chris O’Dowd) with a cute Irish brogue and then sets up a conflict between them because someone told Wiig and Mumolo that that’s what happens in a Hollywood film romance.

There are some chuckle-worthy moments, particularly in the rivalry established between Annie and Helen. Nothing spells uncomfortable comedy like two people jealously competing for the affection of one person, neither wanting to be upstaged by the other, except in this case they’re not vying for a romantic interest but for the title of Maid of Honor and really for the self-affirmation that comes with successfully showing the bride a good time. The best bit that comes from this is the succession of speeches given by Annie and Helen at the engagement party, each wanting to have the last word and generate the most heartfelt BFF moment. In general, however, a lot of the comedy bits fall flat or go on too long because director Paul Feig doesn’t quite know when to call cut as when Annie trashes the bridal shower in the manner of an unruly child. Just when you think the physical destruction and discomfiting atmosphere is about to end, Annie proceeds to bury her mouth into an oversized cookie. It’s perhaps the least funny way to close out a scene that was already stretching very far for laughs to begin with.

The most redeeming feature of Bridesmaids is the presence of Jill Clayburgh (in her final screen role) as Annie’s mom, a woman who attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for the social value and spiritual guidance despite never having had a drink and tries to apply what she learns to her daughter’s life: “Hitting rock bottom is great because you have nowhere to go but up.” Her performance is a little breath of fresh air into an otherwise stale comedy.

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