For several years now, the Romantic Comedy has been very little of either. More times than not, the concept of humor is awash in blatant stupidity and a disregard for the audience’s intelligence, while the emotion has been forced, formulaic, and founded on the notion of the latest industry “It” boy/girl and how marketable he or she is. Character is carved out of the dying remnants of the French farce while love is limited to the meet-cute, the inevitable trite breakup, and a last minute lunge for a meaningful monogamy. In essence, the genre is almost dead, if not already buried beneath a ton of critical (and commercial) disgust. Perhaps this is why the clever Kristin Wiig vehicle Bridesmaids feels so fresh and invigorating. Not only does it remember what a RomCom is all about, but it excels at both ends of the cinematic category…and then some.
When we first meet Wiig’s Annie, she is having her usual “no strings attached” fling with smarmy hunk Ted (John Hamm). While it always does a number of her sexual self-esteem, she really needs the release. Her recent bakery business venture has gone bankrupt and she finds herself alone, broke, and sharing a small apartment with an oddball British brother and sister duo (Matt Lucas and Rebel Wilson). Her mom (Jill Clayburgh) would love to have her come home, but Annie is too ‘proud’ for that. So when lifelong friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged, it’s up to our dire lead to put her problems aside and be the best Maid of Honor she can. Of course, this will be difficult, since catty country club wife Helen (Rose Byrne) also believes she is Lillian’s best-est buddy, and has the manipulative means to make the wedding into the event of the century…right out from under Annie.
Thus we have the set-up for a raucous grrrl power comedy where gender is subverted for the sake of a laugh. Or is it? Indeed, one of the great things about Bridesmaids is that it layers its ‘chick flick for dicks’ ideal with enough solid sentiment to calm even the most raging all Apatow ape. This is The Hangover without the nonstop drive to musky Dudeville, a wonderful ensemble feast where the female point of view is constantly countered by the universality of the human experience. Annie is a mess, lost and lonely and looking to regroup. In Lillian and her event she sees a chance for redemption. All that stands in her way is confidence, and a cocky reed-thin society statue who believes she is better than everyone else. Even with a collective of concrete family friend archetypes along (harried housewife Wendi McLendon-Covey, naive newlywed Ellie Kemper, frisky fireplug Melissa McCarthy) for the ride, this is a battle between the haughty haves and the heartbreaking have-nots.
By setting up this dichotomy, Wiig (who co-wrote the screenplay with Annie Mumolo) gives her character both an internal and external struggle. While taking on Helen and her ‘1000 doves’ sense of design, she is trying to figure out just who she is. In addition, it is clear that Annie knows a lot more about Lillian than her last minute best buddy, yet is without the means to make her vision real. Within this easy to identify with clash of personalities, director Paul Feig stages a collection of quality comedy set-pieces, moments that audiences will take back to their nu-water color world of Facebook and Twitter.
The first sees Annie and Helen square off over matching engagement party speeches, another sees our heroine hopped up on Scotch and sedatives while on a flight to Sin City. Perhaps the most memorable occurs when the ladies discover they’ve been food poisoned while inside a classy, exclusive (and all white) boutique. The resulting dysentery sets new heights for low brow laughs. Such a shift between compassion and the crotch should set off a kind of aesthetic whiplash, but Bridesmaids goes down smoothly. It knows which beats work and hits them with tremendous timing and talent.
There is more here than mere gross out gagging. What it means to be a friend, how history often is trumped by immediacy and a bigger bank account, ground this movie in a recognizable set of obstacles. To make matters even more complicated, Annie can’t decide where she wants to go, interpersonally. When she is stopped by a cop (a wonderful Chris O’Dowd) who takes a shine to her shy self-pity, she immediately is suspicious. Yet the f*ck buddy moments with Hamm are equally unsettled, since he doesn’t mind using her every so often, just as long as the “means nothing” message is loud and crystal clear. Within such a quandary we find ourselves desperate to help our Annie, to guide her in the right direction while making sure that her obvious pain won’t be amplified.
And thus we have the rarity within the distressed and almost DOA genre. When was the last time you actually felt for one of those two dimensional (if you’re lucky) ditzes that seem to hold a high profile career but can’t keep a thought in their screenplay by scrapbooking head? When did you last care if a female lead ended up with the good guy and not some sparkly supernatural stud? Because it has been diminished and dumbed down to the point of preposterousness, the Romantic Comedy often plays like a prank, our lady waiting to be “punked” by a narrative that requires her to drop all dignity and grace for the sake of a sloppy Hallmark helping of ‘happiness.’ At least in this case, Wiig reminds us that women can be complex, incomplete, and authentically hurt as well.
When you add in the sensational supporting cast (Byrne and the rest of the wedding party are perfect) and Feig’s desire to let things play out organically and in their own time, the almost two hour Bridesmaids just breezes by. In fact, it argues for more: more wonderful moments between Annie and Lillian; more crackerjack crudeness from McCarthy’s gonzo government employee; more brogue-laced empathy from O’Dowd’s understanding officer; and more spite filled comeuppance for prissy people with bloated bottom lines who don’t know their place. It’s rare when a film – let alone, an almost always ridiculous RomCom – gets us rooting for the characters outside of the hook-up. Bridesmaids boasts the kind of wit that works on either sex. It’s the more personal moments that truly linger.