For Annie (Kristen Wiig), life is full of disappointments. As Bridesmaids begins, her beloved bakery business has gone under, leaving her so strapped for cash that she can’t fix the taillights on her clunker. She’s also forced to live with squirm-inducing roommates who have boundary issues (upon reading Annie’s diary, one proclaims, “I just thought it was a very sad handwritten book”). Neither is she thrilled to be having “adult sleepovers” with a toxic jerk (Jon Hamm), who tells her in the morning, “I really want you to leave.”
All this is bad enough. But when her best friend from childhood, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), announces she’s engaged, all Annie can see is what’s wrong with her own life. Though she agrees to be maid of honor with he best intentions, it’s not long before she’s sabotaging the events leading up to Lillian’s wedding, from the dress fitting to the bachelorette party to the shower. That’s not to say she’s sabotaging on purpose, exactly, but the accidents reveal that Annie’s now in freefall — a loss of self-control that’s at once agonizing, touching, and surprising.
Indeed, many scenes in Bridesmaids don’t end up where you think they will. Some are totally outrageous, as when the bridesmaids succumb to food poisoning in a chi-chi bridal shop, their coordinated vomiting recalling the legendary puke-a-thon in Team America: World Police. Fortunately, Paul Feig and company realize that a viewer doesn’t require a set of balls to appreciate a well-timed dry-heave or poop joke. Here, such gags go on long enough to become utterly awkward, encouraging viewers to be self-aware as well as tremendously entertained.
These gags also teeter on poignancy: after each crash-and-burn sequence, Annie believes she has finally reached her bottom, but she still has further to sink. Her sense of identity is vulnerable before the wedding preparations begin, and it’s undermined further by bouts of jealousy and possessiveness.
To the filmmakers’ credit, Annie’s fury isn’t aimed at the groom or Lillian’s impending happy ending, not really. (The movie makes a point of showing that the coupled-up aren’t necessarily blissful or even satisfied.) Instead, she finds other targets, some inadvertent and some self-presenting. She’s particularly shaken when she finds that her role as Lillian’s best friend may be at risk. When country-club princess Helen (Rose Byrne) begins using her wealth and influence to become the bride’s closest confidante, Annie loses her grip. It’s no wonder she attempts to take down Helen by aiming a few tennis balls at her perky boobs.
If Bridesmaids is an obvious effort to match up with producer Judd Apatow’s bawdy male-focused comedies, it will also be compared to any number of recent comedies featuring women. Wiig and Rudolph make a more successful pairing than fellow SNL-ers Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did in 2008’s Baby Mama. While the Sex and the City movies aim for the dirty laughs that Feig lands here, an obsession with luxury also makes it hard to see past the franchise’s caricatures. Bridesmaids critiques those film’s rampant excess and self-entitlement and draws characters who are believable in moments that are both subtle and over-the-top.
These moments typically feature people who looking out for Annie, including an adorable cop named Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd), prepared to give her second and third chances. Despite all the scatological mayhem, Bridesmaids has a mature streak, demonstrated when it resists the urge to resolve all of Annie’s problems in a quick montage before the closing credits. Her progress is incremental, and that makes her both hilarious and heartening.