The people who made "Bridesmaids," the first movie starring "Saturday Night Live" fave Kristen Wiig, would like you to know that, despite that title, it is not "The Hangover" for chicks. It's about something, well, deeper – like relationships.
But "The Hangover," the sequel of which is almost upon us, was about relationships, too – relationships groaning with gross-out antics. And, whether it's by design (cynical me) or serendipity, "Bridesmaids" also has its share of slobbola moments. These moments may help make it the top dating movie of the season. Couples can bond while going "Eeeeuuww!"
As is true of most of the movies from the Judd Apatow mill, I wanted to laugh at "Bridesmaids" more often than I found myself actually laughing. In part, this is because his films are an odd combination of formulaic and formless. I often have the feeling I'm watching a rough cut – scenes go on for too long, ideas are undeveloped, or overdeveloped, and even the good stuff gets milked.
But it's also true that his films, which include "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," have an appealing emotional nakedness (to go with the other kind of nakedness). Also, despite the plethora of men behaving badly, the women in these films are rarely denigrated. They're generally smarter and a lot more grown-up than the men – or man-boys.
All this is by way of explaining that "Bridesmaids," directed by "Freaks and Geeks" cocreator Paul Feig and co-written by Wiig and Annie Mumolo, is not quite the gender-bender that some people were expecting, nor is it simply a guy comedy in drag. In the Apatovian realm, women have always been more than decoration.
They are also fully capable of acting as idiotic as the men, which represents a kind of equality. In "Bridesmaids," Wiig plays Annie, an obsessive malcontent from Milwaukee whose pastry business folded; she now works as a sales clerk at a jewelry store where she covertly dispenses doomy advice to couples shopping for wedding rings. The only man in her life (Jon Hamm) is a smooth operator who uses her for quick sex. For reasons that go beyond masochism, she shares an apartment with a fantastically slovenly and annoying British girl and her brother.
When Lillian (Maya Rudolph), Annie's best friend, announces that she is getting married and wants her to be maid of honor, Annie's life goes into hyperdrive. Along with Lillian and her four other bridesmaids, Annie dives into a whirlwind of fittings, lunches, weekend jaunts, and bridal showers. A chief rival emerges: the picture-perfect perfectionist Helen (Rose Byrne), the super-rich wife of the groom's boss, who tries to replace Annie as Lillian's best friend.
One's tolerance for all this will largely depend on one's tolerance for Wiig. At this stage, I don't see her as being much more than a sketch comic working a larger canvas. This has often been the case, at least in the beginnings of their movie careers, with most of the "SNL" players. (Just as often, as with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy, and many others, they develop into genuine actors.)
Wiig has terrific audience rapport, a prerequisite for comics, and a squiggly way of seeming totally reasonable and altogether daft at the same time. Still, despite her billing as the Next Big Thing, she goes for the easy and the obvious laugh about as often as Lucille Ball did.
Wiig is surrounded by actresses ranging from the big and brassy – like Melissa McCarthy, playing a no-nonsense bridesmaid, who has some of the film's best lines and knows how to deliver them – to Rudolph, whose reticence is a balm amid all the yelling and whooping. (The late Jill Clayburgh, in her last film appearance, shows up in a cameo as Annie's mother.)
As Rhodes, a bashful, Irish-accented cop who dotes on Annie, Chris O'Dowd also helps keep things on an even keel. Rhodes and Annie share a nice moment pointing a radar gun at speedsters and figuring out whom to go after.
Is "Bridesmaids" much more than "Sex and the City" with a higher quotient of upchuck? I'm not so sure. It's certainly not a "breakthrough" comedy, unless the breakthrough is that women will flock to slobby, heartfelt romps starring Kristin Wiig instead of Seth Rogen. It's progress, sort of. Grade: B- (Rated R for some strong sexuality, and language throughout.)