Monday, May 16, 2011

Bridesmaids of Frankenstein

Of all the movies released this summer, perhaps the one from which I knew the least of what to expect was Bridesmaids. Produced by Judd Apatow, Bridesmaids on the surface appears to differ from his usual brand of comedy. With a story focusing on women and marriage that would seem more at home in a traditional romantic setting, it's a huge leap from the usual guy-centered gross-out humor of Superbad and The 40-Year Old Virgin that we usually associate with the Apatow name. Director Paul Feig was another unknown, as his career to this point has been mostly in television, with episodes of The Office, Arrested Development and Nurse Jackie bearing his name. Tack on a cast of unproven talents, and Bridesmaids had every chance to be an underachieving Sex and the City knockoff, with less charm than the HBO show's best moments. Still, word of mouth and and humorous trailers paved the way for a my most anticipated May release, which reunited two former SNL cast-mates, current star Kristen Wiig and alumni Maya Rudolph as the maid of honor of her best friend, the bride.

Sketchy part of town? Perfect place for six white women
When her best friend is engaged to be married, Annie Walker (Wiig) is happy to accept the duties as maid of honor for her childhood friend Lillian (Rudolph). Having known each other since just about forever, Annie wants to be there for her best friend's big moment. However, Annie is going through a rough patch in her life; stuck in a dead-end job she hates, sharing an apartment with a weird British brother/sister combination, and in a loveless relationship with raging asshat Ted (Jon Hamm), the wedding (and all the celebratory events associated with it) is a scary change for someone who's near rock-bottom in their life, but one she's looking forward to. Things begin to spiral out of control, however, especially with the interference of bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne), who has it in her head that she's really Lillian's best friend and tries to take over the planning. Annie's low self-esteem due to all this threatens not only to ruin Lillian's wedding, but also their lifelong friendship in the process.

Shhhh... I'm trying to murder you with my heat vision...
The plot itself seems reliably mundane, which really lowers your guard to the laughs and amusement that accompany it. The gross humor you can expect in an Apatow production does make itself known, especially in a scene where the bridesmaids get food poisoning from a restaurant Annie chooses. But while that brand of scatalogical humor is expected in a film like this, it thankfully doesn't overpower the "other" funny bits that pop up throughout. Sure, the female anatomy jokes could be seen as a little uncomfortable and a lot of the dialogue can be vulgar, but the "vagina jokes" (as opposed to "dick jokes") feel authentic and foul language is also represented in a realistic fashion. It's all funny anyways, and you'll find something to laugh at no matter your gender, whether it be snickering at wry wit or howling at the raw physical humor..

Wiig re-negotiating her SNL contract
That level of funny is in part thanks to the stars and especially Wiig, who co-wrote the screenplay and provides many of the film's best-acted scenes. An every-woman, Annie has to show several sides, from the loving side around Lillian and general snarkiness to her wounded vulnerabilities and rock-bottom depression. Bridesmaids represents Wiig's best on-screen performance, and it does so partially because she doesn't try to play one of her usual eccentric-yet-entertaining personas. Annie's charm is in her likeness to the everyday single woman, and she comes off as honest and sympathetic to any viewers. Rudolph plays well off of Wiig's energies, and the two come off believably as best friends. Rudolph, who is a better actress than most people give credit, flows between the wedding jubilation and nervousness flawlessly. Byrne completes the Big Three with a great performance as the underhanded Helen, especially rewarding as the character doesn't play like a typical catty housewife. Despite being lauded as the film's "villain", Helen is no such thing, and the complexity of the character does so much to let the film go forward. Byrne has had a string of luck with roles this year, as she'll be aiming to be in her third major 2011 film when X-Men First Class comes out later this summer.

No, I didn't eat your Ring Pop; why do you ask?
It's a shame the secondary characters don't get quite as much love as the main trio of stars. Reno 911's Wendy McLendon-Covey and The Office's Ellie Kemper play other bridesmaids but despite getting some quality dialogue and depth, nothing is really done with them. I wouldn't think it was so bad if they hadn't started to go down some interesting roads with these two parts, only to fizzle out about halfway through. The guys of the film also don't get much attention, though that is done intentionally and in a positive way that focuses on the women's characters. Though the roles of Hamm as Annie's dickhead lover and Chris O'Dowd as her speculative beau are relatively small, both put on good shows with what they have. O'Dowd is an underrated performer who may garner more attention from this film, but I'm especially impressed with Hamm, who continually chooses varying roles to increase his range as an actor. Who knows how long Mad Men will remain on television, and it's obvious that he's getting ready to make it on his own. Jill Clayburgh is another underutilized actress, as I thought her role as Annie's mom also had potential but didn't do much overall. The best of the secondary characters however is played by Melissa McCarthy. McCarthy plays Megan, sister of the groom and the most hilarious of the bridesmaids, and brings with her the best and raunchiest dialogue and laughs. She also shows herself to be remarkably sensitive, and in this way her character doesn't overpower the film, as she is never overused to the point of boredom.

If not Fab Four... Significant Six? Doesn't quite feel the same...
I was a little annoyed that several scenes presented in the trailer never made their way into the movie's finished product, a sin every major film commits to some degree but one that in this case left me mercifully unprepared for the jokes when they hit. Bridesmaids manages to feel like it left a lot out while still coming in at over two hours, but for not one moment during the runtime was I bored or unamused while sitting in the theater. A truly wonderful film about friendship that takes a more blue-collar approach to the same ideas put forth by SatC, Bridesmaids places at #5 for 2011. I really, really, REALLY liked this film, and while some might be surprised that I'd even be interested in seeing it, I would recommend it to any choosing to abstain from the big-budget visual porn that comes to theaters this summer, but don't want the rampant stupidity of the Something Borrowed set.

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