Strange year at the movies thus far. It seems that every film I look forward to, every movie made by an actual filmmaker like Zack Snyder or Kevin MacDonald or David Gordon Green or Kenneth Branagh, spits in my face and stomps on my soul. Meanwhile, random genre flicks seem to be picking up the pieces, and have at least made the build-up to summer somewhat bearable.
This week’s random catch is “Bridesmaids,” which could have slid under the radar as yet another in a long line of worthless “chick flicks” (most of them starring Katherine Heigl or Kate Hudson), but instead succeeds as a consistently funny, dialogue-driven character study that, in some respects, gives similar male-centric movies like “Wedding Crashers” and “The Hangover” a run for their money. It’s not exactly a revolutionary film, but at this point I’ll gladly settle for “slightly out of the ordinary.”
I’ll be vacationing in Disneyland next week, but I’ll still prepare a look at “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” which unfortunately has not been garnering the most favorable early reviews. All I’m expecting is a good, dumb time, and if Rob Marshall and company can’t even deliver that with a $300 million budget, then I’m at a loss for words.
In some ways, “Bridesmaids” is a breath of fresh air for audiences who tire of the same old “chick flick” formula. Styling itself after the gross-out/heartwarming comedies of filmmakers like Judd Apatow and Todd Phillips, the movie attempts to tackle female subjects with the crudeness and irreverence typically reserved for the boys. The result is a raunch-fest that wears its heart on its sleeve, and if you’re keeping track by counting laughs per minute, “Bridesmaids” easily stands up to the best gross-out comedies of the past few years.
But is this gender-bending approach enough to carry the film past the two-hour mark? The answer is, almost but not quite. Yes, their is a certain novelty in watching a group of women behave like the bad boys — particularly since “Bridesmaids” gladly takes the lewdness well past the superficial sexual promiscuity of other “girls gone bad” works like “Sex and the City.” This is fairly hardcore raunch, and for a while the female leads seem right at home.
But after some time, the concept starts to wear a little thin. Events and exchanges become overtly predictable, right down to the elaborate food-poisoning gag and the girls-only singalong that caps the film. By the end, it becomes clear that “Bridesmaids” is not an attempt at genre reinvention or even subversion, but rather just the same old formula, simply repackaged in a different way.
Still, the differences are often notable. Key to the movie’s success is the decision to center on a single female character rather than allowing the story to bloat with unnecessary supporting players and a focus on group interaction. That is the kind of sloppy ensemble piece I was expecting, but instead the story mainly follows Annie (Kristen Wiig), a singleton in her late-30s who is approaching a slow-burn midlife crisis. She’s in a quasi-relationship with a casually cruel cad who has no intention of ever treating her as anything but a piece of meat. She hates her dead-end job, and is still recuperating from the loss of her small business months ago. To top it off, her lifelong best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) has become engaged to a wealthy businessman, and with this new lifestyle comes a bevy of new friends.
Annie begins to feel excluded and unworthy of Lillian’s friendship, and this anxiety becomes the source of much of the film’s humor as Annie struggles to one-up Lillian’s new, richer BFFs. This cringe-inducing social humor is blended with anarchic gross-out comedy, and the marriage often works, as in the aforementioned sequence where a passive-aggressive fight over the best bridesmaid dress descends into an orgy of vomit and feces as the girls succumb to a collective case of food poisoning. (Predictable? Yes. Hilarious? Also yes.)
Helping its case, “Bridesmaids” features three comedic performances of uncommon depth and realism. In a supporting role as Megan, the sister of the groom, Melissa McCarthy (best known from TV’s “The Gilmore Girls” and “Samantha Who?”) brings a rare, organic style of comedy to a character that would otherwise function as the random “fat friend.” Likewise, Chris O’Dowd (“Pirate Radio”) is natural and gently hilarious as a state trooper with the hots for Annie. But it’s Kristen Wiig — with her effortless charm and massive comic energy and willingness to degrade herself in the most delightful ways — that truly makes the movie worth watching. Regardless of how “Bridesmaids” ultimately fares at the box office, this is one brassy babe with a bright future ahead of her.
Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.