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Bridesmaids

The thing about rom-coms and chick flicks is that they’re all the same. They have the same jokes, they have the same narrative and in several cases, they even have the same cast. These films are entirely predictable, and that’s become the point. This way, women get some nice and easy cinematic comfort food while studios make money hand over fist for virtually no effort or money spent. Yet every once in a blue moon, out of all these soulless cash-ins, there comes a film like Bridesmaids.

At first glance, the premise seems simple enough. Lillian (Maya Rudolph) just got engaged and she’s asked her best friends to stand next to her at the altar. Raunchiness and hilarity ensue until the day of the wedding, yet the film isn’t really about the bride so much as it’s about the bridesmaids. This has understandably led to the film’s label as “The Hangover for women” (and I’m sure Universal didn’t mind the comparison with the highest-grossing comedy of 2009 and its sequel coming out in two weeks), yet this pitch doesn’t really give the full story. See, unlike The Hangover, which was focused equally on three guys, Bridesmaids is focused squarely on one woman.

Kristen Wiig plays Annie Walker, the maid of honor (she also co-wrote and co-produced. Strangely, neither Tina Fey nor Lorne Michaels are anywhere in the credits). Annie was previously in charge of a bakery until the recession sent her business belly-up. Ever since, she’s been stuck rooming with a couple of British siblings who may or may not be mentally retarded. Last but not least, she’s sleeping with a superficial pig played by Jon Hamm (!) who won’t take the relationship past sex no matter how badly Annie wants him to.

Annie is in a very difficult spot at the time of this film’s opening, so she naturally responds to the news of Lillian’s wedding with mixed emotions. She’s upset to be stuck in a rut while her childhood friend is getting married, but she also wears the “maid of honor” title like a crown, she’s so happy about it. Then along comes Helen.

Rose Byrne plays Helen, the trophy wife of Lillian’s fiancee’s boss. She’s young, beautiful, rich, perfect and strangely determined to assert herself as a close friend of the bride. Naturally, Annie feels compelled to show dominance, trying to take charge of the wedding plans and prove herself as the worthier maid of honor. Really, “Annie makes an idiot out of herself in a jealous rage” could be a fair nutshell description of the movie, though there’s actually a lot more going on under the surface. I’ll get back to that in a minute, but let’s meet the rest of the main cast first.

Casting Maya Rudolph as the bride was such a brilliant stroke that the role had to have been written with her in mind. The premise would have fallen totally flat if the audience couldn’t believe the lifelong friendship between Annie and Lillian, so casting the two roles with long-time colleagues made selling the relationship that much easier. In another smart move, their scenes together are written and acted out in a very accessible manner. When they laugh at each other and laugh at themselves, we’re laughing with them, which makes the characters sympathetic and makes their scenes together funny.

Melissa McCarthy (seen here) appears as the groom’s sister, which is really just begging for comparisons with Zach Galifianakis. Indeed, Megan is the primary source of this movie’s low-brow humor, an unending font of libido and physical comedy. The difference is that unlike Alan Garner, Megan seems acutely aware of the fact that she’s a freak. She just doesn’t care. She openly admits to some of the emotional baggage that she’s had to overcome, doing so in one of the movie’s funniest, most heartfelt and thematically important scenes.

Last and least are Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and Becca (Ellie Kemper). Rita is a woman who’s visibly and audibly sick of being married. Her entire schtick is that the sex has gone stale and her three sons are long past the point of patience. Becca is on the polar opposite end, a newlywed so chipper and religiously orthodox that I don’t know if she’s to be pitied or envied. Both of these characters are portrayed with the jokes and the comedic talent to be funny, and their interplay is really quite good. Unfortunately, they’re never developed past the initial gimmicks and their arcs are left going nowhere. Then again, this is Annie’s story, and sacrificing the screen time of two peripheral characters in a cast of this size for the sake of the primary arc is definitely a fair trade.

Really, it’s Kristen Wiig that makes this movie work and there are so many reasons why. To start with, just look at her. Clearly, this woman is not the Hollywood standard. That’s not to say she’s unattractive — far from it — but a twenty-something size-zero supermodel she ain’t. Most movies would at least try to make her look young and gorgeous, but this one is smart enough to make no such effort. The entire film is driven forward by Annie’s actions and everything that she does is out of her jealousies, insecurities, self-loathing and pride. This is the kind of character who’s so much more believable and relatable when portrayed by someone like Wiig instead of some perfect little ingenue (*hem hem*).

By the same token, take a look at who plays her love interest. No, that is not Jon Hamm and no, the link is not broken. That’s Chris O’Dowd, who plays a cop that strikes up a relationship with Annie. Again, the guy isn’t exactly Justin Timberlake, but he isn’t bad-looking, either. As for his character, Rhodes may not be the wittiest guy in the world, but he’s still sweet and he sees something in our protagonist. The two were clearly made for each other, so of course Annie ruins whatever it is they have. It isn’t even for any reason at all, save that Annie has absolutely zero self-esteem and she has a habit of ruining whatever good thing comes her way.

Last of all, here is a picture of Rose Byrne, a very under-rated talent who last appeared in Insidious and will shortly be appearing again in X-Men: First Class. This woman and her character are the Hollywood standard. She’d have to be, or Annie’s overwhelming jealousy wouldn’t be understandable or tolerable. Byrne, for her part, does a very good job of playing this vapid, spoiled, manipulative and totally empty character, while also making Helen just pathetic enough for believability’s sake.

The film openly professes the moral that we make our own lives and we’re only as miserable as we want to be, yet time and again, everything in this movie comes back to the idea that nobody’s perfect. Annie goes through the whole film suffering for the sake of her ego, only to learn that she doesn’t have to be envious of someone who just happens to be richer and more gorgeous than she is. Somehow, Wiig and company managed to make a high-profile Hollywood film that covertly bashes the superficiality powering celebrity culture. Yes, I realize that this particular message may hit a little harder with the target female demographic, especially since it’s being delivered with such sincerity by a woman known more for her intelligence and humor than for her beauty. However, I personally feel that casting a male love interest who doesn’t look or act like he stepped out of some woman’s sexual fantasy is a tacit acknowledgment that guys have self-image problems too. Thus, the point is put across in a way that’s subtle and will appeal to both sexes. Brilliant.

Ah, but there’s also the humor. I’ve already mentioned that the humor can get extremely low-brow, yet the crassest of the movie’s humor is usually confined to Megan’s antics. Even when the entire cast gets a severe bout of food poisoning, it’s Megan who suffers most and suffers loudest. There are exceptions, however, such as Annie’s scenes with Jon Hamm’s character (you’ll just have to trust me when I say that Hamm faking orgasms with Wiig is a lot funnier than it sounds). Otherwise, the humor is mostly character-based, such as the various scenes of girl talk and the violent game of tennis between Annie and Helen. Annie of course gets most of the comedy, proving once and for all that people making total asses of themselves is always funny whether the subject is a man or a woman. That Wiig has absolutely zero shame (SNL cast members must have it surgically removed) helps a lot.

Though Bridesmaids can be very funny, I’m not recommending the film for its humor. I’m recommending the film for its heart. The characters are all cast perfectly and with the minor exceptions of Rita and Becca, they’re all lovingly crafted. More importantly, the central themes of this movie are presented in a way that transcends the “chick flick” genre title, deeply earnest but never overbearing. Any dime-a-dozen cash-in romantic comedy can say that we’re all special snowflakes and nobody has to look like supermodels, but this one really means it.

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