There’s a lot of hubbub about Bridesmaids this summer. The comedy romp, written by SNL star and comedienne Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, is being touted as a major victory for female writers and comics after Universal Pictures boldly dropped it in the summer movie season. Dropping just two weeks before Warner Bros. cash cow The Hangover Part II, Bridesmaids hasn’t broken any box office records – but it has held strong through its first month in release and made itself a good chunk of change from both female and male viewers.
Despite what the pundits want you to believe, the chromosomal difference between the writers of The Hangover and the writers of Bridesmaids doesn’t do much to separate the two films. This film, directed by accomplished sitcom director Paul Feig (Arrested Development, The Office), closely follows the same trappings that most modern comedies of the last decade have already exploited. There are scenes you’ve seen before – like an attempt to enlighten a friend ending in a trashed party or a surprise musical number as the film rolls to a conclusion – and characters we’ve seen before – like a sex-starved housewife or a blushing, naive newlywed – spread throughout the film. Most of the laughs in these scenes do work, and I can only thing of a couple of major misfires in Wiig & Mumolo’s script, but I was still left feeling that the film wasn’t exactly the groundbreaking comedy others have claimed it is. In all fairness to the women involved, a change in gender usually doesn’t make the same jokes any funnier than they already were.
The surprising difference between Bridesmaids and films like the Hangover flicks is how likable some of its characters are. Wiig stars as the troubled maid of honor who wants to do everything she can for her soon-to-be-wed friend (Maya Rudolph, another SNL alum), and the character is the catalyst of nearly all of the film’s chaotic comedy. But Wiig also took the time to give her character a bit of backstory and an engaging romantic sideplot – involving an over-the-top Jon Hamm of Mad Men and a charismatic Chris O’Dowd – and the scenes involving her issues provide some well needed relief inbetween the poop and sex jokes we get for much of the film. There’s an interesting balance to the script, which seems to teeter between The Hangover and other Judd Apatow productions like The 40-Year-Old Virgin. I was certainly left feeling that most of the good feelings I had about the film centered on Wiig, who continues to present unease with ease and seems to be branching out as a comedic force after strong supporting roles in comedies (Paul, Semi-Pro) and dramas (Adventureland, Whip It).
Around Wiig, the film’s dramatic center involves Rudolph as Lillian, the bride, and Wiig’s character’s newfound rival Helen, a bridesmaid from Lillian’s new life played by Rose Byrne. Byrne has been all over Hollywood screens this year, co-starring in Insidious and X-Men First Class, and she continues her trend of never smiling on screen as the rich and manipulative foil to Wiig’s Annie. This character could have become a full-fledged villain very easily, but the script allows Byrne to play a more realistic character that is acting against our lead simply because it is in her nature. This is another way that the film’s script lifts Bridesmaids above many male-centered comedies of our era.
The film’s biggest stumbling points come when it gets too caught up in the physical comedy aspects of the script. A case of food poisoning that spills into a dress fitting room takes the film over the top with puking and diarhhea gags, but the highlight of the sequence is an uncomfortably pale and sweaty Wiig trying to convince Byrne’s character that she’s not feeling the after effects of a meal gone wrong. The other bridesmaids also provide primarily juvenile laughs, as subplots involving Wendy McClendon-Covey’s housewife and Ellie Kemper’s newlywed do nothing for the film. Melissa McCarthy steals some scenes as the film’s “Galifianakis”, but her character also seems to hold back the more serious side of the plot at times, particularly when the film turns an upbeat final sequence into a gross-out gag regarding her weight and sexual appetite.
I know I’m supposed to be loving these gags about sex and bodily functions – I am, after all, a male viewer – but that wasn’t what kept me interested in Bridesmaids. There’s a great bit of storytelling involved in Wiig’s character and her relationships with others, and it bugged me when the film shelved this in favor of gross humor. The film balances these two tones pretty well, and I’m still left feeling like Bridesmaids is the rare Hollywood comedy I would recommend to most, but I do feel some of the promise of the story was wasted so the film could seem more like The Hangover.
A real win for female writers and comedians would have been a film that is able to showcase their talents while not leaning on the aggressive stupidty that has gotten their male counterparts ahead in the business. Bridesmaids shows that Wiig, Mumolo, and Feig are willing to avoid these shortcuts at times and can prevent a successful and feminine comedic character study, I only wish it had done so more thoroughly. Yet I still give Bridesmaids a recommendation based on Wiig’s shining star and the incredibly human side of its story, and I hope all you ladies out there can find a way to convince your male friends that this, not The Hangover Part 2, is the comedy to see early this summer.