by Mel Valentin
If there's one genre that can be described as immutable, it's the romantic comedy. Any novelty associated with the genre depends on superficial, insignificant changes (i.e., swapping out actors, settings, etc.), not on substantive ones that challenge the basic assumptions of said genre. It's rare then that a film marketed as a romantic comedy upends or subverts those genre conventions. Look no further that the Judd Apatow-produced, Paul Feig-directed, Kirsten Wiig-starring "Bridesmaids" for a strong example of the latter. By turns raunchy, vulgar, gross, and unsurprisingly given the Apatow connection, heartfelt, genuine, and perceptive, "Bridesmaids" stands head-and-shoulders (and thighs and buttocks) over the myriad other romantic comedies already released or pending release this year.Bridesmaids centers on Annie Walker (Kristen Wiig), a thirty something Midwesterner facing a semi-bleak future. The promise of upward social mobility, of personal and professional fulfillment have disappeared, maybe permanently, with the recession that wiped out her savings, her business (a bakery), and contributed to the end of a romantic relationship, Annie shares an apartment with a pair of eccentric British siblings, Brynn (Rebel Wilson) and Gil (Matt Lucas), works at a jewelry store to (barely) make ends meet, and sleeps with the vapid, egotistical Ted, a Jon Hamm lookalike (because heís, in fact, played by Mr. Mad Men himself). Their sexual acrobatics are less about her or even mutual pleasure than stroking and satisfying his oversized ego. Tedís "no sleepover" rule ensures that their relationship never evolves or develops into anything approaching emotional attachment. There's an element of self-abasement in Annieís relationship with Ted (she certainly knows itís a dead end), but she canít bring herself to just quit Ted once and for all. An encounter with an earnest police officer, Rhodes (Chris O'Dowd), offers the promise of real romance, but Annieís too tied up in her own misery to notice.
"Not "The Hangover" with chichs. Better. Much better."
Annieís biggest fear, that her strained financial circumstances will result in the dreaded move back home with her mother (the late Jill Clayburgh), a move that, contrary to her mother's helpful attempts, will be nothing short of emotionally devastating, a recognition that Annieís failed, an utter and complete failure personally and professionally, something no adult would want to confront or accept (as many have in the real world mid-recession). Annieís wallow in self-pity and self-recrimination gets put on hold, if only temporarily, when her childhood best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), excitedly announces sheís engaged to her longtime boyfriend and wants Annie to take on maid of honor duties.
Unprepared for the duties and obligations that come with being the maid of honor, including, but not limited to, arranging the bachelorette party, Annie stumbles early and often, highlighted by her increasingly futile attempt to get along with Lillianís newest friend (and rival for Annieís place as Lillianís best friend), Helen (Rose Byrne), as wealthy and all-around together as Annie is poor and an all-around mess. Megan (Melissa McCarthy), Becca (Ellie Kemper), and Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey) round out the bridesmaids of the title.
While the TV ads and trailer try to sell Bridesmaids to moviegoers on the basis of the raunch, vulgarity, and gross-out gags contained therein, even going as far as drawing comparisons between Bridesmaids and The Hangover, Bridesmaids is about more than just women behaving badly. Feig, working from a screenplay Wiig co-wrote with Annie Mumolo, navigates through the shoals of adult female with impressive dexterity, capturing petty jealousies, their conflicting desires, fierce competitiveness over social standing and friendships, and, given Apatow's involvement as producer (Feig and Apatow worked together on Freaks and Geeks a decade ago), a tendency to speak their (raw, filthy) minds whenever the men in their lives arenít around (assuming there are any), the better to keep moviegoers laughing regularly while Feig and Apatow slip several hard truths about the disappointments and compromises typical of adulthood into the mix."Bridesmaids" wouldnít succeed, however, without a talented cast capable of handling the demands of Wiig and Mumoloís screenplay, from broad near-caricature to the more grounded, naturalistic performances. With Wiigís name attached to the script, itís easy to think of "Bridesmaids" as a vanity project for her. "Bridesmaids" was certainly written to accommodate Wiigís strengths, her goofy, self-deprecating charm and a comic timing honed as a regular cast member of "Saturday Night Live" for several years, but "Bridesmaids" also asks Wiig to handle, possibly for the first time on screen, a fine-grained character arc, an arc that requires subtlety and nuance from Wiig, not mugging or excess. Byrne, not exactly known for her comic chops, acquits herself surprisingly well as Annieís rival for Lillianís affection, as does the rest of the cast, making "Bridesmaids" the first must-see comedy of the still young year.
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originally posted: 05/13/11 03:46:52