Sunday, May 22, 2011

670 - Bridesmaids review

“Bridesmaids” almost does it. The newest comedy produced by Judd Apatow, the creative force famously behind sick-but-sweet sex comedies such as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” “Bridesmaids” is entirely about women, that lovely gender many comedies pigeonhole as insufferable wenches, carnal objects, or neglect entirely. Here, they’re front and center, the engine of a deliriously vulgar kind of chick flick, one that succeeds at the laughs even as it ultimately falls short as film about people.

The last major example of a woman-driven gross out comedy might have been 2002’s “The Sweetest Thing,” which saw then-freshly minted A-lister Cameron Diaz pursue love via road trip. Others might think of “Sex and the City,” which relentlessly tried to pervert the romantic and sexual attitudes of an entire generation of women. Where “Bridesmaids,” flawed as it is, does treat the friendship of women seriously, “Sex and the City” largely realized it as bourgeois fantasy, something wholly obsessive about material rewards yet not existent outside of a fawning audience’s imagination.

In “Bridesmaids,” or at least the first half, we can recognize these ladies from life, at least until the plot demands action and they become more functions of the plot than people. Kristen Wiig stars as Annie, the down-on-her-luck heroine. She’s broke, living with two repulsive roommates, and her love life consists of dalliances with a wealthy and distinctly uninterested playboy (Jon Hamm, in a blisteringly funny cameo). Her life’s descent speeds up when Lillian (Maya Rudolph) assigns her the maid of honor spot at her upcoming wedding. Also in the titular crew are Helen (Rose Byrne), a wealthy woman of impeccably regal looks who does little to hide her resentment of playing second fiddle to a mere mortal, and Megan (Melissa McCarthy), the pic’s funniest character, a crass ball of blunt force with a compassionate edge. Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper round out the group as the bridesmaids with the least amount of screen time, but do well with what they are given.

Wiig, the de facto star of today’s “Saturday Night Live,” proves a game lead. Her impeccable timing and humble use of ample wit often function as a cure for the more famous Tina Fey’s snarkiness and self-aggrandizing demand that the audience adore her. A better script than this one, which was co-authored by her, would serve to utilize her obvious gifts as an actress, as opposed to just marching her along a plot littered with standard obstacles for completion.

Comedy convention today mostly seems to mine humor from unexpected vulgarity and increasingly awkward spectacles, with less emphasis on clever wordplay and satire. Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s script follows the trend, but it’s courtesy of talented performers that lame jokes force-feeding us awkward lines about sex work at all, and miraculously, they often do.

At once cluttered and meandering, we’re expected to wholly digest Wiig as a sympathetic, modern woman suffering from an unlucky streak. Yet we’re then to absolve her of any responsibility when she selfishly ruins every pre-wedding ritual in the interest of her insecurity and self-pity. The filmmakers fail to turn a series of Annie’s outrageous temper tantrums into the redemptive moments of empowerment they’re clearly intended to be, as evidenced by a final 20 minutes that see every character rally around her, as if her reign as maid of honor was anything other than a disaster.

Largely ignoring romance, nearly skipping the wedding altogether, save a lurching subplot involving an Irish Wisconsin State Trooper (does that makes any sense?), “Bridesmaids” works on the strength of its cast, faltering as it winds down from a comedy about meaningful adult friendships to boilerplate rom-com. Too bad, because it came so close.

2.5 out of 5

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