An Entirely Lovable Film I Didn’t Quite Love
Bridesmaids is a heartfelt, at times really funny film filled with talented, funny people, a film that isn’t a lot of fun to admit you didn’t love. It’s built mostly out of scenes that feel more like improv sandbox than narrative device (which isn’t a necessarily a bad thing, there are many funny moments within that, much like Stepbrothers). Only Bridesmaids has a more personal story to tell, an earnest take on friendship and modern marriage that at times gets lost in the more broad hijinks gags. It’s the rare case where the improv-premises-strung-together structure is frustrating not because the movie doesn’t have a point, but because it totally does! And it’s hard to make a point when you’re milking every improv opportunity until it lactates blood. They’re two great tastes that should go well together but don’t quite, like chocolate and Indian food, or strip clubs and buffets.
The “Hangover with chicks!” label definitely seems more like an angle the studio was willing to throw money at, the marketing department eager to exploit, than an idea actually driving the script. Whereas The Hangover was a hijinksy romp using the setting of a bachelor party as a jumping off point, Bridesmaids is a story about friendship and the absurdity of wedding etiquette. Which is to say, it’s actually about being a bridesmaid. If that sounds like a strength, it is. We follow Annie (Kristen Wiig, who co-wrote with fellow Groundling Annie Mumolo) as she juggles a crappy job and crappy relationships (notably playing late-night hook-up to the awesomely dickish Jon Hamm), all while dealing with the pressure of Maid-of-Honor duties bestowed upon her by childhood best friend Lilian (Maya Rudolph), who’s marrying Tim Heidecker for some reason (the fact that he never speaks is pretty funny on its own). That Annie can’t quite keep her sh*t together is fine when she and Lilian are just hanging out, drinking wine and reading tabloids, but when she has a gaggle of chicks (including her nemesis, Lilian’s perfect new best friend played by Rose Byrne) counting on her to plan all their societally-mandated fun, Annie’s haplessness starts to become a problem.
You wonder whether pressure to make Bridesmaids more like what the studio thought they were buying keeps it from being fully realized as the more personal movie it seems to want to be. The story is really only about two or three characters, but there are two especially long scenes, during a dress fitting (which ends in a vomity sh*t fest, I should mention) and an airplane flight, where it seems to be positioning itself as an ensemble comedy that it’s really not. Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, love interest Chris O’Dowd, and later in the film, Melissa McCarthy, have such a compelling dynamic between them that the more minor character stuff feels like a waste. It seems there more so they could have a bunch of sassy bridesmaids to put on the poster than because it’s important to the story.
That’s not to say that the big set pieces are unfunny, there’s just a certain amount of… flailing. The scenes often feel like stage improv, where the actors try to milk all the funny out of small situations, like a crazy lady sitting next to Kristen Wiig on the plane, or Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne going to increasingly ridiculous lengths to have the last word at an engagement lunch. There comes a point in every two-person, back-and-forth interaction where it becomes unrealistic that these two characters would still be verbally sparring, and you can tell it’s just two improv actors trying to play off each other. With actors as brilliant as Kristen Wiig, they always do squeeze some funny lines from it, but seeing characters take a bit over the top in Bridesmaids is a bit frustrating because there’s such a real story underneath it. There’s an insecurity to it, where it feels as if comic actors Wiig and company are constantly going back to what they know, instead of trusting what they have.
Even in the improv scenes, there’s a lot to like in Bridesmaids, it just tends to take things one joke too far. Kristen Wiig drunk on the plane gets progressively funnier until she starts screaming about a colonial settler woman out on the wing and it jumps the shark. I sense I’m in the minority here, so take it for what it’s worth. Truth be told, I’m not a huge improv fan, especially not on film. I find it clever, but not necessarily entertaining, like the English. It tends towards Zany, familiar situations gradually taken past the point of believability, rather than Absurd, like that scene in Louie where the crazy neighbor crushed that car with a water jug for no particular reason — things that speak to the essential absurdity of existence. Bridesmaids does settle down in the third act though, and the final scene in particular, a reunion set to Wilson Phillips, is a triumph, perfectly marrying Wiig and Mumolo’s personal take on friendship and marriage with broad comedy in a way that would’ve made a perfect film if they could’ve found it earlier.
I can’t end this review without discussing Melissa McCarthy’s character, Megan. She’s thankfully much more than the token fat girl, and by the end of the film, she might be the most interesting character. But there’s something off about her. She inhabits every lesbian stereotype — she’s overweight, she dresses and talks like a trucker, she wants to start a fight club, she has ten dogs and drives a van, she stands with her shoulders hunched and sits with her legs apart… I could go on (the banner picture — does it not instantly read lesbian?). And yet she’s supposedly straight. Now, I know, it’s super PC to shout about how it’s a rich tapestry and people of every sexuality are free to act, dress, and f*ck any way they want, and that’s true. But to me there’s something vaguely disrespectful about applying all the stereotypical attributes of a certain group and then just changing the name. And if not disrespectful, confusing. If you write a head jock who’s obsessed with Bravo and likes to knit, that’s one thing. It’s interesting. If you write a guy who wears assless chaps and a pink boa, snaps his fingers after every declarative statement, and squeals about your outfit, and then in the next scene he’s talking about how much he wants to get up in some skank’s guts… it’s hard to know what to make of it. It feels like you’re trying to making a point, but no one knows what it is.
Grade: Four out of Seven Crock Pots.
[For counterpoint from someone who loved it, check out Lindy West's review, which is actually much better and funnier than this one. Looking back on it, I probably should've put this at the top].