Kristen Wiig is very hard to explain in terms of comedic persona.
With many comics, you can sum them up somehow. That’s one of the basic things that seems to be essential with our great comedy stars. We need to be able to easily understand them. You go all the way back to Keaton and Chaplin, they worked in broad iconography. They communicated with everything, their clothing, their physicality. They were easily summed up, and then in each new situation, it was just about watching what they would do. Keaton goes to war. Chaplin during the Gold Rush. Keaton gets a train. Chaplin and a kid. Easy on the surface to grasp, and then within that, there is room to do so much more.
With Wiig, I don’t get any single easy definition or summation, and that’s what keeps her interesting. From the very start of “Bridesmaids,” one of the primary things i enjoyed was simply seeing how Wiig handles herself in each new situation, as her life keeps punching her right in the face in the most painful ways. It is a very funny film, but there’s a sincerity to the sadness that elevates the material, and which to me seems like the sort of film Paul Feig should be making in the first place.
Feig, of course, is the guy who created “Freaks and Geeks,” and he’s a whip-smart comedy writer. Read his books. Thank me later. His first film, “Unaccompanied Minors,” seems to make him visibly uncomfortable when mentioned, but he’s being too hard on himself. He made a small-scale studio comedy on a budget, with a script he didn’t write, and he got himself in the game. “Bridesmaids” was written by Kristen Wiig and her Groundlings partner Annie Mumolo, and it was produced by Judd Apatow and Barry Mandel, and I think the entire thing manages to feel very personal while still possessing a big immediate commercial appeal. This could easily catch fire with audiences both male and female, and it could be a real launching pad for Wiig as the center of her own films.
Annie (Wiig) is best friends with Lillian (Maya Rudolph), and when Lillian announces she’s getting married, she wants Annie to be her maid of honor and be involved in everything. Unfortunately, Helen exists. Helen is the rich second wife of the man who Lilian’s fiancee works for, and Helen is young and pretty and played by Rose Byrne, and she threatens Annie. She’s got money, she is the center of attention, and she seems to be replacing Annie in Lillian’s affections.
As Annie tries to ride herd over the wedding preparations, we get to know the other bridesmaids as well. There’s Megan (Melissa McCarthy), the sister of the groom, and she gives a ferocious, unbridled performance. She’s swinging for the home run in every scene, and she connects more often than not. Ellie Kemper is Becca, a newlywed who is just on the verge of questioning her recent decision, especially once she meets mother-of-three Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey). These are smart, funny women, and they’re each given room to create fairly indelible characters. McCarthy in particular pushes Megan to some very weird places.
The two men in Annie’s life are played by Jon Hamm and Chris O’Dowd, and they’re both very good in different ways. O’Dowd, probably best known here for “The IT Crowd,” is a very winning romantic possibility for Wiig, and he makes you invest in whether or not he ends up with Wiig. With Hamm, he’s allowed to play a transparent guy who is playing Wiig as a fool. It’s great, adult writing, and it’s very observant about what it’s like to be the last one to get married, the last one to be a grown-up, the one who is failing while others succeed. More than any romantic quandary, this is what drives Annie forward in the film.
Feig is given very delicate support by Robert Yeoman, his cinematographer, and the film’s got a very simple pop sensibility. But where the film differs from typical fare is in the pacing. Wiig seems excited to create scenarios that play out in long digressions, that are allowed to role as long as they’re still funny, even if it doesn’t really take you down a very linear path, story-wise. I love it. It’s a film that feels loosely structured, but in a vey smart way. And it pays off. There are some big broad moments here, but there are also a number of scenes that play out with uncomfortable honesty.
“Bridesmaids” could easily be a big hit if people like Wiig and pass the word. I guess this is the big test, because they’ve got the right movie. This is the sort of thing that will be beloved by many, by almost everyone who sees it. Wiig is so appealing, and she leads so many other appealing actors. And in the end, this is so strong that I hope it make Wiig into a real star, and that she’s able to tell other stories that are this personal and this hilarious.
“Bridesmaids” opens in theaters everywhere May 13, 2011, and played as a work-in-progress at this week’s SDSW Film Festival review.