Looking at the headlines today, it sounds like Universal threw a drink in Kristen Wiig’s face in the middle of a restaurant.
I think the truth is probably a little more nuanced than what we’re reading so far. No doubt Universal would like another helping of whatever just earned them almost $300 million worldwide. Basic studio math says “We paid $30 million, we made about $300 million. Yep. More, please.” The film is not just a commercial success, but a genuine awards-season contender, a critical hit.
There’s a fair degree of speculation in the Hollywood Reporter piece that kicked this off today, suggesting financial tensions between Wiig and Universal. If you read closely, Wiig did not speak to them for their story at all. I think the choices she’s making indicate that she’s not looking at immediate superstardom or purely financial factors in what she’s signing on to do. She’s been building towards this for a while, and things like “Friends With Kids” or “Clown Girl” or “The Comedian” all have personal, independent origins, and they sound like challenges, movies that won’t be easily sold in 30-second spots.
Wiig is a thoughtful, grounded, terrifically sharp person in conversation, and getting to know her just a little bit during interviews and on sets for things like “Adventureland” and, yes, “Bridesmaids,” she strikes me as someone who wants to work with interesting filmmakers, who wants to try different things, and who loves to vanish into characters. She’s going to be a very slippery movie star, I’m guessing, and hard to define, which is exactly how she likes it.
I think the end of the Reporter piece is where they have the most substantial material, with Judd very clearly saying that this is something they can discuss soon, but not yet, and that no decisions have been made. One thing that the story doesn’t make clear is that Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo could easily still make a second film. Neither of them has said no to the idea, and nothing’s been determined. They love the movie they made, and they’re very proud of it. I don’t think they’d automatically walk away, and that stuff about the paychecks doesn’t ring true based on what I’ve heard about the behind-the-scenes on this one.
But say they do pass. After all, Wiig’s busy with SNL and other films, and Mumolo is starting to get busy as well. Maybe they just don’t crack an idea they like, and they decide to let Universal try something else. If they do build a film around Melissa McCarthy, there’s really no reason it has to be wedding-themed. Her character could be dropped into any situation and I’m sure it could be funny. That’s what people liked about the character. She shows up fully-formed and fascinating and funny no matter what environment she’s in. If you look at films like “Get Him To The Greek” and “This Is 40,” I think you get an idea of how the Apatow team views sequels. They have yet to make something with a “2” after the title, and that’s because there’s a law of diminishing returns in comedy. You can’t always wring laughs out of something a second time, because like horror, you depend to some degree on blindsiding people. Laughter and terror are reactions, and the more familiar something is, the more dulled those reactions become.
I get the urge to make a sequel on the part of the studio. And I get the reluctance that seems to be coming from the other side of things. Universal is getting smarter about building franchises where you can drop cast in and out and still keep making the movies, with their “Fast and the Furious” films being a great example and their upcoming “Bourne Legacy” as a test to see if that franchise can handle the same sort of creative shift. Universal is in a weird place these days, coming out of several years of getting the crap kicked out of them on some good films, and failing to turn some sure things into actual hits, but they continue to take the sort of chances that I like to root for.
Whatever they do with “Bridesmaids,” I hope it’s something that satisfies both parts of the equation. I hope they know that the reason “Bridesmaids” worked is because they bet on some very sharp and funny people and turned them loose to make something that was personal to them. Forget demographics or Cinemascore or any of that marketing speak… in the end, bet on the talent, and give them room to make something that matters to them, and then do your best to sell it. It’s the reason the Apatow deal keeps paying off for Universal, and I can’t imagine them doing something to throw that away at this point.