Bridesmaids (2011, Paul Feig)
In a perfect world, it wouldn’t be news to anybody that a woman could write a comedy, a good comedy, a good film in general. In fact it would be so much a given that Bridesmaids could be widely reviewed on the basis of its own actual merit, not solely on the basis of the very concept that Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, real actual female humans, wrote a funny script. A funny script that is almost exclusively populated with female characters, who — get this — are played in the finished movie by actors who are women. But that’s the appallingly dumb movie world we’re dealt, and to begin it’s worthwhile to take time out to say that not only is the existence of Bridesmaids somewhat praiseworthy, its enormous success is a bit of reassurance in a rather bleak era for Hollywood productions. With that said, can we then ignore that the film’s production and direction pedigree allows snarling commentators to conclude that there are two Male saviors behind the achievement? That would be producer and 2000s comedy maestro Judd Apatow, whose Knocked Up isn’t nearly as hilarious and charming as this is; and Paul Feig, a decent TV director, heretofore godawful film director (based on the bits of Unaccompanied Minors I was able to sit through), and exceptional writer whose real claim to fame is his creation of the Apatow-produced television series Freaks and Geeks. The unstated reality is that it doesn’t matter how much estrogen was in the room when the project was conceived, it was still greenlit, ushered along, and brought to fruition by men — and it reflects the distinctly boy-centric vision of comedy that has plagued American comedies since 2005 or so. It has no great sophistication or commentary about women or their friendships, despite much ballyhooing to the contrary; it simply proves that women can write a movie as good as Judd Apatow can, but let’s forget for just a little while that such a point shouldn’t fucking need to be made and try to enjoy ourselves, yes?
In large part, Bridesmaids is a showpiece for Wiig; she provides herself with numerous pratfalls and gags and chances to zing with great spirit and enthusiasm. She’s an engaging performer and deserves the spotlight. The story is somewhat more ordinary, a rather basic Woody-and-Buzz jealousy fable involving two best friends (Wiig and the always outstanding, woefully underused Maya Rudolph) whose relationship becomes strained when a flashy yuppie enters their lives just before a wedding. Premier bridesmaid Wiig sees her plans for her pal’s bachelorette party and wedding shower undermined at every turn, culminating in some admirably severe Charles Foster Kane-level destructive pouting; all the while, she’s being pursued as a potential love interest by a cop she runs into. It all comes together, sort of, and everyone is happy, after a number of abbreviated foibles involving all of the bridesmaids (Rose Byrne, Ellie Kemper, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey), who each get to enjoy comic setpieces but none, it seems, for nearly long enough.
If there’s one area in which Bridesmaids cannot be faulted, it’s the performances; in some ways, though, this only magnifies the flaws. Wiig and Rudolph are initially very convincing as close friends, but the depth and reality of this relationship seems to be suddenly forgotten after the first act, only to be reconciled, seemingly at random, with a sudden heart-to-heart toward the finale. The other bridesmaids, Kemper, McCarthy, and McLendon-Covey in particular, offer gamely amusing and spectacularly detailed turns but are shoved aside in favor of the half-baked central friend-estrangement saga. Because of this, you long for — and seem to be set up for — an ensemble picture, but what you get instead really sort of fails to escape the very thing the movie purports to fight against: the complete absence of an inner life within most of Hollywood’s female characters. Wiig and Mumolo, with surely plenty of blame attributable to Feig, raise too many points and people they have no time to explore; even in its current rushed form, the movie exceeds the two-hour mark.
As a meaningful character study, the movie is serviceable but a bit hollow. The best scenes are those in the first half of the picture. While it’s disappointing that the rare female-driven comedy must be given over almost entirely to an immediate rivalry between two women, the laughter is consistent and unstrained — Wiig’s delightfully expressive face alone offers enough material for the duration. Virtually everything she says or does in the film is funny. That the humor periodically cops to a cheap crudeness is, alas, only to be expected at this point from an Apatow production, and it’s mostly forgivable; after all, there’s something sort of elegant about being accidentally-on-purpose responsible for giving all of your friends diarrhea. The same can’t be said for the sheer lack of depth in the characterizations. There’s time only to get to know Wiig’s Annie, and she hangs on carefully to the established mannerisms and concerns even when she gives in to a designated comic setpiece like her vast freakout at the wedding shower. Rudolph’s character, on the other hand, is a cipher whose actual nature, not to mention the nature of her relationship to the groom, is hidden from us; as a result, it’s extremely difficult to feel an investment in the climactic tension about whether she will conquer her cold feet. Why would you care about people you haven’t been allowed to get to know? Earlier on, one of the best scenes involves Wiig’s inadvertent sabotage of a trip to Vegas. The way in which this happens is uproariously funny — but you can’t help wishing they’d made it; obvious though it may sound, I would actually have preferred watching these characters hobnob around Las Vegas to the somewhat lifeless stuff they end up actually doing.
As is the case with so many flawed but hysterical comedies, these issues are largely ones that don’t spring up until the credits have finished rolling. More instantly troubling is the complete disaster of the final act; Bridesmaids becomes a classic example of the Hollywood problem of things happening for no reason whatsoever, and with no trace of irony — you keep looking for it, especially when freaking Wilson Phillips show up to lip-sync “Hold On,” but it’s not there, and it’s kind of depressing that Wiig and Mumolo would let the thing screech to such a painful halt. Characters with deep rifts that have lasted for the full running time suddenly have no issue just saying a couple of words and being cool with one another, and we’re expected to fully buy the peace and happiness of a pending love affair between Annie and Chris O’Dowd’s friendly police officer Nathan, shortly after it was made very clear that there was no chance he’d make up with her!
Nathan seems like a nice enough guy, but is it wrong of me to be bothered that even in a film written by two women, one of the worst and most contemptible clichés of romantic cinema and real-life romance gets a pass? The Nice Guy is somehow able to get away with essentially forcing an issue — the closed bakery and interest in cooking on Annie’s part — in this case by buying all the goods and getting ready to ignore her protests to the contrary and very sweetly watch her cook, and while she’s initially put off by it and takes leave, she later rationalizes it and he pretty much gets a free pass for some basically controlling, no-doesn’t-mean-no behavior. Because he’s such a Nice Guy, getting pissy because He Tried to Do Something Nice for You and you totally owe him your undivided cooing Niceness in return — not that you ever, like, asked him to do any of that stuff or anything. I know it’s baked goods, not rape, but come on, really? Twenty-five years after Duckie wormed his way through Pretty in Pink, and this is still our creepy conception of movie romance? It’s insulting, almost as much as watching a very funny movie that someone forgot to shape into a coherent story. Regardless, let’s hope Bridesmaids is the beginning of a new direction that will yield far better results — not just a shelf-life novelty. For now, let’s laugh as loud as we can at it and hope someone hears us. (But man, I wish we didn’t have to.)