Ladies’ night – Bridesmaids review

Bridesmaids – Starring Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Rose Byrne. Directed by Paul Feig. Rated MA. By Simon Miraudo.

The mostly Y-chromosome-free Bridesmaids feels like a call to arms for womankind; a message to Hollywood that ladies can bring “the funny” just as well as the men. Sure, it was directed by a dude – Paul Feig – but it was written by and stars a number of the most talented women working today. On the one hand, yay! Stars Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Rose Byrne have long deserved vehicles to showcase their talents, and here they’re finally afforded the opportunities their schlubby male contemporaries were offered a long time ago. On the other hand, do we really want these ladies – these smart, thoughtful, incisive ladies – lowering themselves to the level of us men? I don’t want to see Nicole Holefcener directing The Hangover 3: Ladies in Shanghai. And I fear the day Lisa Cholodenko helms Sex Academy (and not just because that is the name of my own unproduced screenplay).

Wiig (that infinitely talented chameleon from Saturday Night Live) stars as Annie, a thirty something baker who had to shut down her cake store during the recession and hasn’t been able to put her life back together since. When BFF Lillian (Rudolph, another great SNL alum) asks hear to be Maid of Honour at her upcoming nuptials, Annie is filled with joy … and then plunges into a spiral of self-doubt at the thought of being left alone in her singledom. As her bridesmaidly duties mount, the pressure increases, and it doesn’t help that Lillian’s second best friend Helen (Byrne, in pitch perfect prissy princess mode) is trying to usurp the head bridesmaid position from her.

Before ‘nam styles flashbacks of Bride Wars come flooding in, take solace in the knowledge that the war between Annie and Helen is mostly psychological in nature, and never outlandish. It also takes a backseat to the film’s most important arc: the relationship between Annie and Lillian. Here’s what I was referring to in the first paragraph. The Hangover may be able to provide you with raunchy laughs and get across the vague concept of ‘mateship’, but it takes a special sensibility (a woman’s touch perhaps) to depict a legitimate friendship. Wiig co-wrote the screenplay with comic Annie Mumolo, and you can imagine them at coffee shops reminiscing about their own conflicts, improvising dialogue and scribbling it down. That’s how real and true they feel. Wiig and Rudolph are both so funny and natural here as two friends drawn together and drifting apart at the same time. They share meandering conversations that would be left on the cutting room floor in any other production. Feig and producer Judd Apatow – whose fingerprints are all over this thing – know that these throwaway moments are the emotional truth at the heart of this story.

If Bridesmaids has a problem, it is that Feig, taking inspiration from his mentor Apatow, lets the camera linger a little too long at the end of each scene. I’m not referring to those beautiful sequences in which Annie and Lillian just hang out and bond; rather, the comedy set pieces that just run out of steam. I understand the problem – when you hire all these funny people, there will just be too much excellent content to cut back on. But comedies are made in the edit suite, and many of the jokes outstay their welcome (the scene where Annie and Helen compete to make the best speech at an engagement party springs to mind). The film feels like the dreaded “extended cut” of comedies that arrives on DVD; padded out with 15 minutes of unnecessary footage, with many of the jokes now feeling deflated and flabby. Also, there are a couple of sequences that seem crowbarred-in, such as when the ladies are depicted like classic Apatovian dudes, or when they get drunk and vomit on one another. These moments ring so false compared to the more understated and natural scenes that take place elsewhere. It’s not that women can’t act as grossly and recklessly as guys, but the film comes so close to greatness by freshly depicting female relationships on screen, the bit where they all get food poisoning and mess themselves feels like a step in the wrong direction.

But for those minor quibbles, there are a hundred other great elements worth recommending. The other bridesmaids are all wonderful, including the under-utilised Ellie Kemper as an innocent Disney princess-like newlywed and Wendi McLendon-Covey as a bored housewife with a nasty streak. Best of all is Melissa McCarthy who absolutely steals the show as Lillian’s soon to be sister-in-law; a rough around the edges and physically imposing government agent with a giant, loving heart. Although there aren’t a lot of them, the guys in the cast get to make funny too: Jon Hamm chews the scenery as a cheating scoundrel who booty calls Annie for evenings of terrible, discordant sex, and Chris O’Dowd gets a nice romantic turn as a kindly cop who takes a fancy to our heroine. He’s the most adorable thing in the film – and this is a picture that features a bunch of puppies all dressed in puppy tuxedos.

Although the ‘Superbad-for-ladies’ and ‘reverse I Love You Man comparisons are apt, Bridesmaids shares more in common with Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give and Terry Zwigoff‘s Ghost World. Each follows characters, specifically women, at a crossroads in their life, and they’re asked to reconsider their existence in the context of their relationships. What defines them? Their friendships? Their jobs? Their hobbies? In the end, the best any of these characters can hope for is to be comfortable with themselves, and be grateful for their companions. Like those other films, Bridesmaids depicts this struggle and eventual resolution with humour, pathos and heart. The Hangover and its sequel meanwhile ends with a pictures of Zach Galifianakis getting a BJ from an old woman in an elevator and Ed Helms being subjected to a variety of bizarre sex acts. Don’t get me wrong: that’s funny. But ladies, don’t feel as if that is the benchmark you should be reaching for. Look to Bridesmaids instead.

4/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Bridesmaids arrives in Australian cinemas June 16, 2011.

One Response to “Ladies’ night – Bridesmaids review”

  1. It’s uneven, unwieldy and overlong, however works when it comes to keeping you fully entertained. Guys, win-wins don’t get much better than this when it comes to date movies, but all that chick flick/guy movie noise aside, it’s just a damn funny movie. Nice Review! Check out mine when you can!

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