Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Is BRIDESMAIDS a New Kind of Chick-Flick?


- Bridesmaids is one of those movies where the temptation is very strong to talk about the film in terms of the larger context of the movie landscape. Because, even without going into a deep analysis of the movie, let's just say right off the bat that Bridesmaids is very good - a really funny, enjoyable comedy. In terms of humor, it gives off a similar vibe to other relationship comedies produced by Judd Apatow, like The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The difference? It just so happens that Bridesmaids is a comedy that predominantly features women, and one that is clearly told from a woman's point of view. All of the above mentioned comedies have fairly strong lead actresses to their credit - women like Catherine Keener, Katherine Heigl, Kristen Bell, and Mila Kunis. But they all unmistakably are told from a guy's perspective. And there's nothing wrong with that - in fact, to be honest, I think a lot of us (guys especially) immediately feel more comfortable when we can tell that that's the case. Not because a comedy from a woman's point of view can't be funny, but because so often at the movies, a "comedy from a woman's point of view" equals "chick flick." And chick flicks, by and large, are terrible. It's funny though because too often we think that romantic comedy is synonomous with chick flick. And yet, I think of movies as diverse as The Princess Bride, Punch Drunk Love, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Juno, 500 Days of Summer, and Annie Hall as being romantic comedies. Those are all movies that I genuinely am a big fan of. But what I don't really have much patience for are the endless wave of assembly-line rom-coms that pander to the lowest common denominator. Some of these come from women (hello, Nora Ephron), some don't ... but what they all have in common is that they feel outdated, boring, generic, and worst of all ... are not funny. So is it sort of sad that, here in 2011, a movie like Bridesmaids feels noteworthy simply because it's a funny movie by and about women? Yes, it is, and yet ... how many other comedies in that category have actually been good? In a recent interview, Kristen Wiig pointed to Baby Mama (no) and Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion (ehhhh ...) as trailblazers. Decent but not particularly good examples. So really, even though it is kind of pathetic, the fact may very well be that Bridesmaids is a very, very rare thing - like I said, a movie by and about women that has universal appeal by virtue of feeling fresh, relatable, and actually being very funny.

So here's the thing: in the grand scheme of things, I think Bridesmaids is a top-tier comedy. Not a classic per se, but funny, smart, and very rewatchable -- on par with some of the best Apatow-produced films. But even though I'm not about to call this the funniest movie ever, I will say that this is a movie that comedy fans - male and female - should unequivically support. Because imagine a world where comedies featuring women - that appeal to women - were also funny for all! Imagine a world where movies targeted at women included not just terrible rom-coms, but also, you know, movies that were actually edgy and funny! Imagine an elightened world where a female-centric comedy actually features ... gasp! ... legitimately funny and talented women, and not tabloid-fodder pop stars (because lord knows, those are the only stars that women want to see in movies). So this is why I wholeheartedly hope that Bridesmaids is in fact the start of a larger trend, and that it inspires other women writers to write raunchy, edgy, smart, realistic, creative, go-for-broke comedies that don't fall into the same old genre trappings - and that it inspires movie studio execs to consider these sorts of movies as potential money-makers. So to those who are currently complaining that critics are giving too much attention to the uniqueness of Bridesmaids, I say: why complain if this movie's success could legitimately improve the movie landscape in a major, game-changing way?

Now, about the movie itself ... Bridesmaids is the story of Annie (Kristen Wiig), a woman who's on somewhat of a downward spiral in life and love. Years ago, she took a chance and attempted to fulfill her dream of opening a bakery. But sometime later, in the midst of poor economic times, she was forced to close the bakery, take a crappy job working as a clerk at a jewlery store, and move into an apartment that she shares with two odd-duck British roommates - a brother and sister who don't quite understand the concepts of privacy and boundaries. At the same time, Annie's been without a boyfriend, and her love life mostly consists of being the unappreciated %$&#-buddy to a commitment-phobic ladies man (Jon Hamm, in a very amusing role). But Annie is forced to confront her various insecurities head-on when her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph) reveals that she's engaged. Now, not only does the single and semi-miserable Annie have to dive head-first into wedding planning, she also is thrown together with Lillian's other assorted bridesmaids, most notably Helen (Rose Byrne). On the surface, Helen is everything that Annie is not - wealthy, married, poised, on top of things. Even worse, she seems to be edging out Annie as Lillian's new best friend. And so Bridesmaids is all about Annie trying to come to terms with these women who seem to have it all, while trying to work on her own life - including a potential romance with a nice-guy cop (Chris O'Dowd). On the surface, it sounds like it could be generic and boring. But again, Bridesmaids is written with the same sort of conversational, buddy-comedy humor as a Knocked Up or 40 Year Old Virgin. It has that same mix of sweetness and filth that gives it a feeling of authenticity, yet also produces any number of laugh-out-loud moments.

Wiig also really impressed me in this one. On SNL, a lot of her characters can feel one-note and repetitive. But here, what I found fascinating was the fact that Wiig was playing a character for whom those goofy personality quirks we see on SNL are just one part of the whole. Wiig creates a real-feeling, three-dimensional character in Annie, and really runs the gamut from being down-to-earth, to appealingly quirky, to borderline insane. I hate to bring up the whole modern feminist thing again, but it's rare, I think, to get to see a female comedienne get to show such range in a leading-woman role. Suffice it to say, Wiig really knocks it out of the park. And, adding to her performance is the easy chemistry she has with Maya Rudolph. The two have the same sort of back-and-forth banter that you see from the dudes in a typical Apatow movie. It doesn't feel strained, it's just two very funny women being funny together. I'm sure the talents of director Paul Fieg were also a factor. As he proved many a time with Freaks & Geeks, which he co-created with Apatow, he has a knack for finding the quirky humor in likeminded friends just hanging out and riffing.

Of course, the other big standout is Melissa McCarthy as Megan, Lillian's sister-in-law-to-be, and another of her bridesmaids. Again, McCarthy gets to go all-out here and play the kind of part that you rarely see from a prominent female character in this sort of movie - the insane goofball. McCarthy is playing the female equivalent of the kind of role that someone like John Candy or Chris Farley might have played back in the day, and she does an awesome job with it, having no fear when it comes to the gross-out gags but also bringing a sweet, salt-of-the-earth likability to the part. As someone who's liked McCarthy since the Gilmore Girls days, it's great to see her get the spotlight in this film and really run with it.

There is A LOT going in Bridesmaids, and like some of the other Apatow-produced comedies, it can feel a bit jumpy and overlong. One casualty of the movie's pacing is that some potentially funny subplots involving the supporting players - like Ellie Kemper's (from The Office) repressed newlywed or Wendi McLendon-Covey's (Reno 911) sexually frustrated mother - seem to get the short shrift. In fact, these two all but disappear in the movie's second half. I guess my other complaint about the film is that - also similar to movies like Knocked Up - the tone can be a little all-over-the-place, with the balance between dirty jokes and schmaltzy sweetness sometimes leaning a little too heavily on the latter. Wiig's relationship with Chris O'Dowd's good-natured cop is well-handled by both actors, but also felt a bit too sentimental at times. And sometimes, the movie just can't resist tossing out the chick flick fodder - like an extended scene of all the bridesmaids belting out Wilson-Phillips songs on the big day. Why is this bad? It's not bad, per se, just, well, easy. It was one of those moments designed to make you sigh and think "awww, isn't that cute?" rather than laugh out loud. And given that what's most refreshing about Bridesmaids is that it mostly avoids "cute" in favor of "funny," it's disappointing whenever the film merely settles for the former. This happens every so often in the movie, but, on the other hand, that is counteracted by moments that are genuinely surprising in their edgy comedic bite. Kristin Wiig's insult-war with a bratty teen, for instance culminating in Wiig calling her the C-word with dagger-sharp comic timing, was one of those moments - where I thought "okay, I'm impressed - this movie has cajones."

All in all though, Bridesmaids is one of those rare movies that has true universal appeal. It's got wedding-planning shenanigans, romance, and girl-talk for the women, and raunchy humor and wackiness for the guys. But really, the complete package is one that is very much a crowd-pleaser - smart, funny, and well worth checking out.

My Grade: B+

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