By Carl Kozlowski
Ever since Animal House 30 years ago, raunchy comedies have been almost exclusively the realm of male actors. From Dumb and Dumber through There’s Something About Mary, on through the likes of Superbad, The 40 Year-Old Virgin and this spring’s Hall Pass, it’s been guys who have charged boldly forward into the breach of prurient pratfalls, toilet humor and sexually humiliating situations.
Only one film has tried to give gals a shot at matching the guys: 2002’s The Sweetest Thing, in which Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate and Selma Blair gave it their best shot as three loose ladies falling into and out of beds and misadventures while en route to a wedding weekend. But that wildly uneven film alternately took things too far or got too sentimental, a mix that proved deadly at the box office and forced it to build a cult following via Comedy Central reruns.
But this weekend, that could all change after Bridesmaids hits theaters. Starring and co-written by longtime Saturday Night Live star Kristen Wiig, the film manages to find just the right balance of freak-out humor and non-sappy sentiment that should finally prove women can be more than just two-dimensional wallflowers who roll their eyes and wait for the guys to grow up.
Bridesmaids follows the humorously hard-luck life of Annie (Wiig), a Milwaukee-based woman who’s been struggling to find love and success after being dumped by a longtime boyfriend and losing her bakery due to the recession. Her frustrations and fear of being alone forever are compounded when her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces she’s engaged and asks Annie to become her maid of honor.
Suddenly Annie is meeting an odd array of Lillian’s friends whom she didn’t even know existed as the rest of the team of bridesmaids comes together. Among them is rich snob Becca (Ellie Kemper), who quickly makes it clear she’s willing to spend whatever money is necessary to replace Annie as Lillian’s best friend, and Megan (Melissa McCarthy in a star-making role that steals the film outright), an admitted “fat chick” who scores laughs by throwing herself into every imaginable situation with an insane energy and utter lack of inhibition that one can’t help but compare to John Belushi and Chris Farley.
As the movie barrels its way through a hilarious battle of the toasts between Wiig and Kemper at an engagement party, the misery of dress fittings, Annie’s awkward sex with a guy who couldn’t care less about her, an elaborate bad reaction to “downer” drugs on a packed plane and an emotional meltdown, the commitment by Wiig and her comedic cohorts rarely fails to impress.
The best scene is the grossest—an epic reaction by the entire band of bridesmaids to a horrific case of food poisoning in a scene that builds and builds to the point that the entire audience was doubled over with whooping laughter and cries of “No! Don’t!”
Wiig has been a longtime favorite on TV’s SNL, but she’s usually been stuck playing one-dimensional characters whose humor mostly rests in bizarre behavioral tics. Here, she and co-writer Annie Mumolo have crafted a script that could stand to be trimmed by about 20 minutes, yet offers so many laughs so consistently that audiences will stay satisfied from start to finish—while also giving the film an emotional depth that most of the guy gross-outs can’t match.
Wiig is especially surprising in her quieter moments, as Annie wistfully looks back on her shuttered bakery and seemingly shattered dreams. She also creates a winning relationship between Annie and a Irish-born cop named Officer Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd) that has a genuine sweetness audiences can root for—one area in which guy gross-outs other than There’s Something About Mary have always seemed to fail.
Having comedy wizard Judd Apatow (40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up) on-board as executive producer and his frequent partner Paul Feig at the directorial helm likely helped this ship stay straight. With its mix of humor and heart, Bridesmaids should be one of the few films to score at the box office this summer without relying on superhero special effects. Its ace cast and zesty laughs give it all the strength it needs.