Billing Bridesmaids as the female version of The Hangover only gets it half right. Sure, there is vulgar, gross-out comedy and a quirky cast (a she wolf pack?), but Bridesmaids is sweeter and more realistic than The Hangover. Broadening the film’s appeal is an undercurrent of romantic comedy that offers some laughs, too.
Bridesmaids stars Kristen Wiig, who co-wrote the film with Annie Mumolo (who appears in the film as the woman who loses it on an airplane). Between that and the female-focused plot, the film is being held up as proof that women can do comedy, a plainly sexist argument that I don’t give much credence to. Wiig’s ability to carry the film shouldn’t be surprising: apart from Saturday Night Live, she’s contributed hilarity and heart to films like Paul and Whip It. With this film, she joins Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as comedians whose blockbusting talent wasn’t fully realized until they left SNL (where jokes have gone to die for the last decade).
Wiig’s Annie is a mess, financially, romantically, and socially. Her business (and passion) were swept away in the recession, and her love life is defined by her impossibly boorish fuck-buddy Ted (Jon Hamm, playing up the comedic chops that he’s shown on SNL, coincidentally). When her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged and makes her maid-of-honor, the happy moment is a panic-inducing spotlight on her disappointing life.
The rest of the film chronicles the disastrous run-up to Lillian’s wedding. The same unlucky streak that dominates Annie’s life befalls her best laid (but on a budget) plans at every turn. Making matters worse is Lillian’s newest friend, Stepford Wife Helen (Rose Byrne), who is determined to undermine Annie and dominate the proceedings. She’s cold and bitchy, with the Botoxed smile and passive aggressive nature of a Stepford Wife; Byrne handles it well, but the character is pretty two-dimensional.
The rest of the bridal party provides most of the film’s laughs, albeit unevenly. Becca (Ellie Kemper, from The Office) and Rita (Reno 911’s Wendi McLendon-Covey) provide both sides of the marriage coin: cheerful newlywed and beaten-down mother of boys, respectively. Their contrasting comedic styles are mined for a 7-and-7 soaked scene, but not much else. The highlight of the supporting cast is Melissa McCarthy’s Guy Fieri-channeling performance as Megan. To re-visit the Hangover analogy, McCarthy is Bridesmaid‘s Zach Galifianakis, stealing every scene she’s in with her over the top antics.
Along with her maid-of-honor duties, Annie begins a flirtation with Officer Nathan Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd of The IT Crowd), who is both inexplicably Irish and inexplicably the only cop in Milwaukee. This plot line plays out predictably, but O’Dowd infuses the character with equal parts awkward goofball and grounded nice guy.
The script is very funny, and apart from a battle with food poisoning and an aggressive tennis match (wherein “tennis ball to the boob” is the new “football in the groin”), the jokes have an improvisational feel. Not everything works, though. Annie’s horrible roommates are too odd-ball for the rest of the film. Gratuitous aerial shots of Milwaukee makes pauses in the action feel like a tourism advertisement; if looking to edit some time off the two plus hours, I’d have started there. A scene that tries to make the unbearable Helen sympathetic doesn’t ring true, but is thankfully saved from schmaltz at the last second.
If you want the outrageous comedy of The Hangover, forget the regrettable (but inevitable) sequel. Bridesmaids is the right mix of tender and hilarious, like a tennis ball to the boob.