Annie (Kristen Wiig, TV's "Saturday Night Live", "Knocked-Up, "MacGruber") is going through a rough time; her bakery has closed, forcing her to take a job at a jewelers, she has move in with a creepy roommate (Matt Lucas, TV's "Little Britain") and his strange sister (Rebel Wilson), and she has a relationship with a rich guy (Jon Hamm) who seems to view her as more of a necessary tool to satisfy his sexual needs. Then, her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph, TV's "Saturday Night Live", "Away We Go", "Shrek the Third") announces she is engaged and wants Annie to be her Maid of Honor. At the engagement party, Annie meets Helen (Rose Byrne, TV's "Damages"), the wife of Lillian's fiancée's boss, and there is an instant competition between them. Because Annie is having such a difficult time with her finances, she tries to bluff her way through the increasingly expensive bridal party arrangements and plans. But the other women are determined to have some fun and spend some money. And every occasion seems marred by some difficulty.
Written by Wiig and Annie Mumolo and directed by Paul Feig (an actor with many credits and a Judd Apatow protégé), "Bridesmaids" is a funny, funny film. Despite the moments of hilarity, some of which could be considered near brilliant, the film suffers from being too long, by at least a half hour, and this detracts from the overall quality.
Wiig is often the bright spot of any "Saturday Night Live" episode. The weekend this film opened, she was the star of a skit called "Ann-Margaret Throws Away A Piece of Trash". It appeared at the end of the show, but it was a physical, funny and slightly brilliant idea with a dead-on impersonation of Ann-Margaret, circa the late 60s. It was also short. Many of the skits on "SNL" suffer because they go on too long. Wiig and Mumolo have written a story to give Wiig's strengths a showcase. There are elements of all of Wiig's memorable characters in Annie and thankfully most have been toned down to make the film more believable and interesting.
But many of the scenes play out too long, beyond the funny parts, causing the film to drag. I realize they are trying to make a film about people we might really know, and want to infuse these characters with some humanity, but smaller doses of this world would have made the film seem funnier. It almost seems as though they couldn't decide if they wanted to make a comedy with some raunch, or if they wanted to make a romantic comedy with some funny moments.
The movie, produced by Judd Apatow, is being sold as a raunchy-female version of "Knocked Up" or "The Hangover". It doesn't deliver on this. There is one scene like this, and it's good, but there is just the one scene
Annie is played with a lot of heart. She and Laurie are great friends and have known each other for years. This is established quickly and allows us to witness this dynamic. When Laurie announces she is engaged, Annie is overjoyed but you can also see she is just a bit jealous. This is the beauty of Wiig. Much like Steve Carrel on "The Office", she is able to quickly reveal parts of her character while portraying something very different. When she hears the news, she is overjoyed but a subtle shift in her voice reveals the jealousy, and her competitive edge. Annie has a lot of different facets to her character and Wiig seems to not only embrace these, but to celebrate them.
Lillian's fiancée lives and works in Chicago, so Annie makes the drive from Milwaukee to attend the lavish engagement party hosted by Helen (Byrne). This is an opportunity for Annie to meet all of Lillian's new friends. But she and Helen instantly begin competing against one another, using an evening toast to try to one-up each other.
Given Wiig is the star of the film, she naturally has the lion's share of screen time. But it is nice to see a couple of other characters really stand out. Some stand out for the wrong reasons. As soon as Maya Rudolph's Lillian announces her engagement, she becomes a straight man, trying to remain calm as so many things go wrong. It isn't the flashiest of roles, but it gets the job done. As she begins to take on the responsibility and stress of becoming a bride, her character becomes more and more serious, more of a mediator between Annie and Helen, more of a cheerleader to keep Annie happy.
Rose Byrne's Helen is a more complicated creation. She is necessary to provide the catalyst for Annie's insecurities, but if that were all she is, she would quickly become boring. During the engagement party, Annie's first glimpse of Helen seems pulled from a Grace Kelly film; Helen is tall, glamorous and turns towards her (us) in a way that makes Annie realize how pretty she is. Annie is more modest, wearing her best clothes, but they pale in comparison. And she is also dealing with the effects of the long drive, rumpled clothes and hair. Annie can't compete with Helen. When she feels she can, she tries, but Helen will always be able to outspend her. And Helen seems equally determined to compete with Annie for the one thing she can't buy – Lillian's BFF approval. It is nice to see the different levels of this character and the underhanded things she is willing to do to win the day.
Even though it is natural, given the narrative conventions, for Lillian to ignore Helen's actions, this helps to make Lillian's character seem more mediocre.
When Helen finally comes clean, it seems predictable and a little forced. It seems as though Wiig and Mumolo knew this moment had to come and worked hard to fit it in somewhere.
The real stand out of this group is Melissa McCarthy (TV's "Mike and Molly") who plays Megan, Dougie's sister and a de-facto bridesmaid. She is a stocky, manly woman who likes to deal with things matter-of-factly, providing a firm handshake, her wrist covered by a carpal tunnel bandage, and a straight word. At the engagement party, she wears slacks, a button down shirt and a little Kangol hat, covering most of her hair. It's almost a cliché, but because she is the least acceptably "desirable", she is naturally the most sexually advanced of the group, the most outgoing, the most willing to try anything. She also consistently reveals new things about her character. Because she and Annie are the most different, Annie has the most trouble accepting her new friend. But she proves to be the most interesting of the bridesmaids.
The other bridesmaids, played by Ellie Kemper (TV's "The Office") and Wendi McLendon-Covey are the most forgettable. In fact, they seem to disappear completely for the last half of the film.
Annie's entire life is a mess, but the mess of her romantic perils takes center stage. She is in a relationship with a richer, better-looking man (Hamm) and their encounters are funny because they are so painful for Annie and we want to yell at her "Are you crazy?" Yet, she keeps coming back. After an evening of sex, which he seems to enjoy much more than she does, Annie leaves and tries to return to her car. But he hasn't opened his gate. Rather than face the indignation of returning to him, waking him up, and asking him, she tries to climb over. Just as she is about to slide over the top, the maid arrives and opens it with her clicker, Annie riding the gate like a mechanical bull.
Later, she meets Rhodes (Chris O'Dowd, "Pirate Radio", "Gulliver's Travels (2009))", a Minneapolis State Trooper, who pulls her over. They run into each other again, start talking and eventually go on a date. He really is quite charming, and exactly the type of guy Annie should be with. But all of the distractions in Annie's life cause her to flip out when he makes a sweet gesture and she shuts him out. Later, she needs his help and has to go to great lengths to get his existence.
"Bridesmaids" is better written than most "SNL" comedies, most of which seem like a series of extended skits. But it does occasionally feel episodic: Engagement party, Bridesmaids have lunch, Try on gowns, Trip to Vegas, Bridal shower, Wedding. Each of these is funny to varying degrees. But when each of these set-ups ends, there are the 'in-between' scenes, the moments meant to move the narrative along and connect the dots. While well written, they are less funny and slow the entire film down. The best of these are the moments between Annie and her two lovers, because we all know people who are in the same situation and Annie seems to make the same choices they do, both good and bad. With Hamm's character, they are funnier, but with O'Dowd's character they are sweeter, more romantic and even a little charming.
Three scenes really stand out for their comedic value. The engagement party which ends with the never-ending dueling toasts has another funny joke running throughout. Even during the toasts, when the scene seems to be going on forever and ever and ever, we start laughing for that very reason. Neither woman is willing to give up because to do so would give the other woman the upper hand.
Later, Annie gets the bridal party to go to lunch at a Brazilian chiaroscuro. Despite the dubious appearance, they decide to go ahead at Lillian's urging. Everyone digs into the plethora of meats wholeheartedly. These moments pay off later when they try on gowns at a super-chic, expensive boutique.
The bridesmaids decide they want to party in Vegas, despite Annie suggesting a more modest, local idea. Annie buys a coach ticket; everyone else splurges on First Class. As soon as Annie sits down, she starts to freak out because she is afraid of planes. Annie runs up to First Class to talk to Lillian. Helen quickly gives Annie some pills to calm her down. Everything escalates from there.
The trip to Vegas is particularly good, well-written, funny and memorable. But it takes place about half way through the film. When it is over, the rest of the film is noticeably less funny and seems a bit long. It is still a good film, fun to watch, but it almost seems like a different film.
"Bridesmaids" is very good, if uneven. You should definitely check it out. I get the feeling this is the first of many memorable examples of Kristen Wiig's comedy we will get to see on the big screen.