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WARNING: SPOILERS EN BLANC
I’m not sure at what point I decided “Bridesmaids” was the funniest movie of the year.
Certainly not during the opening sex scene between Annie (Kristen Wiig) and good-looking douchebag Ted (Jon Hamm). That was hilarious, capturing some aspect of the absurdity of sex, but obviously way too early in the movie to be making such a call. Nor during Annie’s post-coital breakfast conversation with best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph), and their down-to-earth riffing on the inevitable sexual migration of men’s junk toward women’s faces. (“Why do they do that?”) That was too early in the movie, too. I wasn’t a fan of Annie’s customer interaction at the jewelry store—too much like an SNL skit—nor the grossness of her clueless British roommates, although the girl’s line, “I didn’t know that was your diary; I thought it was a very sad, handwritten book,” made me, again, laugh out loud. Was it everyone losing it at the upscale wedding shop, Belle en Blanc, because of food poisoning? The danger inherent in white carpet. Lillian crumpling, in white wedding dress, nine-tenths of the way across the street to a bathroom (“It’s happening, it’s happening, it’s happening” she cries) and then, like a fallen soufflé, remaining there, forlornly waving traffic past her.
At some point, though, as the laughs kept coming even as the plot picked up, I thought: “This is the funniest movie of the year.” And I don’t just mean so far. We’re in May but I’m already saying this: “Bridesmaids” will be the funniest movie I see in 2011. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time.
What was that again, Hollywood, about women not being funny? In a recent New Yorker profile on Anna Faris, “Airplane” director David Zucker, grasping, says, “Maybe women have a built-in dignity, and if a woman slips on a banana peel...” His voice trails off. Now I’m not sure if anyone has built-in dignity, or if any dignity is built-in, but the food poisoning scene is particularly funny because they’re women: because of our assumptions about women and women’s assumptions about themselves. Men are sloppy beasts but what women want—the white carpet, those awful taffeta dresses, things named Belle en Blanc—requires a kinder, prissier world than the one we live in, and there’s humor in the gap.
In the very next paragraph of that article, Keenan Ivory Wayans, who was never funny, and who brought to our sad attention a whole host of brothers who were never funny, weighs in about the vanity of actresses impeding their efforts at comedy. “If Will Ferrell was a girl, and she's got a belly and a hairy back, she's not running down the street naked.” Did Wayans ever see Wiig as one of the Merrill sisters? Or as Jamie Lee Curtis pitching Activia yogurt? Wiig has been the funniest person on the planet for a while, ruling SNL when she was on it, stealing scenes in movies like “Knocked Up,” and now, in this script she co-wrote with Annie Mumolo, who plays her airplane seatmate in the film, she’s front-and-center in all of her awkward glory.
Much of the film is actually conventional. Annie’s life is in the crapper—her bakery, Cake Lady, was a victim of the recession—when her best friend, Lillian, gets engaged. She tries to be happy for her but can’t help but compare where she and Lillian are both heading. Then she meets Lillian’s new best friend, and maid of honor rival, Helen (Rose Byrne), who lives up to the model—she’s pretty, rich, connected, and outwardly sweet—and in Annie’s attempts not to lose Lillian, she loses Lillian. She takes the bridesmaids to the restaurant where they get food poisoning, she forces their Vegas bachelorette party to land in Casper, Wyoming, she throws an insane fit at Helen’s insanely over-the-top wedding shower. And that’s that. The thing she fears the most meets her halfway.
She’s her own worst enemy. She keeps going back to the wrong guy (Ted), keeps ignoring the right guy, Irish cop Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd). She loses her job, is forced to move home with her mother (Jill Clayburgh, the original unmarried woman), and winds up crying on the couch to Tom Hanks in “Castaway.” We’ve seen this kind of thing before yet it feels different here. It’s funnier, yes, but it also feels truer. The way people try to talk Annie out of her downward spiral and the way she doesn’t listen. There’s a scene where, after Rhodes encourages her to bake again, she does, she bakes a glorious cupcake, topped with all kinds of candied configurations. Then she stares at it on the counter, unhappily. Then she eats it, unhappily. Not because she wants the cupcake, one assumes, but because she doesn’t want to make the cupcake. Because baking isn’t satisfying what it used to satisfy.
The friends, too, the bridesmaids, feel familiar yet aren’t. There’s the oddball heavyset one, the Zach Galifianakis character, Megan, played by Melissa McCarthy, who’s butch and frighteningly straight and comedically straightforward. She’s the most genuine of the women in that she doesn’t have an ideal she’s trying to live up to or that people are imposing upon her. Near the end she physically wrestles with Annie (“I’m Annie’s life! I’m Annie’s life!”), trying to get her to fight back; then she talks about how she had to learn to fight back in high school. Megan only stops being funny for a second, and in that second she’s quite poignant.
All the women, all the bridesmaids, are poignant and funny; all are dealing with the gulf between the assumed expectation and their own reality. Becca (Ellie Kemper of “The Office”) is the cute newlywed, of the perfect new marriage ... where the sex with her germaphobic husband isn’t working. Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey) has the opposite problem with her husband. “Sometimes I just want to watch ‘The Daily Show’ without him entering me,” she says. Lillian is the focus of all this whirling activity, but she’s scared of all she’s leaving behind. Even Helen, behind the rich, pretty facade, is small and scared. She’s all pinpoint management skills with, she knows, no true friends.
But it’s in Annie that this gulf between expectation and reality is most visible and most comic. In an early scene, the manager of the jewelry store (Michael Hitchcock, of “Best in Show” fame), trying to get her to show customers the “love is eternal” look to help sell jewelry, calls over a hot young thing with a ludicrous name, Kahlua (Kali Hawk), who, between flirtations with the manager, demonstrates. Then Annie tries. The manager frowns. “Looks like you have menstrual cramps,” he says.
It’s not that the gulf between expectation and reality is inevitably funny. It’s that Kristen Wiig brings out the awkward humor in the situation better than almost anyone.
The filmmakers, including director Paul Feig, director of episodes of “The Office” and “Arrested Development,” get all the details right. The setting is Milwaukee in all its lakefront glory, the soundtrack is full of songs sung by women, we get ’70s standup comic Franklyn Ajaye—Franklyn Ajaye!—as Lillian’s father. Most importantly, the friendship between Annie and Lillian feels real and deep. You know The Bechdel Test from the comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For”? Quote: “I only go to a movie if it satisfies three basic requirements. One, it has to have at least two women in it, who, two, talk to each other about, three, something besides a man.” “Bridesmaids” is her movie. True, Annie and Lillian talk about men. But they also bring out the inner goof in each other. They drop the facade. That’s what friends are for.
May 14, 2011
© 2011 Erik Lundegaard