Directed by Paul Feig
The journalists and editors and pop-culture polymaths who make careers out of issuing daily pronouncements on the parlous sociological condition of American womanhood—too few op-eds written by females!—have a new cause. The cause is the new comedy Bridesmaids, and upon its reception the very future of women in media has, we are told, come to depend.
Bridesmaids is, they say, the first R-rated, foul-mouthed, no-holds-barred female-centered comedy in years. The last one was called The Sweetest Thing with Cameron Diaz, and the fact that you’ve never even heard of this 2002 catastrophe explains why, in its wake, women screenwriters who attempt to write dirty-talk scripts for female performers on the model of the hard-R male-skewing comedies Hollywood loves to make found themselves disenfranchised.
But wait, you say. What about the two Sex and the City movies? No, no, we are informed with a touch of condescension, those don’t count. They were pre-sold successes because of the hit television show that preceded them! They weren’t produced from original screenplays with all-new characters, the way Wedding Crashers and The Hangover were! Because those two raunchfests earned so much money, boy screenwriters get to make pallid copies of them again and again, but not girls. So, America, champion the depiction of women who curse like sailors! Ensure that female screenwriters who slap the word “comedy” on their scripts get to earn $2-million paydays! See Bridesmaids!
The peculiar earnestness of this campaign on behalf of a nakedly capitalistic enterprise funded by a major Hollywood studio and produced by Judd Apatow, the hottest name in comedy, is beyond parody. And yet there it is. Bridesmaids cost $32.5 million to make and probably another $15 million to market, so no amount of special affirmative-action pleading of this sort would really have made a difference when it came to the mass American audience. But while this nonsense was ginned up in part by its production team to create buzz, it’s actually an insult to Bridesmaids, which is gloriously funny, surprisingly touching, and altogether a triumph—and is, moreover, something very, very far from an affirmation of the power and wonder of
The movie’s star and cowriter (with Annie Mumolo) is Kristen Wiig of Saturday Night Live, whose brilliance as a sketch comedienne gave little indication that she could pull off a variegated character like the miserable mid-30s Milwaukeean she plays here. Annie is a very single pastry chef whose bakery has folded and left her deeply in debt. She has no choice but to share an apartment with a British brother-sister duo with no sense of boundaries who think it’s fine to read her diary for fun. She is in thrall to an unabashed cad (Jon Hamm of Mad Men, hilarious here) who calls her his “number three.” To top it all off, she learns that her oldest friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), is getting married.
Her ambiguous feelings about Lillian’s good fortune pale beside the assault on the sanctity of her best-friendship by a fellow bridesmaid married to Lillian’s fiancé’s boss. The rich and gorgeous Helen (Rose Byrne) is determined to supplant Annie in the only role in her life that she is at all sure of. In a series of escalating set pieces, Annie finds herself having to battle for primacy in Lillian’s affections against a rival who will use any and every slip-up on Annie’s part—and there are many—to her advantage.
Bridesmaids is a wild comedy that features one gross-out scene to rival anything in a frat-boy farce. But what makes it genuinely memorable is its entirely original depiction of female rivalry, which generates the kinds of laughs that suggest it might come to be seen as a classic—laughter generated by the evocation of a core set of truths. I can’t remember a Hollywood movie as honest and unsparing about the complexities of intimate friendships as this one.
The Annie-Helen conflict is established by a series of toasts each gives to her beloved Lillian at the engagement party, with both making increasingly brazen efforts to hold and control the microphone. Later, after yet another episode in which Annie ruins a pre-wedding event, Lillian screams at her, “Why can’t you just go home and talk behind my back like a normal person!” The only contented person on display in the movie is Megan (Melissa McCarthy), an obese sex kitten who feels free to say or do just about anything that crosses her mind.
Annie is not a Meg Ryan character, so utterly adorable that she’s not even for a minute believable as a sad sack desperate for love. She is a wounded person who has made a mess of her life, and Wiig makes you like her in spite of her misbehavior. That is a very tricky thing to pull off. And so is Bridesmaids, which should be seen not to further the interests of women in comedy or women in Hollywood or women in media or women in baking, but solely because when it is good, it is great.
John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.