Review: Bridesmaids

05/25/2011

It was only a matter of time, what with all the claims (right or wrong) of misogamy levied against the Apatowverse, that eventually the women of the raunchy comedy world would get an outing of their own. And in a perfect move drenched in self-aware irony, that movie – Bridesmaids – is about the most decorously feminine and cinematically familiar of scenarios: a wedding. BUT, the trailers seemed to tell us, it’s not like all those other wedding comedies. There’s poop and swearing and belching and drugs; just like the movies all those guys are in! Similarly, the posters showed the all star lineup of comediennes (led by SNL all star Kristen Wiig) in their pink dresses, posed like the Sex and the City women, if they were about to play a game of rugby. As advertised, Bridesmaids is not so much an irreverent twist on the wedding movie as it is an all out assault. Like all films of a similar ilk, it is something of a mixed bag, but fans of the genre (R-rated comedies, not necessarily wedding films) should get their money’s worth.

Say what you will about the films Judd Apatow has overseen, they are self-aware. They know their target audience and find ways to speak to those people and craft interesting stories for them, even when the trailers that show beforehand showcase the lowest common denominator mirk these movies pretend to wallow in (I mean, The Changeup? Really Jason Bateman?). Smart people made Bridesmaids; people who knew that basing a film around real characters works better than merely appealing to or riffing on a specific gender; people who were very intentional that the man who Maya Rudolph’s character was marrying should not be a character, since such an event is not really about him (and since his female equivalent would not be a character if this was another turn out for the boys); people who set up a vacation in Vegas scenario (like every good wedding film) only to undermine it in a more creative way with clearly improvised comedy and extreme screwball humor; people who think the real “enemy” of female filmmaking isn’t bromances like I Love You Man or Superbad, but those Sex and the City movies with their whimsical short-sightedness, near-pornographic affluence, and disregard of real-world concerns. The trademark clothes shopping scene in Bridesmaids is upstaged by the film’s biggest grossout gags, as if the filmmakers are quite literally, um, pooping on the genre. These people knew what they were doing with every moment of this film.

And yes, Bridesmaids proved, if it needed to be proven, that the girls (especially Kristen Wiig) are as funny as the boys. When everything is at its most manic (like in that ridiculous plane scene) the movie falls somewhere between disarming and hilarious. The comedy on display is built out of long, largely improvised scenes staged around events and circumstances (the plane scene, the wedding shower scene, the shopping scene). Wiig especially is showcased, with the movie never leaving her story and allowing her to run things. One clearly improvised gag where Wiig and Rose Byrne’s Helen battle for the microphone at an engagement party grabs hold of a small moment and milks it for everything it’s worth. These are the kinds of moments that would get glossed over, blown out of proportion, or outright ignored in the over-produced, super-commercial comedies that these two hour Apatow wonders outperform. But those elements have never been the problem with films like Bridesmaids.

The problem is hubris, or the lack thereof. First, the writers just don’t seem to trust their audience. Perhaps rightfully so, as the most popular comedies last year were Grown Ups and Little Fockers, but as a lover of story, I simply cannot give a movie my unreserved recommendation when it telegraphs its story beats as loudly and follows the traditional comedy outline as faithfully as Bridesmaids does. As off-the-cuff as it tries to be, too many things are set in stone and too many story lines and character arcs are predictable. Just when I find myself getting lost in a nuanced moment or a delightfully awkward exchange, somebody seems to walk behind me with a bullhorn and scream what it all means. Or just when I feel a moment of raw honesty, the film jerks back into alignment with the predictable, traditional narrative. And the fact that there are true moments of inspiration, both dramatic and comedic, only makes it worse; only makes me more aware when something rings untrue. This is the problem I’ve had with everything Apatow has touched, from the 40 Year Old Virgin through Funny People. I understand the reason behind every decision; that these are lowbrow comedies, well-written but intended to appeal to everyone; interesting, but only for the sake of entertainment. Nonetheless, I’m trained to reject any foreign intruder in an organic story, and in Bridesmaids, those begin stacking up.

It is probably not fair to critique Bridesmaids by such a standard; a standard that the filmmakers never intended for it to live up to. For what it is, it succeeds, and it does so while remaining interesting, and even saying something interesting about its place in the world the film occupies. Just like Annie, on her own, couldn’t get into the fancy dress shop, big, showy, romantic comedies are not applicable to the average person. Normal people cannot afford big trips of Vegas or Paris on a regular basis, but because comedies are regarded as an escape, hack writers tend to lean toward an almost fantastical obsession with the world of the elite: endless piles of money, luxury trips, and handsome, witty men are all stereotypes which Bridesmaids avoids (or outright vilifies). But these moments of illumination shine a light into the dark corners of the script. When a character lives and breathes, suddenly keeping them in line with the needs of a rigid outline is more difficult. When manic, crazy humor is employed (as in Wiig’s freak out scene at the wedding shower), sometimes it doesn’t mesh with the quieter, more truthful moments. Sometimes needing your character to reconcile with everyone before the end of the movie takes away from the journey they went on individually. And sometimes, just maybe, you can be “too crass” or “too juvenile” to be taken seriously.

Rating: B-

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