Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"Bridesmaids" - REVIEW

With only a handful of exceptions, Saturday Night Live stars don't have the best track record of transitioning from sketch comedy to headlining feature films. For every Will Ferrell, there's half a dozen Julia Sweeneys floundering around in increasingly awful comedic vehicles. However, thanks to the magic hand of producer Judd Apatow, and some hard work of her own, current star Kristen Wiig may be on her way to becoming the next exception to the rule.

Wiig, who co-wrote the film with Annie Mumolo, stars as Annie, a down-on-her-luck woman whose best friend (Maya Rudolph) has picked her as the maid of honor for her upcoming wedding. As Annie tries to do her best to pull off the bachelorette party, as well as sort out her less-than-ideal love life, she has to deal with the bizarre group of bridesmaids.

Plot-wise, there's really nothing surprising to be found in Bridesmaids, and save for a few specifics, there isn't much in the limited plot that you won't see coming. Wiig and Mumolo's script is more interested in the character interactions and the jokes, and for the most part the approach works. While not a brilliant work of comedy, the film produces consistent laughs thanks to a sense of humor that perfectly matches Wiig's mix of goofiness and understated weirdness. Wiig makes a delightful leading lady, and keeps Annie (and the rest of the characters) from becoming a one-note role designed specifically for jokes. Even moments that feel like they could be an SNL sketch - a scene where Annie and Rose Byrne's Helen try to catch the attention of a traffic cop - don't become major distractions because, simply put, they're funny.

Backing up Wiig is a stellar ensemble of female comedic talent. Stand-outs go to Byrne, better known for her beauty (and TV's Damages) than for comedy, as a bitchy rival friend, and Melissa McCarthy as a brusque soon-to-be-relative of the bride. The bride herself, Ms. Rudolph, is given slightly less to do, and unfortunately has the 'straight' role of the bunch. Rounding out the party are Wendi McLendon-Covey (Reno 911!) and Ellie Kemper (The Office), as a stressed out mother of three, and an idealistic newlywed, respectively. Unfortunately, not everyone is given quite as much to do. As the film progresses, it's really Byrne and McCarthy who take center stage in supporting, while Covey and Kemper all but vanish after a certain point, which seems like a waste of talent.

As far as men are concerned, there are only two worth mentioning, played by Jon Hamm and Chris O'Dowd, each rather simplistic in spite of the talented actors in the roles. This is very much a woman-oriented film, and despite hitting plenty of familiar notes, Bridesmaids avoids becoming tired or tedious thanks to the strength of its triumphant female cast. There may be a wedding involved, but this is no Katherine-Heigl-romantic comedy (and that's for the best, isn't it?). The women are diverse, strong, independent, and most importantly, funny, and the film knows how to use each of them, even if they aren't all used enough. And in spite of the plot's lack of true suspense, Wiig deserves credit for deviating from the Apatow norm of going through a bunch of irreverent, silly, crude, and/or gross-out jokes before taking a sharp left turn into 'meaningful' territory. The softer side of the film is predictable, but also feels authentic and well-earned, even if everything does get tied up too neatly at the end. Bridesmaids may be a female-oriented comedy, but its humor, even in its weak moments, is universally appealing.

Grade: B

**Bridesmaids opens in US theaters on May 13th.

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