Annie, played by Kristen Wiig, is a despondent girl. And why shouldn’t she be? She’s living in an apartment with a British bro-sis combo who are likely dabbling in incest, she just lost her Milwaukee cake shop to the recession, and her love life consists of a booty call friend who isn’t the least bit interested in her as a person. It’s pretty pitiful at the outset, but it only gets worse when her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces her engagement, asks her to be the maid of honor, and then promptly introduces Annie to the fellow bridesmaid from hell, a woman so desperate for friendship that she’s willing to usurp the best friend bond that Annie and Lillian have forged over years of growing up together. Like just about any story concept, the one employed here in Bridesmaids has the potential to go in a number of different directions ranging from the depressingly serious to screwball comedic. As anyone reading this already knows, Bridesmaids chooses the comedic route and the results are pleasantly mixed.
Kristen Wiig (who also co-wrote and co-produced Bridesmaids) gives us an Annie that has hit rock bottom and still manages to be something of a charmer. She does all the wrong things for all the right reasons – she’s selfish in her role as maid of honor, she’s a cad to her would-be cop boyfriend, and she’s prone to passive-aggressive tactics that move into explosiveness when they don’t work out – and yet she’s easy to root for because Wiig makes her a funny person who is trying to be anything but funny.
The essence of good comedy is surprise. If you can see the joke coming, it’s won’t get the same laugh. Funny has to take you off your guard, give you a little shock of delight, and make you spit out the water that you just put in your mouth. A lot of Bridesmaidsis horrifyingly predicable because the filmmakers insist on making every scene (and sometimes every line) into a joke. Often they try to funny-up moments that shouldn’t be. When Annie and Helen, the aforementioned hellish bridesmaid played by Rose Byrne, go on a tennis outing in an attempt to make friends, Helen’s two step children come up to their step mom and tell her to “fuck off” when she tries to ask them an innocuous question. There’s nothing funny about this moment, but director Paul Feig tries to give it a lightness that might make us laugh. The moment is more likely to induce a little shudder than a laugh. What’s more irksome about that moment is that Helen’s relationship to her husband’s children is never revisited again, leaving this disturbing moment there to hang in the air like a storm that just won’t break.
The best moments in Bridesmaids come when Annie goes completely out of control. En route with the bridal party to Las Vegas she’s stuck in coach while Lillian and Helen are up in first class. Annie has a fear of heights that Helen tries to relieve by giving her a big glass of gin. Drunk, Annie makes her way up to first class to make fun of Helen and create a scene of herself. For the bridal shower Helen throws a Parisian themed party, an idea that Helen stole from Annie. When Annie sees it all and sees how Lillian is cuddling up to Helen (and in turn leaving Annie in the dust), she flips out, spewing truths laced with profanities, breaking things (including an enormous cookie) and, again, making a scene out of herself. The strength of these moments comes out of the fact that Annie is a generally quiet, submissive person; she suffers her lot in life with a self-deprecating humor and a weak smile. So when she explodes or loses her inhibition, it’s a sight that has to be seen. If it weren’t for these moments, Bridesmaids would be another run-of-the-mill comedy in the new “awkward” mode. There are funny moments throughout from all of the supporting characters, but nothing even comes close to the sight of Wiig flying off the handle.
A movie about just Annie and Lillian, and maybe a few other characters would’ve been great, but Bridesmaids, by virtue of its chosen narrative direction, is weighed down with subsidiary characters that exist only materialize and then vaporize when the scene doesn’t involve the entire bridal party. Among them we have Annie’s widowed mother, the aforementioned British roommates, and the booty call friend. Finally, there’s the Irish-accented police officer that Annie falls for, rejects, and falls for again. The sound of his voice is nice, but he’s colorless as far as the rest goes.
When Bridesmaids is going full throttle, it’s able to tap into the angst and frustration that can surround the self-aggrandizing, overblown nature of the modern bride. It’s a process that can put friendship through the meat grinder, leaving everyone wasted and completely forgetting everything that is important about marriage, friendship, and the communities that surround them. Love can be beautiful, but it can also be maddening. Anger and frustration have deep comedic possibilities, and when they are being exploited Bridesmaids becomes something of a great comedy. It’s too bad that the talented Kristen Wiig and everyone else on the project were too busy trying to cram the kitchen sink into the 125 minute (long for a comedy) run time.