May 14, 2011

'Bridesmaids' is Ambitious, and as Complex as Its Main Character

By Contributor Meghan O'Keefe


Bridesmaids is a funny and charming film. Like Clueless, Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion and Mean Girls, it will probably be quoted by teenaged girls and drunk twenty-somethings for the next decade or two. Is it the groundbreaking comedy masterpiece that some people were hoping? No. It's not going to reinvent how comedians approach their writing or performances. It will, however, help bring more female comedians to the forefront. So, in that way, it's a completely successful film. It's funny, is doing great box office business and shows producers that women can carry comedy films.

The movie follows Annie (Kristen Wiig) as she copes with her life falling apart at the same time that her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is getting married. Kristen Wiig is probably best known for her large, over-the-top, "look at me" characters that she performs on "Saturday Night Live." The weird thing is, I think Wiig's greatest talent isn't pushing herself to the extreme, but revealing truth through nuance. Thankfully, Bridesmaids gives her the opportunity to do both. Whether it's her subtle facial reactions to anything the snooty Helen (Rose Byrne) says or having a temper tantrum at a fancy bridal shower, Wiig brings the funny and she brings it hard.


The rest of the cast is also great. In particular, Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne and Rebel Wilson stand out with comedic performances that should redefine the directions of each of their careers. If you had told me even one year ago that the biggest star to come out of "Gilmore Girls" would be Melissa McCarthy, I would be nonplussed. I know some of my friends objected to her characterization in the trailers, but she really comes off as the biggest discovery in this film. She's fearless and finally breaks out of "sweet supportive best friend" mode. Byrne is the only actress without a comedy background, so it's delightful to see her nail every angle of Helen. She was great in Get Him To The Greek, but I think after this film we'll hopefully see her transition from supporting dramatic roles to starring in comedies. I was unfamiliar with Rebel Wilson before this film, but after seeing her bizarre roommate schtick, I want more. I expect American producers will, too.

If these three women were able to stand out, then it has to be noted that it was very disappointing to see Maya Rudolph, Ellie Kemper and Wendi McLendon-Covey being woefully underutilized. Rudolph gets very little opportunity to flex any of her comedic muscles. She's the sweet best friend caught in the middle of Annie's breakdown, so everything she does is to ground everyone else around her. Kemper and McLendon-Covey are set up to have hilarious character arcs, but the story stops following them halfway through the film. Each of these women shine when they have a chance, but you get the feeling that some of their best moments may have been cut to accommodate the larger story.

If Bridesmaids has one great weakness, it's that it's trying to be too many things for too many people at once. What this means is that there's something for everyone, but it also means that everyone I've spoken to about the film is disappointed that there wasn't more of one specific thing. It's an ensemble comedy, it's a gross-out fest, it's a love story between best friends, it's a coming-of-age film, it's a romance film, it's a study in a woman's breakdown, it's an argument for never having children (seriously, every child in this film is a foul-mouthed hellion), it's a springboard for previously unknown comedic talent, it's Kristen Wiig's first starring vehicle and it's an ode to the cuteness of puppies. The film does it's best to address all of these angles (and it does do a good job), but you get the feeling that so much was cut. How did an Irish man become a Minnesota police officer? Does Annie start making plans for a new bakery at the film's close? What happens to Ellie Kemper and Melinda McLendon-Covey's characters? How did Annie know Bill Cozbi and her mother had AA in common? WHO'S CAROL?? I'm sorry, but if you drop Melanie Hutsell in as Annie's tennis partner then I need to know where she came from and why she also hates Helen.

In a way it's really good that I desperately want to know more about all the little flourishes in Bridesmaids's world. It shows that the film exists in a dense universe and that there are more stories to be told. But it's also a sign that maybe there was a lack of focus in production. In the press coverage for Bridesmaids, it was revealed that producer Judd Apatow was the mastermind behind the raunchier parts of the film. He created the "ladies in pretty dresses puke and poop all over the place" scene and pushed for the film to be called Bridesmaids instead of its working title, Single. Apatow's influence on the film seems to be about taking a film that focuses on one woman's spiral into and out of self-loathing and turning it into a riotous crowd-pleaser. It's also clear that the film still doesn't know whether it's about a bunch of bridesmaids or that single woman. The first half is set up like the uproarious female ensemble comedy that the billboards advertised, but after a scene where Annie acts out on a plane, the film drops the group and follows only her. What's interesting is that I enjoyed both movies that Bridesmaids was trying to be. I loved watching a group of brilliant female comedians work off of one another, but I also loved the way Annie's story highlighted that people need to take responsibilities for their mistakes and stop blaming others for their own setbacks.

Bridesmaids will be remembered as an incredibly ambitious film. People will probably remember that this film was touted as the ground-breaker for female comedies, but it's the scope of the story itself that's also ambitious. What's amazing is that the film, while not perfect, doesn't disappoint. It shows women as funny, unique and complex. Hopefully, this signals that in the future we'll get to see more funny, unique and complex women in movies. Because, seriously, we're all funny, unique and complex and it's about time Hollywood took notice.


Meghan O'Keefe is a comedian in NYC. She covers this topic and more at megsokay.tumblr.com.

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