Annie's (Kristen Wiig) life is a mess. But when she finds out her lifetime best friend (Maya Rudolph) is engaged, she simply must serve as Lillian's maid of honour. Though lovelorn and broke, Annie bluffs her way through expensive and bizarre rituals. With one chance to get it perfect, she'll show Lillian and her bridesmaids how far you'll go for someone you love.
Bridesmaids is not merely the female equivalent of The Hangover, with a bachelorette party taking a turn for the worse in Las Vegas. For starters, the bridal party never actually gets to Sin City and, more crucially, the movie is more interested in the dynamics of friendship and rivalry among women than male survival in the face of stupidity. There’s more than a punch in the face from Mike Tyson at stake in Paul Feig’s movie, which has a bold sense of humour borne out of the desperate fear that life is trapping each of the characters in a pigeonhole they don’t deserve.
At 125 minutes, Bridesmaids is unusually long for what is supposedly a raunchy comedy, and that’s because the story – written by its lead, Kristen Wiig, and her writing partner, fellow comic Annie Mumolo – steadfastly builds characters instead of knocking them down. Early scenes deftly establish the uneasy 30something existence of Annie (Wiig), whose life is beset by apathy and self-loathing since her bakery and relationship went south. When her life-long best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) reveals that she is engaged to be married, Annie is both delighted and scared, because while she takes happiness in her friend’s fortune she knows that it reflects on her own unachieved goals.
Annie’s panic begins as farce and ends as tragedy, especially once she meets Helen’s impossibly glossy and socially silken work colleague Helen (Rose Byrne), whose mere presence turns Annie’s self-perceived problems into crucial shortcomings. If male comedies see friendship as the one bulwark against the outside world, the female-centric Bridesmaids takes a far more nuanced approach; every potential friend is a possible usurper. Annie and Helen’s efforts to outdo each other, beginning with dueling engagement party speeches, that grow steadily more unbearable as the former struggles to match the latter’s flawless gestures.
Wiig is little known to Australian audiences, since her six years on the American television institution Saturday Night Live, where she’s proven herself a skilled sketch performer, have not been widely seen here. But showcased here, both as a fearless comic performer and a flustered romantic lead, she plays off her elongated arms and legs that turn her into a mass of limbs when trouble looms. Her physical uneasiness is palpable, whether with Helen or when in bed with her doltish hook-up Ted (Jon Hamm, revealing a yen for comedy), and her voice recedes with passive-aggressive candour as she tries to have the last word or correct a misassumption that she nominally meets with a smile. Pressed to play the comedy staple of the nervous flyer who finds herself unexpectedly high after ingesting borrowed tablets and alcohol, for example, Wiig opts for embarrassing candour and surreal, argumentative asides instead of simply playing large.
There are raunchy aspects to the story, most notably a visit to ritzy bridal salon that is literally destroyed by food poisoning from a lunch set up by Annie, but it’s the embarrassment, especially when sampling the trappings of marriage, that’s emphasised more than the projectile emissions. The emotional and narrative arc are sturdily mainstream, but Bridesmaids profits simply by getting so many elements right, whether it’s the genuine bond between Annie and Lillian, or the acknowledgment that the lavish wedding is too expensive, or Annie’s angry comeback – 'you can’t fix me" – at a police officer (Chris O’Dowd) who presents her with a movie-friendly, feel good moment after their first night together.
The bridal party is staffed by comics, including Melissa McCarthy as a scene-stealing plus-size sister-in-law with few inhibitions, and Feig profits simply by pairing them off for scenes so he can cut between their often improvised dialogues (the late Jill Clayburgh also features as Annie’s mother). But despite so many professionally funny women, the gags – whether whiplash quick or extended into a self-contained sequence – aren’t just piled on for effect. Without being revelatory, Bridesmaids is not only a funny film, it’s also genuine.