“Why can’t you just be happy for me, and then go home and talk about me behind your back like a normal person?”
After Annie (Kristen Wiig) finally cracks under the weight of her shitty life – her terrible job, her failed business, her debt, her incredibly creepy roommates, her asshole fuck-buddy (a perfectly smarmy Jon Hamm), and the stress of being maid of honor – and verbally lashes out at the bridal shower, bride-to-be Lillian (Maya Rudolph) yells back the above. It is neither the funniest line in Bridesmaids (2011), nor the most important. But it is perhaps the most poignant. The film is above all a film about how women interact: what we want and need from each other; how we relate to and rely on one another; how cracks can form in the foundations of long-standing friendships; and ultimately how these relationships evolve, like any other aspect of our lives.
Annie and Lillian have been friends since childhood, and the film opens at an interesting time in their relationship. While everything is going wrong for Annie, Lillian’s life seems to be happily moving forward. Wiig and Rudolph are incredible together, thanks to their fantastic chemistry. Their scenes together are comfortable and true, and they are also where the mark of improv is most evident. And while I have always found Wiig to be hilarious on SNL, she absolutely blew me away. She was expectedly funny, but she also showed an incredible range. She has more than proven herself as capable of carrying a film.
The entire film bears a similar sense of authenticity. Director Paul Feig (creator of the brilliant Freaks and Geeks) allows the film to breathe. Eschewing the rapid-fire structure of most rom-coms, he allows scenes to unfold naturally, and many are downright lengthy. Feig explores the nuance of (often awkward) interactions, lingering in uncomfortable moments and prolonging reaction shots. Similarly, cinematographer Robert Yeoman (better known for shooting indie films such as The Royal Tennenbaums (2001) and The Squid and The Whale (2005)) allows the camera to capture wrinkles, fly-aways, and makeup. The film is as visually different from Sex and the City 2: Still Sexin’ in the City as it could possibly be. And thank goodness for that.
But above all, Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s script is what truly establishes the film’s uniqueness. They manage to integrate so many elements that could have easily descended into clichÃ© – Weddings! Lady jealousy! Singledom! Hot men! – into a natural story that never relies on easy choices. Annie is fundamentally not the hero. She is incredibly flawed, as are many leading ladies, yes. But she is also selfish and vindictive. She cruelly rebuffs the attention of a kind, funny man. She hurls verbal abuse at her best friend’s bridal shower. She holds grudges and wallows in her own self-pity. She could easily be an unlikable character but is instead nuanced and truthful.
This is the case with the entire female cast. Upon first glance, the women all seem to fit within the narrow confines of caricature: Becca (Ellie Kemper) is the sweet-as-pie, Disney-obsessed newlywed; Helen (a brilliant performance by Rose Byrne) is the passive-aggressive rich bitch; and Megan (Melissa McCarthy) is the loud, obnoxious fat woman. But the women are so much more. Below her saccharine surface, Becca wants nothing more than to get laid good and proper. Helen struggles with a husband who constantly travels and step-children who hate her. Most transcendent of clichÃ©, however, is the scene-stealing Megan. She is nowhere near a one-note fat joke. She is both the film’s funniest character and its most poignant. She is a brash, loving, motivated (and motivating), incredibly self-confident, and sexual woman. She doesn’t lament her size or appearance, as is so often the case with overweight women in Hollywood films. She doesn’t spend a moment wishing she were anything but what she is; and what she is is badass.
I had high expectations for Bridesmaids, and it more than delivered. Even scenes that I worried might rely on tired, over-used humor blew me away. The film does not lean on any sweeping romantic gestures or an optimistic, Annie-getting-her-life-back-together final montage. And I can now confidently say that scatological humour reaches a whole new level of hilarity when the hapless character involved is not a frat boy but rather a beautiful woman in a beautiful wedding dress.
And this is the crux of the entire matter: women. And though it may seem trite or hackneyed to discuss the film’s significance in this regard, it would also be a remarkable disservice to disregard its importance. I wish it weren’t the case, but Bridesmaids’ female presence (both in front of the camera and behind) is an anomaly among the Hangover sequels and Vince Vaughn vehicles. It has heart, it has truth, and it made me laugh so hard I’m going to need to see it a second time to catch every line. I cannot recommend it enough. See it, and see it more than once, because goodness knows comedies this good don’t come around nearly often enough.
For more filmschooled on Bridesmaids, check out her previous post on the trailer.
This review originally appeared on filmschooled’s tumblr, I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends