May 14, 2011

BRIDESMAIDS: Bachelorette Party

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Watch It At Home: As Long and Uneven As a Real-Life Wedding.
Few recent movies have arrived bearing such a bouquet of goodwill as the new comedy BRIDESMAIDS.  It marks the movie starring and screenwriting (with Annie Mumolo) debut of Kristen Wiig, generally considered one of the shining lights of this generation’s “Saturday Night Live;” it’s produced by Judd Apatow, whose best movies have combined big laughs with quirky humanity; it’s directed by Paul Feig, creator of the beloved TV series “Freaks and Geeks;” and it’s the exceedingly rare mainstream Hollywood movie to feature a cast of women without relying on the usual Hudson/Heigl/Roberts/Bullock kind of romantic lead. It’s been greeted with remarkable critical support (90% on Rotten Tomatoes).  It is, indeed, admirable… I just wish it were a little better.

So what happened?  It feels as though the movie is being praised for what it intermittently manages to be, rather than what it often is, which is a frustratingly uneven, terribly overlong (125 minutes, more running time than The King’s Speech needed) picture that both discards and grabs for dear life onto the cliches of “women’s movies.”  The story is a simple framework:  Wiig plays Annie, who’s been down on her luck professionally since her bakery went under, and whose romantic life is pretty much limited to mutual exploitation with Ted (Jon Hamm, very funny)–her lifeline is her longtime friendship with Lillian (Maya Rudolph).  The news that Lillian is engaged makes Annie happy but also feeling adrift, and the fact that she’s maid of honor forces her to interact with other eccentric bridesmaids (Melissa McCarthy, Ellie Kemper, Wendi McLendon-Covey), and to compete with the rich, grasping Helen (Rose Byrne) for control of the wedding plans.   
There are, admittedly, some scenes between the women, especially towards the end, that have a level of emotional complexity we don’t see in typical rom-coms.  But along the way, many of those scenes are as broad and obvious as anything in Sex and the City.  And the Apatow touch is felt with a heavy hand in sequences that force-feed the movie crude physical humor, like a food poisoning that leads to much vomiting and diarrhea, and a scene where the bridesmaids are on a plane to Vegas and Wiig gets accidentally drugged, and it all goes on so long (it’s like one of Wiig’s SNL sketches from hell) that it felt like the whole theatre should have arrived at the Vegas airport by the time the scene was over.  It’s also somewhat puzzling to see the film acclaimed for not forcing romance on its single protagonist when there’s a prominent, and obvious, romantic comedy storyline that features a charming Irish traffic cop (Chris O’Dowd) who’s got “love interest” written all over him from the moment he appears.  There’s been great effort to distinguish Bridesmaid’s tone from that of The Hangover, but I’m not sure how the characters in that picture were any sketchier than the women here.
As a piece of filmmaking, Bridesmaids isn’t exactly a prime example of craft (which isn’t unusual for an Apatow production).  Neither Feig nor cinematographer Robert Yeoman are able to make the movie look better than we’d expect from a well-budgeted single-camera network show, and editors William Kerr and Mike Sale must have been paid extra under the table to let scenes meander on. 
None of this is to say that Bridesmaids is a waste of time:  Wiig is a genuinely unconventional presence at the center of a Hollywood film, and several of the supporting actors, most notably McCarthy, successfully go for broke with their roles.  There are laughs here, and moments of honesty.  It’s easy to root for Bridesmaids (and apparently many people are); but like many a wedding guest who’s indulged a little too much at the open bar, it’s not quite as fascinating as it thinks it is.
(BRIDESMAIDS – Universal – 125 minutes – R – Director:  Paul Feig – Script:  Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo – Cast:  Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Chris O’Dowd, Jon Hamm – Wide Release)

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."