The end of a romantic relationship might be more dramatic, the heartbreak more obvious, but the feeling that a once close friendship is fading can be just as painful, in part because there usually isn’t any obvious “break up,” only an unacknowledged growing distance papered over with an extended charade that everything is just as it was, even as it becomes increasingly apparent that everything is not. That hurts when you’re a kid, and it still hurts when you’re an adult, and Bridesmaids dramatizes that as well as any movie I’ve seen. Underneath the considerable hilarity—sometimes ribald, sometimes crude, sometimes simply goofy—is the kind of sadness and truth that marks all great comedy. Bridesmaids is probably too scattered and shaggy to achieve that kind of greatness itself, but its humanity and warmth elevate it nonetheless. Plus, it’s absolutely fucking hilarious—I did mention that, right?
Kristin Wiig stars as Annie, a woman struggling to stay afloat—both financially and emotionally—after the failure of her bakery, which was clearly a labor of love. When Lillian (Maya Rudolph), her best friend since childhood, announces she’s engaged, Annie is genuinely happy for her—and pleased to be named maid of honor—but she’s dismayed, too, by how far apart their lives seem to be taking them. Meeting Lillian’s new friend Helen (Rose Byrne), who is wealthy and beautiful and eager to make herself an indispensable member of the bridal party, only adds to Annie’s anxiety. The lead-up to Lillian’s wedding—picking bridesmaids’ dresses, throwing the bachelorette party, planning the shower—quickly becomes a nightmare for Annie as everything seems to go wrong for her and Helen is always, always there to outshine her rival in Lillian’s eyes and in those of the other bridesmaids.
There are about a million potential pitfalls in this setup that could have tipped Bridesmaids into an extravaganza of tired, offensive stereotypes, but the screenplay, by Wiig and Annie Mumolo, manages to sidestep them neatly by sympathetically creating characters that, though farcical, ring very true. With such an amazing cast bringing those characters to life, Bridesmaids becomes the kind of movie that’s fun simply to hang out with, so to speak. Wiig and Rudolph, both alumni of the Groundlings and Saturday Night Live, have a quirky, easygoing rapport that makes their characters’ shared history immediately believable and the rift between them genuinely poignant. Byrne gives a perfectly pitched performance as the brittle, prim Helen, bringing great comic timing to her one-upmanship of Annie and offsetting her mild deviousness with underlying vulnerability and sincerity that keep her from becoming a shrew. Rounding out Lillian’s bridal party are Wendi McLendon-Covey of Reno 911!, Ellie Kemper of The Office, and Melissa McCarthy of Gilmore Girls (and, OK, Mike & Molly)—all of whom are so terrific that it’s sort of a shame that Bridesmaids isn’t more of an ensemble film. McCarthy has the broadest role, essentially playing the Zach Galifianakis–esque weirdo that’s fast becoming ubiquitous, but she gives it her own kooky flavor and, most surprising, an endearing, well-earned sense of dignity.
Men are sort of beside the point of Bridesmaids (I don’t think the actor playing Lillian’s fiancé has a single line), but the few men who are in the main cast are just as great as their female counterparts. Jon Hamm seems to be having a fabulous time undercutting his already iconic role on Mad Men, here playing a good-looking but unrepentantly self-absorbed jerk with whom Annie is halfheartedly trying to grow a real relationship from the unfertile ground of the occasional booty call. Playing the good guy to Hamm’s cad is Chris O’Dowd of British sitcom The IT Crowd (which I never warmed to—the rhythms are off—but always considered him the best thing about, so I was happy to see him here). The tentative, poorly timed romance between his Rhodes and Wiig’s Annie constitutes a remarkably well done subplot, beautifully acted by both, with far more nuance and insight than I expected. Wiig and Mumolo should consider writing a full-blown romantic comedy. With that sensibility, they might actually avoid the typical essentialist tripe of most contemporary rom-coms.
And Bridesmaids certainly demonstrates that all of these actors are way too talented and funny to be relegated to supporting roles and occasional guest spots on TV shows—starting with Wiig. True, she’s a standout on SNL, but that means having to play the same catch-phrase-spouting characters over and over again, and as she demonstrates in Bridesmaids, she’s better than that and can certainly write better material. Take Annie’s appearance at the engagement party hosted by Helen—a small masterpiece of awkwardness and insecurity, delicately balanced to stay on the uproariously funny side of discomfort—or the plane trip from hell, on which an over-drugged Annie becomes more and more disruptive, giving Wiig the opportunity to go big, to side-splitting effect. The heavily advertised food-poisoning scene (supposedly shoehorned in by producer Judd Apatow in an effort to make the movie more appealing to guys—an anecdote that, if true, says nothing good about anyone) is a bit much, but the associated standoff between Helen, as collected and composed as ever, and Annie, desperately trying to stave off nausea by sheer force of will, is hard to resist—just like the rest of the movie. Even at its most vulgar, Bridesmaids is a charmer.