Friday, May 13, 2011

Laughs on the way to the altar

Bridesmaids msy not be great, but it showcases the talent of Kristen Wiig.
At first blush, Bridesmaids seems to be an entirely transparent attempt to bring the testosterone-heavy Judd Apatow formula into a world populated by women. You know the drill: gross-outs and bawdy humor are garnished with dollops of sentiment and substance.

On second blush -- if there is such a thing -- the Apatow-produced Bridesmaids turns out to be ... well ... a transparent attempt to bring the Apatow formula into a world populated by women -- with some oddball touches added for good measure.

Fortunately, Bridesmaids does have some laughs. Honesty compels me to say that during one of the movie's major bits -- the one in which one woman throws up another's head -- I laughed. It was one of those despite-myself laughs, prompted by an overextended joke that can seem as revolting as it is funny. The bridesmaids suffer extreme bowl distress after lunch at a Brazilian restaurant. Need I say more?

For me, the main attraction of Bridesmaids has less to do with gross-outs than with SNL vet Kristen Wiig, who plays a failed Milwaukee bakery owner who's asked to serve as maid of honor for her newly engaged best friend (Maya Rudolph).

Tensions arise when Rudolph's Lillian allows another friend -- Rose Byrne's Helen -- to assume increasing responsibility for the pre-wedding festivities. Wigg's Annie, whose life has hit a bad patch, begins to stew in jealous juices.

Annie wishes she could have a meaningful relationship instead of the "adult sleepovers" she shares with a randy and wantonly insensitive pal (Jon Hamm). She also envies Helen's burgeoning relationship with the very wealthy Helen.

Annie's sisters in comedy include Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and Becca (Ellie Kemper), but the scene-stealer award for supporting players goes to Melissa McCarthy, who portrays Megan, an overweight woman who serves roughly the same function that Zach Galifianakis serves in comedies. She's the groom's sister, an unrepentantly crude woman who does nothing to conceal her libidinous desires and seems never to have heard the word "sublimation." Everything she says feels as blunt as a punch to the gut.

There are false notes in this march to the altar. When Wiig's Annie finally releases her pent-up fury at Lillian's bridal shower, her response seems too ugly for a comedy, and it can feel as if director Paul Feig is having trouble deciding whether he wants to indulge the movie's mass-appeal gene or surrender to its off-the-wall eccentricity.

One of the movie's strangest touches has Annie living with s roly-poly brother and sister. After the sister in this duo reads Annie's diary, she tries to cover up by insisting that she thought it was "a very sad handwritten book," a bizarre observation that makes you realize that there should have been more where that came from.

Wiig brings an unusual presence to the screen. She can be crass, funny and smart, sometimes all at once. A scene in which Annie gets looped on an airplane (the women are heading for a bachelorette party in Vegas) highlights Wiig's abilities, and some of the writing -- by Wiig and Annie Mumolo -- displays insight, manifested in knowing observations about pre-nuptial insanity.

A side note: It's fitting that Wiig and the late Jill Clayburgh have been cast as mother and daughter. Clayburgh actually looks as if she could have been Wiig's mom. One more aside: Annie's relationship with an unlikely state patrolman (Chris O'Dowd) reflects an offbeat bit of writing that could have made for a whole other movie.

And now for a pet peeve. Did I mention that Bridesmaids is a bit over two-hours long? On the way home, I played Bill Maher, and did a New Rules number with myself. New Rule: No comedy should be more than an hour-and-a-half long and that includes the damn credits.

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