Directed by: Paul Feig || Produced by: Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel, Clayton Townsend
Screenplay by: Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig || Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Chris O’Dowd, Jill Clayburgh
Music by: Michael Andrews || Cinematography: Robert Yeoman || Edited by: William Kerr, Mike Sale || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 125 minutes
The rampant rise of Paul Feig’s subversive, female-driven comedy filmography has come under greater scrutiny given the controversial anticipation of the director’s latest upcoming feature, this summer’s Ghostbusters (2016)-remake. Much of the critical community, both mainstream and otherwise, applaud the man’s work for bringing greater attention to female stars and female-centric storylines in comedy, and his films have all sold well, but some fans question whether his films bring anything new, stylistically or formula-wise, to the table besides a gender-switch in lead actors and casts.
I am a fan of Kristin Wiig, but not so much Melissa McCarthy — so little, in fact, with regards to the latter, that I have begun actively avoiding any feature film starring her; given the massive negative hype building for Ghostbusters, I may have to wave my prejudices out of sheer curiosity soon enough. As per Feig’s comedy style, I don’t understand the appeal besides the aforementioned progressive gimmick that critics love, and the generic “laugh-out-loud” dialogue-driven nature of his films, to which of course general audiences are always open. That being said, Bridesmaids was such a hit, as well as a Hollywood springboard for stars like Wiig and McCarthy, that analysis of its artistic merit are warranted based on its recent mainstream influence alone.
Like I said, Bridesmaids is primarily a dialogue-driven comedy, depending on its characters’ banter and stereotypes for the majority of its humor. The “visual humor” it does contain is limited to toilet jokes, one fun but brief slow-motion tennis match, and Kristen Wiig throwing chocolate fondue in a fit of rage. There’s nothing terribly subversive about the movie’s actual filmmaking besides the gender-perspective of its cast, which is interesting enough given the comparison between this film and, say, The Hangover (2009). If you like that style of lightly edited improv, what are essentially a series of Saturday Night Live-style sketches stretched into a feature-length story through a dependable main character (or characters), you will like Bridesmaids, as well as the numerous broad, mainstream comedies it is supposedly “subverting.” I particularly don’t , so I didn’t get much entertainment, comedy or otherwise, out of Bridesmaids, much like how I don’t get much enjoyment out of most likminded comedies starring Melissa McCarthy, Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Kevin Hart, Amy Schumer, Seth Rogan, Anna Kendrick, or Leslie Jones.
Their style of “comedy filmmaking” just doesn’t do much for me; the camerawork in their films tends to be bland and uninteresting, the plots formulaic and predictable, and the characters themselves range from one-dimensional stereotypes to offensively stupid caricatures. Needless to say, the few jokes that aren’t about poop, pee, dicks, or vaginas in those movies are delivered overwhelmingly through dialogue, like in a Saturday Night Live skit or a Comedy Central standup routine. The idea of visual humor, or humor through framing, staging, and editing (you know… through the actual craft of filmmaking) doesn’t seem to even register in their projects’ creative odometer.
Bridesmaids fits these big, broad comedy-cliches to a “T,” and leads me to wonder if the film would have ever made such impact, particularly in the critical sphere, if the film had not featured a high-profile female cast. Skimming through the film’s positive press, one notices numerous odd praises from the likes of Roger Ebert and Yael Cohen proclaiming, “It definitely proves that women are the equal of men in vulgarity, sexual frankness, lust, vulnerability, overdrinking and insecurity,” and, “women could pull off a good fart joke as well as the next guy,” respectively.
Huh? Is that supposed to be a compliment to the movie?
In any case, my problems with this film are that it seems so content with its story formula, juvenile comedy, and stereotypical characters that I couldn’t engage with much of its actual drama. The narrative itself is charming and relatable enough: Kristen Wiig’s character is your standard, down-on-their luck protagonist who must come to grips with her best friend and only true source of happiness, played by Maya Rudolph, getting married and moving on in life without her. It’s a fine setup, really, and much of Wiig’s awkward introduction to Rudolph’s in-laws, marriage guests, and the remaining titular bridesmaids are amusing enough.
Much of the film’s charm is from Wiig and her chemistry with Rudolph, both alumnae of Saturday Night Live. Their friendship feels heartfelt whenever the latter isn’t shitting in the middle of the street in a wedding gown, and the former isn’t rolling in fondue. You can predict the development of their relationship about five minutes into the movie, but this aspect of formula is acceptable given the performances of Wiig and Rudolph.
The remainder of the titular bridesmaids are less consistent. Ellie Kemper and Wendi McLendon-Covey (the latter of Reno 911! [2003-2009] fame) are fun, but they’re barely in the movie; Melissa McCarthy is a loud, obnoxious, distracting cartoon whose one intimate scene with Wiig can’t make up for her endless fart jokes, dumb one-liners, and one particularly tiresome scene where she takes a dump in a sink. Ha… ha? Rose Byrne’s antagonist is entertaining enough, and it’s nice how she’s portrayed as a somewhat sympathetic character by the end instead of a caricatured mustache-twirling villain.
Chris O’Dowd stars as an inexplicable Irish Wisconsin state trooper (as in his character is Irish and he speaks with an Irish accent), and may be the most forgettable part of the film. He’s not as annoying as McCarthy, but not as developed as Wiig or Rudolph, nor as entertaining as Byrne, Kemper, and McLendon-Covey. There is no need for his character to be in this film, other than the obvious formula demands or perhaps broader demographic (re: male) appeal.
At the end of the day, it’s difficult to come down too hard on Bridesmaids given the inoffensiveness of most of its cast, its lead performance, and the admittedly painfully low bar of the genre. My main criticisms are that I just don’t find its gag-humor funny, even if I try to turn my brain to its lowest common denominator. Some of the improv-jokes are humorous, but the film’s dependence on them, combined with its lack of cinematic comedy, means the former grow repetitive by the end of the movie’s 125-minute running time. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This sort of generic story, with its passable characters and bathroom humor, is better suited for novel, sitcom, or theatre play-formats. As a movie though, particularly as a “comedy” movie, I find Bridesmaids lacking.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Bridesmaids is a standard character-driven ensemble comedy film, lead by the capable duo of Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph. You can predict the entire story after the first scene, but that’s OK given the relatibility of Wiig and her connection with Rudolph. Much of the supporting cast is fun despite the fact that Feig does little to help them with his camera.
— However… much of the film’s actual comedy isn’t too funny or entertaining unless your idea of humor concerns characters vomiting on each others’ heads, shitting in the street or in bathroom sinks, and yelling expletives at each other. O’Dowd is a superfluous character, and you feel the film’s length after two hours of repetitive improv and the aforementioned toilet jokes. Bridesmaids could’ve been an effective 90-minute comedy with a great deal more editing and a script-rewrite or two.
—> ON THE FENCE: Clearly this film has appeal, given its critical and commercial success. That being said, neither of those two factors is necessarily indicative of novel filmmaking or artistic merit, so we’ll see how this film holds up in ten years. I’m betting it won’t.
? Hold on a minute, I just barfed in my mouth…