Last night, I went to see Bridesmaids with a friend. She had free tickets, and I spoke up first. I had heard good things about the movie, although I had not read any reviews or commentary, so I had only a vague idea of the story.
Since I lost interest in Saturday Night Live shortly after the original cast left, I was not familiar with Kristin Wiig. So we start with a disclaimer: Grandma here is a generation removed from this movie's target audience. I know who Wilson Phillips are and have heard their big hit many times, but they were not part of my formative years. I was not familiar with any of the actors, other than Jill Clayburgh and the mysteriously uncredited Jon Hamm. As far as I know, I have never seen a movie produced by Judd Apatow, and I definitely never saw The Hangover.
I thought the film started out promising. I found Annie's (Wiig) departure from her sex partner's (Hamm) house (he's not her boyfriend, as he makes abundantly clear) quite funny. And the conversation that follows between Annie and her childhood best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is both very real and very entertaining. It sets up a great chemistry between the two.
Part of the film continues in this vein, and that was the part I liked. This could have been a really good movie. Instead, it was a good movie interspersed with gross-out "humour" (either you love it or you don't) and over-the-top shtick. At over two hours long, I suppose there is room for more than one comedy in this movie, and that's what we get.
Especially in retrospect, I found a lot to like. I was engaged by Annie and her interaction with Lillian. That felt real. I liked much of the interaction among the bridesmaids. I liked the rivalry between Annie and the rich, beautiful, perfect Helen, the wife of Lillian's fiance's boss and Lillian's new best (maybe) friend. I liked the dysfunctional interaction between Annie and Ted (Hamm), who were so clearly on different wavelengths. I loved the character of Nathan Rhodes (Chris O'Dowd), a state trooper who becomes interested in Annie. O'Dowd had a way of delivering lines and interacting with Wiig that made me feel almost like he was improvising.
I did not like Annie's creepy English brother and sister roommates. They are sometimes creepily funny in themselves, but it felt to me as though they belong in a different movie. Helen's stepsons add nothing. I did not feel that the gross-out elements add anything to the film either other than to show that, yes, women can be gross too and get laughs out of swearing and farting (and more). Although I usually found Annie to be believable even while Wiig is playing her for laughs, I did not like when she goes completely over the top, nor when her self-sabotage gets so extreme that it seems to be in service of the plot and not something that comes organically out of the character.
I'm unsure about the character of Megan, the sister of Lillian's fiance's, played by Melissa McCarthy. She has a key role in the plot, and she's refreshingly different among all the other bridesmaids. McCarthy definitely steals more than a few scenes. But even though the movie never makes fun of Megan for being heavy (to its credit), it does make fun of her for being masculine (she wears men's shirts), oversharing about her bodily functions, and being obsessed with men. Sometimes I thought she was funny. Sometimes I just went, huh? Since comedy is subjective, maybe Grandma was missing something. I'm not sure if the pivotal scene between Megan and Annie is awesome or awkward. Maybe it's both.
One reason the film ran long was that the script was oddly loose, especially for a comedy. I appreciated that when the more realistic interaction is going on, but some scenes clearly should have been tightened up. I think the airplane scene ran quite long and almost seemed to have more than one ending. The dress shop scene ran long as well. The through-line of the failed cake shop and Annie's love of (and skill at) baking are used in the plot but really go nowhere. And often I didn't know where we were. Annie and Lillian live in Milwaukee but the wedding takes place in Illinois?
For a character-driven movie, even the main characters are strangely underwritten. We learn a lot about Annie, but she still feels more like shtick than a real person. Lillian is largely a mystery. Helen is a type. Annie's mother (Clayburgh) is never even named. I didn't feel like these characters had lives outside this particular story. It seems like the only reason Rhodes is a cop is to find a way to get Annie and him together.
Among all the blatant obviousness, there are really nice subtleties. Again, we have more than one movie going on here. There are great little moments that pass between Annie and Lillian. I liked how Helen ingratiates herself with Lillian largely by stealing ideas from Annie, who of course knows Lillian better. That's mostly shown and not told, which is the way a screenplay should work. And I love Rhodes's incredulity at how Annie tries to dismiss him as being like all the other men she knows when she has already seen that he is not.
If only someone had taken one or two more passes on this script. If only the direction had provided more focus and the editing had been tighter. It's a comedy, sure, but a comedy that wants to be taken seriously. This movie has things to say, but I fear they are lost among the things it shouldn't have bothered saying. I give Kristin Wiig credit for making a good effort and often succeeding, just not as much as she could have. I know this will seem heretical, but as silly at Sex and the City often was, it was also better at delivering insights. The best of the TV series as well as the first movie (I didn't see the second) sometimes moved me in ways that Bridesmaids failed to do.