2011/05/19

Bridesmaids revisited

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.

6 comments:

Holly R. said...

Fascinating to read your take on it! Totally agree on the gross-out humor, creepy English roommates, etc. etc.

Caitlin said...

Thanks for seeing this so I don't have to. The things that keep me away from it are the fart jokes and the fact that Judd Apatow is involved. Anyone who wants to tell me Judd Apatow has even a modicum of feminist beliefs needs to watch "Knocked Up."

Véronique said...

@Holly

But you said you wanted to see it again. :)

@Caitlin

Judd Apatow was a producer for this movie. Kristin Wiig co-wrote the script with another woman and was also a co-producer, which should be a good start, but the director is a man, and we know that scripts as written aren't necessarily what ends up on film. It's an odd mix of good, bad, and ugly.

NessNixAnthony said...

For me this movie was groundbreaking in that women's movies are NEVER about just having fun, there is always the more serious depth to everything and while I like those too -- sometimes (and maybe it's just gals in my generation) we crave something like the guys have (just silly fun that doesn't have to be deep) too! This movie broke a bunch of stereotypical rules and roles for women. Women's films have to be serious, deep, mushy romance and especially circumspect etc. In the end, we expected to be good little ladies who play nice. But in my world, girlfriends talk about sex as frankly as these women do, they're as messy and confused and yes, they even talk about bodily functions. Did the gross out food poisoning scene go a bit to o far for me? Yes, and it would have in a men's movie too but it was kind of fun to see girls that were unafraid to go there. I have seen the Hangover and all of Judd Apatow's other comedies and to me he always strikes a nice balance between, funny, raunchy and still maintaining the movie's heart. I also disagree with the assessment that Apatow is feminist unfriendly. I just think that there is a point that is being missed in these films (as sometimes is missed with Will Ferrell's films as well) and that is they're just meant as a "good time." A little slice of escape, peppered with the absurd to get the laughter rolling and with a dash of heart to keep it from becoming so over-the-top that it's Waterboy. But these are not movies you watch for social message, character development, or to be a better person. These are not movies that are trying to stand for any socio-political movement or to advance a cause. They don't set out to win an Oscar or to play at Cannes -- they are simply for fun. Just a laugh and rarely does so hearty a "just for laughs," movie serve up such a whopper of belly laughs whipped up by women. Bravo.

NessNixAnthony said...

BTW- the movie was largely improvisational with many of it's players former members of SNL and the Groundlings.

Véronique said...

@Nessa

I agree with you that part of this movie was about just having fun. And I understand why that's a breakthrough. But I still think the movie also wanted to be taken somewhat seriously, and that didn't mesh well with the "just for fun" part.

I don't think it was just about maintaining the movie's heart. I think the movie was more ambitious than that: the relationships between Annie and Lillian and between Annie and Rhodes; the rivalry (mostly but not always played for laughs) between Annie and Helen; and especially that scene between Megan and Annie.

There was a lot of funny stuff in the movie, but it was also going for more, and since it was, I think it was fine but could have been better. A good start, but maybe someone else will really break through for women in a comedy.

Thanks for the insight on the improvisation.