Maid to mea­sure

Kris­ten Wiig tri­umphs in an Amer­i­can farce that al­lows funny women, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

WE KNOW Hol­ly­wood has a prob­lem with funny women. Could Brides­maids be the so­lu­tion?

Prob­a­bly not. It will take more than one crit­i­cal and com­mer­cial smash to coun­ter­act decades of stereo­typ­ing. But this ab­domen-rock­ing film – di­rected by Paul Feig, writ­ten by An­nie Mu­molo and Kris­ten Wiig – cer­tainly helps atone for a few re­cent out­rages. We are think­ing here of the gen­der dy­nam­ics prop­a­gated by the likes of Judd Apa­tow.

In films such as Knocked Up and Funny Peo­ple, Mr Apa­tow in­vited his fe­male char­ac­ters to be dis­ci­plined and re­spon­si­ble, but he held back from al­low­ing them ac­cess to the cen­tral tent of the com­edy cir­cus. The distaff con­tin­gent be­came drab spoil­sports, scowl­ing with folded arms at the dis­grace­ful be­hav­iour of their lov­ably un­re­con­structed part­ners. All that was miss­ing was the rolling pin.

Mr Apa­tow is a pro­ducer on Brides­maids and he has hired Paul Feig, some sort of man, to di­rect the piece. The driv­ing cre­ative en­er­gies, how­ever, re­main those of writers An­nie Mu­molo and Kris­ten Wiig. The team have fash­ioned a com­edy that en­cour­ages its fe­male char­ac­ters to be­have badly while still re­tain­ing a kind of soiled dig­nity. That con­sti­tutes some sort of ad­vance.

Mind you, the story is not go­ing to win any prizes for orig­i­nal­ity. What we have is a funkier, less drippy ver­sion of My Best Friend’s Wed­ding. Wiig plays a de­pressed woman named An­nie Walker (no al­lu­sions to Corona­tion Street, one sus­pects). Hav­ing failed to get a hip bak­ery off the ground, she spends her days work­ing in a grim jew­ellery shop and her nights hav­ing un­sat­is­fac­tory sex with a man heart­less enough to take the form of boxy Jon Hamm.

An­nie seems gen­uinely pleased when best pal Lil­lian (a touch­ing Maya Ru­dolph) an­nounces that she has be­come en­gaged to her bland boyfriend. An­nie is ap­pointed maid of hon­our, but rapidly finds her au­thor­ity threat­ened by Lil­lian’s new friend He­len (Rose Byrne).

Sis­ter to the groom, He­len floats through the air on fra­grant waves of priv­i­lege and en­ti­tle­ment. Ev­ery plan the pro­tag­o­nist hatches – din­ner at a funky eth­nic restau­rant, a Paris-themed re­cep­tion – is trumped by a su­pe­rior bid from the wealth­ier, more self-con­fi­dent so­cialite. Soon, in­ter-nup­tial re­la­tions have de­te­ri­o­rated into open war­fare.

In truth, Brides­maids is lit­tle more than a se­ries of comic set pieces ham­mered into a tra­di­tional rom-com tem­plate. Early on in the pic­ture, An­nie meets up with a traf­fic cop (an ef­fort­lessly charm­ing Chris O’Dowd) who – never fold­ing his arms, but still be­hav­ing very much like one of Apa­tow’s “sen­si­ble” women – does his best to di­rect her away from neu­ro­sis and to­wards the path of bal­ance. Any­body who’s seen a film be­fore will know where this ro­man­tic sub­plot is headed.

Never mind. The var­i­ous episodes are so bril­liantly played and cun­ningly con­ceived that the con­ven­tion­al­ity never feels like a bur­den. A comic gem lurks in ev­ery cor­ner of this un­usu­ally con­sis­tent, heav­ily im­pro­vised pic­ture. Matt Lu­cas and Rebel Wil­son take su­perb cameos as An­nie’s ghastly English room­mates. The late Jill Clay­burgh of­fers a nice swan­song as the hero­ine’s un­sym­pa­thetic mother. Hamm is fan­tas­ti­cally hor­rid.

It is, how­ever, the brides­maids them­selves who earn the film its place in the com­edy pan­theon. One epic cen­tral in­ci­dent – im­pres­sively and prop­erly dis­gust­ing – dur­ing which the team suf­fer the ef­fects of food poi­son­ing while hav­ing dresses fit­ted, al­lows ev­ery­one to stretch their mirth mus­cles to full ex­tent. Byrne, the only one un­af­fected, is ter­ri­fy­ingly imperious. Melissa Mc­Carthy, play­ing a ro­bust gun nut, evac­u­ates with unashamed thun­der. Wiig, whose char­ac­ter se­lected the guilty restau­rant, ex­tracts aw­ful ten­sion from An­nie’s sweaty, nau­seous ef­forts to pre­tend that noth­ing is amiss.

Echo­ing some of Bill Mur­ray’s comic tech­niques – a numbed in­tro­spec­tion bal­anced by ner­vous side­long glances – MsWiig emerges as a quiet gi­ant of con­tem­po­rary com­edy. This is, how­ever, that rare class of film that al­lows all its many con­trib­u­tors to shine brightly.

Don’t let the off-putting ti­tle scare you away. Main­stream Amer­i­can farces don’t get much bet­ter.

irish­times.com/cul­ture

Al­ways the Brides­maids. . . well , no word on a se­quel yet

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