Maid to measure
Kristen Wiig triumphs in an American farce that allows funny women, writes Donald Clarke
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.
Always the Bridesmaids. . . well , no word on a sequel yet