I realized, as I was working on my Hangover review (there's a misplaced modifier for ya), that I hadn't actually written a review of the other wedding-themed comedy, the infinitely superior Bridesmaids. Let me right that wrong, or write it, anyway.
In a season of too much bridal nonsense - let's just ignore bottom of the barrel stuff like Something Borrowed or even niche pieces like Jumping The Broom - Bridesmaids is the actually refreshing entry, a film that doesn't make the bride, or worse, the man, central to a wedding comedy among women. Bridesmaids is actually about the piece of the wedding puzzle that I think many women care about most - the relationships between the woman getting married, and the women in her bridal party.
Bridesmaids is, of course, brilliantly funny; and it does nothing less than confirm that Kristen Wiig is going to be a formidable force in film. Co-writing a great screenplay, she also delivers a fresh, natural performance as a somewhat unwilling Maid of Honor to her best childhood friend. At heart, Bridesmaids is a comedy about the challenges that test the bonds of such a deep friendship. But more than that, Bridesmaids hits a nerve about class and economic inequality in America right now that really makes the film hard to shake, and impossible to ignore. This is the film, I think, that should tell Hollywood that audiences really hunger for films that reflect on how we struggle, and survive, through this economic downturn.
The story is simple enough: two good friends are tested when one of them gets angaged to her longtime boyfriend, and makes her best friend her maid of honor. Annie is not a woman who goes for a lot of traditional feminine expectations, but she gamely tries to fit herself into the role. That gets harder as she realizes that her friend Lillian is marrying into a more upscale life than she has, sharing a sad suburban apartment and working a grim retail job she hates (her attempt to open a cupcake shop failed miserably).
Annie's world is even more shaken by the appearance of Helen, wife of the boss of Lillian's fiance, whi appears to be trying to muscle in as Lillian's New Best Friend. The movie's main tension is their competition for Lillian's favor and affection, leading to a series of over the top comic incidents - I can't pick between food poisoning in the fancy bridal boutique, Annie drunk and high on the plane, or the bridal shower gone nuclear as my favorite moment - that higlight their competition.
But more than that, Bridesmaids focuses on Annie's challenges to make a better life for herself, dealing iwth the dead end job, lousy living situation, and a dismal relationship with a hot looking cad (Jon Hamm, studly and brilliantly thoughtless). The picture brightens when Annie finds sparks with the cop who pulls her over for erratic driving, making tentative steps towards a new relationship. But without Lillian to keep her grounded, Annie's insecurities make a mess of the whole situation.
If Bridesmaids were simply laugh out loud funny - which it is, throughout - that alone would qualify it as one of this year's great comedies; but it's the ability of Wiig to dig deep and make Annie a fully rounded character that the audience comes to care about that lifts Bridesmaids into the realm of movie greatness. It's not that I laughed through this film - it's that, as Annie struggled to make sense of a life spinning out of control, I cried. This is a film that understands that comedy exists on the knife edge of personal difficulty - you can make it funny, but you can also make it very moving.
Maya Rudolph is smashing as Lillian, delivering the film's best costume payoff in a wedding dress that must be seen to be believed (in a word...ruffles). And Rose Byrne brings uptight perfection and real sensitivity to the role of Helen. As the other bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy transcends the obvious as the groom's tough, no-nonsense sister, while Ellie Kemper and Wendi McLendon-Covey are also brilliantly funny, but underused. Jill Clayburgh, also makes a wonderful, final, turn as Annie's mother.
Ultimately, though, this is Wiig's chance to shine and she makes the most of it; I'd expect nothing less, given that she's already shown, in nearly every film appearance, some real gifts as a natural, funny presence onscreen. This is also a brilliant script, one of the best I've seen all year, if not in several years. Paul Feig's direction, on the other hand, is mostly perfunctory - he gives room for the comedy to shine, but visually, the film is often quite pedestrian.
Don't see Bridesmaids just because it's another wedding comedy, admittedly a very good one; see it because nothing else in major, mass market film right now comes anywhere near as close to touching the hard realities of working class life these days, in a way that manages to be both positive and honest. That's not just great filmmaking, it's nearly a goddamn miracle.