Sunday 18 February 2018

Film Review: Bridesmaids * * * *

Paul Whitington

In Bridesmaids' most famous -- or infamous -- scene, a prospective bride and her motley crew of female friends are perusing dresses in a ritzy store when the recent consumption of bad chicken at a dodgy Mexican restaurant comes home to roost.

As the bridesmaids rush to the shop's only toilet and get sick on themselves and each other, the unfortunate bride flees into the middle of the street in full satin regalia before being overcome by an attack of, well, the trots.

For understandable reasons, it's the scene that sticks in your head, but in a sense it's unrepresentative -- it makes Bridesmaids sound like a crude and vulgar slapstick comedy in the manner, say, of the truly awful Hangover 2. But there's so much more to Bridesmaids than that: not only is it much subtler and funnier than Hangover 2, or Hangover for that matter, but it also has in spades that rare commodity most vital to a truly balanced comedy -- heart.

Kristen Wiig co-wrote the script and stars as Annie Walker, a likeable but rather downtrodden young Milwaukee woman whose luck seems to have deserted her. She put all her savings into opening the cake shop she'd always dreamed of running, only to see it fall victim to the recession. She now works as a very unenthusiastic saleswoman at a jewellery store, and her only romantic relationship is a sex-with-no-strings arrangement with an odious but handsome cad called Ted (Jon Hamm).

At least she has her childhood friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) to console her, but when Lillian announces that she's engaged to be married, Annie fears she's about to lose the only meaningful relationship in her life. She's consoled, however, when Lillian asks her to be her maid of honour and organise her hen party and wedding shower.

Determined to do her best for her buddy, Annie faces a major obstacle in the shape of Lillian's new friend, Helen (Rose Byrne). Annie and Helen dislike each other on sight: Helen is a wealthy and fastidious princess, and seems determined to undermine the maid of honour at every turn. As Annie starts to plan the hen party, a dangerous rivalry develops.

A longtime member of the Saturday Night Live cast, Wiig is charming, funny and a natural screen actor, but up till now her talent has tended to be squandered in supporting roles. In Bridesmaids, for the first time, she gets to show what she can do, and if a more complete and accomplished comic performance appears this year I'll buy a hat and eat it.

It's not that she carries the film exactly-- she's helped by a terrific ensemble cast whose performances we'll celebrate in a minute --but Wiig is the glue that holds the thing together and gives it resonance and depth. In a touching back story, she meets and becomes involved with a soft-spoken highway patrolman (played to perfection by Chris O'Dowd) who's a much nicer man than she's used to, or knows what to do with.

Wiig gives her misguided but decent character a semi-tragic resonance, especially in the touching scenes with O'Dowd and her mother, played by Jill Clayburgh, who sadly died before the film's release. She's also wonderfully funny, both physically and in terms of timing, but she doesn't have to raise all the laughs on her own.

Melissa McCarthy, of Gilmore Girls and Mike & Molly fame, is terrific as the bride's sister-in-law to be, a loveably grotesque social misfit who's the female John Belushi of the piece, if that concept makes sense. Rudolph, who impressed in Sam Mendes' recent comic drama Away We Go, plays the straight woman to perfection, and Byrne reveals a flair for comedy playing the brittle and prissy Helen.

Most of all, Bridesmaids is genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny: it's a triumph for Wiig, and easily the best and freshest Hollywood comedy we've seen in several years.

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