Monday, May 30, 2011

Bridesmaid on the verge of a nervous breakdown

The House of Apatow has received a volley of complaints over the years about its insistence on churning out films with a squarely male perspective. Katherine Heigl notoriously called "Knocked Up" a sexist film, months after she agreed to star in it and received great notices from critics. And while producer king Judd Apatow neither directed nor wrote "Bridesmaids," it's easily the most feminine film to come out of his production house. It also happens to be the most idiosyncratically satisfying in years.

Watching "Bridesmaids" is like watching a full-on revolt against the chauvinism of modern "bromance" comedy and against the idea that wedding movies have to layer on the sap higher than a tiered wedding cake. In its place, co-writer and star Kristen Wiig has used the film as a platform to show she's not just one of the best sketch comedians working today, she's used a wedding movie to create a bold, raunchy, and unflinchingly honest character study. Co-writing with Annie Mumolo, the script is very obviously indebted to sketch comedy, with many scenes structured like individual sketches. Yet Wiig, clearly writing for herself, gives her character the kind of shape and nuance you rarely see female leads given (especially in a comedy).

As Annie Walker, contracted as maid of honor to her best friend Lillian's (Maya Rudolph) wedding, Wiig is constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown: her cake shop has gone out of business, she's unpleasantly single and taking solace in a "sex buddy" (Jon Hamm, working with his conniving sexuality from "Mad Men" to produce a comically despicable male), and she can't seem to plan anything correctly for the wedding party. It's to Wiig's credit that she doesn't devolve into hysterics - when she does, she lets her physicality keep within the center of her frame, always playing herself as a woman fighting for her own smile.

It's this quality that makes "Bridesmaids" a truly deceptive film. On the surface, it's a brutal raunchfest full of nasty dialogue, gross gags, and free form conversations where the leads more than gleefully bounce one-liners off each other. Below that, though, lurks an intense commentary on female desire and the various shapes it takes. Annie is awash in a world of unflattering masculinity, a defeated sense of personal accomplishment, and a disconnect to her best friend. As in many Apatow-produced comedies, it's really a story of personal growth and redemption masked behind a cavalcade of well-delivered sex jokes.

Director Paul Feig, best known for his time directing many "Office" episodes, is a good fit for the ensemble, and for teasing out the many subtleties the females try to cram in. But what I think is most admirable about the film, and what makes it a true rarity, is that it doesn't attack or victimize anyone. Every character is flawed, they all have problems, but it doesn't treat men like naive imbeciles (devotees will remember my notorious rant against "The Hangover" for the way it demonized the women characters). Jon Hamm's character is a "toxic masculinity," but his is only a form of masculinity - there are plenty of others to counterbalance him, just as there are many different kinds of femininity (and some that are very unattractive and superficial).

For that, "Bridesmaids" is a refreshing and invigorating little comedy. Oh yeah, and it's darn hilarious.

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