Comedy usually involves someone having to looking left while everyone else looks right, which may be the only real way to describe what Kristen Wiig has done with “Bridesmaids,” a film that superficially might appear as if it falls in line of what’s come to be expected at comedies aimed at women these days, but starts its subtle subversion from the moment Jon Hamm asks Wiig’s Annie to cup his balls during the film’s opening frames.
For anyone who’s followed the “Saturday Night Live” star, the sex scene that opens “Bridesmaids” might come as a bit startling since Wiig’s never been one to play up her sexuality as part of her schtick, instead losing herself in awkward characters that make others feel uncomfortable if she’s behind some makeup and a funny voice or the one feeling uncomfortable in her own skin as the world around her struggles to make sense of her. On the surface of “Bridesmaids,” it’s the latter that’s on display as Annie would seem like your typical post-twenties romantic comedy heroine, unsure of herself since her one true love – baking – was a casualty of the recession and she hasn’t been able to find it anywhere else as she approaches her forties, instead occasionally jumping in the sack with Hamm, who tells her in no uncertain terms that he wants her to leave in the morning.
One might think Annie might find a sense of purpose after becoming the maid of honor for her longtime best friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) upcoming nuptials, but her new role only thrusts her into even more into crisis mode, where she feels she needs to compete with Lillian’s new well-to-do friend Helen (a scene-stealing Rose Byrne) and consider a new phase of her life that scarily could involve a bachelorette party of her own. But to move the story along, Annie doesn’t play into the Oprah-defined prescription for self-improvement nor is she the victim of the usually misogynistic screenplays that dictate at which point the pretty but self-destructive main character is going to wise up and realize the flaws that have made her unattractive to the male species as a whole until now and do a course correction, probably in large part because Wiig wrote the script herself with Annie Mumolo. Instead, “Bridesmaids” is a film that suggests that the only real change that occurs to Annie is that she’s in a happier place than where she started and indicative of the film itself, she’s one to move at her own pace. (Despite being billed as a “work-in-progress” screening at SXSW, the audience was told it was basically the final cut minus some sound mixing, and it could actually benefit from some tightening, though part of it’s charm is the rangy way many of the scenes play out.)
For this reason alone, they probably couldn’t have found a better director than Paul Feig, the creator of “Freaks and Geeks” whose investment in creating strong characters matches Wiig’s and doesn’t mind being all over the place tonally to accommodate everything his lead is able to do. There are gross-out scenes – a poop joke involving Rudolph crossing the street in a wedding dress is simultaneously original and cringe-inducing – bizarro dialogue-heavy scenes related to Annie’s job at a jewelry store and her eccentric roommates (Rebel Wilson and Matt Lucas), and still a rather endearing, fumbling courtship between Annie and a local traffic cop (“The IT Crowd'”s Chris O’Dowd). The film is generous to all its performers, which is to both say Jon Hamm’s agreeably loathsome cad shows up for more than five minutes (in case you were wondering) and the laughs generated by every character are enhanced ever so slightly by what seem to be real human quirks as opposed to caricature.
Yet “Bridesmaids” is first and foremost a showcase for Wiig, who surely doesn’t play it safe here but still comes off as an affable everywoman with a twinkle of danger in her eye. One imagines the hardest thing for her as a performer wasn’t the lewd humor or selling the wackier elements of the script, but playing a character who wears her emotions on her sleeve. That she lets everyone else drop all pretense and do the same for two hours is sweet relief for all.
“Bridesmaids” opens on May 13th.