Film review: Bridesmaids

Duncan Wu struggles to see the humour in the story of a woman for whom everything goes wrong

June 23, 2011


Directed by Paul Feig

Starring Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Rose Byrne

Released in the UK on 24 June

"Motherfucking Paris?" That's what passes for verbal humour in this film, which depends on a discourse based on frustration, disappointment and hostility.

Although a comedy, Bridesmaids shouldn't be comic at all. Having lost her savings on a failed cake shop, Annie (Kristen Wiig) has also lost her boyfriend and is now exploited by a lover for whom she is "number three", and who tells her, after a bout of love-making: "I really want you to leave but don't know how to say it without sounding like a dick."

Not surprisingly, she is on the verge of depression. She now has a job at a jeweller's, but cannot resist giving the couples buying engagement rings a few lessons in life: "You guys love each other? That will go away. You can't trust anyone."

On top of everything else, Annie is doomed to watch her best friend Lillian (played by Maya Rudolph) get married to a wealthy man. The film is good on the increasing distance between the two women, and the new friends who supplant Annie in Lillian's affections - such as the ghastly Helen (Rose Byrne). As one of Annie's customers tells her: "You're an old single loser who's never going to have any friends." Which is true, even though Annie is in her thirties.

You might suppose there was scant humour to be drawn from a woman whose life is a scrapheap of human wreckage, but Bridesmaids is proof that, at least in comedy, nothing succeeds like failure. People love watching others' hopes and dreams swirling round the pan, and Annie's ramshackle existence provides viewers with two hours' worth. Whether you keep chuckling every time she says "shit!" is another matter; her lines weren't written by Oscar Wilde.

Bridesmaids is produced by Judd Apatow, whose avowed policy is to include a penis in each of his movies. There aren't any here, but there are lots of puke, belch and fart jokes. In one scene a woman in a hugely expensive French wedding dress voids her bowels in the middle of the road. In other words, this is the kind of film that will have you either laughing dementedly or holding your head in your hands.

Melissa McCarthy as Megan, the sister of Dougie, whom Lillian is going to marry, provides the film with one or two amusing moments. When she first meets Annie, she introduces herself with a story: "I fell off a cruise ship. Met a dolphin down there. And that dolphin looked into my soul. We had a connection." It takes talent to make a speech like that sound both weird and funny. Talking to the other bridesmaids about Dougie, she remarks: "He's my brother but he's a fucking asshole. I think we can all agree on that."

As this suggests, much of the humour in this film comes from people being brutally unpleasant to each other. In the opening scene, Annie is in bed with her occasional sex partner, Ted (an uncredited appearance by Jon Hamm). "I'm so glad you called," she says. "I'm so glad you're a freak," he responds. Later on, watching an al fresco fitness class, Annie is shouted at by the instructor: "If you want to take this class, you're going to have to pay like the rest of these bitches!"

There are lots of other examples. Is this sort of thing less amusing to the British sensibility than to the American? It might be, in a society in which people are horrible to each other for much of the time. But that would be to presuppose that Americans are nicer to each other than we are, and that can't be true. Or can it?

Bridesmaids works intermittently for about 30 minutes, after which it runs out of juice and relies increasingly on four-letter words, toilet humour and old-fashioned slapstick. The plot fails satisfactorily to resolve. It is symptomatic of the platitudinous simplicity with which the film-makers have conceived Annie's psychology that she emerges into happiness after being told: "You're your problem, but you're also your solution."

Still, it would be asinine to take Bridesmaids too seriously. It's candyfloss for the summer, although at least half an hour too long, thinly conceived and not nearly funny enough. Anyone who finds the sight of a very large woman in an expensive dress using a washbasin as a lavatory will be amused; others will wonder why an actor of Hamm's calibre is squandering his abilities here, and where the humour might be in such lines as: "I think you'll feel better if you just...throw up."

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