The five keys that make ‘Bridesmaids’ one of the great film comedies

Ultimate Movie Year finds the best films from weekends past to build an all-star lineup of cinema.

The first decade of film comedy in the 2000s was marked by the immature men of “Anchorman,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Step-Brothers,” and “Old School,” created by funnymen like Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell, Vince Vaughn, Seth Rogan, and filmmakers Adam McKay and Judd Apatow. You can build a family tree as each comedic voice helped establish new ones, as they came to be collectively known as the Frat Pack.

So it’s ironic that arguably the best comedy from this family tree is 2011’s “Bridesmaids,” the R rated film written by and starring women. The Paul Feig movie not only holds up on rewatch but also is a contender for one of the funniest films ever. Here are the keys that make “Bridesmaids” stand in the front.

The Lead Star, or “I’m excited, I’m relaxed, and I’m ready to PAR-TAY!”

Wiig stars as Annie, a thirty-something single woman whose life is in transition after her dessert store went out of business following the 2008–10 recession. Annie’s best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), just became engaged and picks Annie to be her maid of honor. While Annie has dearly loved her friend since childhood, the combination of her own troubled romantic history and economic setbacks gives her a great deal of anxiety leading up to the wedding. Annie also meets one of Lillian’s newer friends, Helen (Rose Byrne), a wealthy socialite who would like nothing better than to take over the planning for the bridesmaids.

With Annie, Wiig gives herself a role that effectively uses all of her comedic talents. Wiig has a beautiful, empathetic reserve about her that makes the character relatable. Still, she also plays Annie with intelligence, so the retorts she slings, when instigated, are sharp and funny. When the pressure continues to mount, and Annie loses complete control, Wiig’s instincts as a sketch performer elevate the hilarious high energy of those scenes. Yet, she never loses the audience by going big because of the character and story background that has been established. It’s a three-dimensional performance, which is rare in studio comedies because Wiig is a master at finding a way to extract the pathos of every situation Annie’s in.

The Breakout Player, or “I’m Gonna Climb That Like a Tree”

Strong Characters, or “I cracked a blanket in half”

Always raising the stakes, or “Yeah, oh shit. Yeah, oh shit!”

Rewatchablity, or “This is some classy shi … (belch)”

“Bridesmaids” may have been used as the example to prove women in the film were funny enough to lead in their own projects, but while it opened more doors for more diverse points-of-view, that idea almost diminishes the movie itself. “Bridesmaids” is hilarious, full stop, and one of the best American comedies of the century. If it showed up on a list of Best Comedies Ever, I wouldn’t mind because it’s certainly deserving. Wiig, McCartney, Feig, and crew produced a well-rounded, hilarious movie that has everyone at the peak of their powers. It’s terrific, and a natural choice for the Ultimate Movie Year.

The Weekend: Once Marvel superheroes took over the opening salvo of the summer movie season in early May, the second weekend may not trend as big as the Avengers and company, but there’s plenty of room for some sleeper hits; the kind of movies you may not catch immediately on opening night, but stick around theaters long enough for you to catch up on when nothing else strikes you.

Alfred Hitchcock remains one of the greatest directors of all time, one of the few filmmakers who achieved such iconic box office and critical success that he’s become a household name. Even among people who had never seen one of his movies! That goes above the Spielberg/Scorsese standard into Beyoncé territory. One of his greatest (if not the) films is 1958’s “Vertigo,” starring Jimmy Stewart as a former police detective who becomes dangerously obsessed with a mysterious woman named Judy, played Kim Novak. “Vertigo” remains one of cinema’s must-see films, and would have made a fantastic addition to the Ultimate Movie Year here, if we didn’t have another excellent Hitchcock thriller coming up next month that feels just right for the summer season.

With his hockey mask and machete, Jason is one of the iconic slasher villains in film, and yet he barely appears in the original “Friday the 13th.” The horror film debuted in 1980, and its premise has become a cliché: a killer stalks a bunch of horny teenagers at a summer camp, one by one. “Friday the 13th” was released about a year and a half after John Carpenter’s original “Halloween,” so the template was just starting to be formed. While the first movie spawned a long-running franchise, the surprise is the leading killer is not Jason, who would go on to star status in the sequels. Still, don’t think Jason doesn’t emerge at some point in “Friday the 13th.”

Baseball is one of the better sports that can be translated into compelling cinema, and 1984’s “The Natural” is just another example of it. Directed by Barry Levinson and starring Robert Redford and Glenn Close, the movie tells the epic story of Roy Hobbs, a promising ballplayer whose career was cut short by tragedy but makes one more attempt in his later years to achieve glory. If baseball is the great American game, then “The Natural” turns its ballplayer into a mythic hero worthy of legends.

Another young star was cut down by tragedy, but it happened in the making of 1994’s “The Crow.” Directed by Alex Proyas, “The Crow” stars Brandon Lee (Bruce Lee’s son) as a cryptic hero returned from the dead to take revenge on the gang who killed him and his wife. Stylish and gothic, “The Crow” is one of the first compelling comic book films but is also notable because Lee was accidentally killed while making the film.

The first summer movies of the late 90s that were released during this weekend are all memorable in their own way, but now make a fascinating time capsule when the box office dollars weren’t dominated by pre-existing franchises. “Crimson Tide” is a terrific Tony Scott thriller starring two great actors, Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington, facing off against each other. “Twister” was a surprise hit in 1996, as Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton chased CGI tornados across the Midwest. Luc Besson’s futuristic sci-fi action film “The Fifth Element” made an impression on everyone who saw it in 1997. “Deep Impact” was the first (but less remembered) of several meteor-strikes-the-planet high concepts in 1998. While “The Mummy” was a reboot of the classic Universal monster series, Brandon Frasier’s Indiana Jones-type hero made the whole spectacle a fun adventure movie.

While steamy thrillers were a successful genre at the box office in the 80s and early 90s with movies like “Body Heat,” “Fatal Attraction,” and “Basic Instinct,” the trend faded over time. Adrian Lyne, the director behind “Fatal Attraction,” among others, returned to the genre with “Unfaithful,” which opened this weekend in 2002. While the movie was successful both commercially and critically, it didn’t spark a revival in the industry. Instead, it features a trio of standout performances from Richard Gere, Oliver Martinez, and Diane Lane, who earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her work here.

Franchise films based on pre-existing properties began to dominate the weekend in the new century. 2009 saw the release of “Star Trek,” director JJ Abrams’ attempt to reboot the classic science fiction universe with a younger version of the original crew. On the Marvel front, “Iron Man 2” opened in 2010 to begin laying the groundwork for a larger cinematic universe. By the time 2016 rolled around, “Captain America: Civil War” spotlighted a dozen superheroes battling each other for freedom. Unfortunately, not all would-be blockbusters turn into franchises. The Wachowski Sisters’ “Speed Racer” was a visually dynamic colorful cartoon made real, but it was a dud at the box office upon release in 2008.

Other notable film releases include the 1958 adaptation of “Dracula” (later known as “Horror of Dracula”), the first of the Hammer productions starring Christopher Lee; “Short Circuit” in 1986; “Poison Ivy” in 1992; “Dave” in 1993; “Crooklyn” in 1994; “28 Weeks Later” in 2007; and “The Great Gatsby” in 2013.

Next Week: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Originally published at http://www.markciemcioch.com on May 7, 2020.

Founder of Capen Media and writer who looks back on film history every week. Read past columns at www.ultimatemovieyear.com.

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