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.
Released May 13, 2011
Directed by Paul Feig
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!”
Since 2005, Kristen Wiig was one of the lead performers on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” eventually growing a collection of quirky recurring characters that were played big and broad on the sketch comedy series. Meanwhile, she appeared in several films in supporting or small roles, often stealing scenes with her dry humor. “Bridesmaids” proved to be the project that combined both of those skills, showing the full range of Wiig’s diverse talents as a comedic performer. It was the perfect role for her, which makes sense considering Wiig co-wrote the screenplay with Annie Mumolo.
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”
So many of our favorite comedies have a breakout performance that creates a new star for audiences, like Leslie Nielsen in the Airplane! movies or Cameron Diaz in “There’s Something About Mary.” Before “Bridesmaids,” Melissa McCarthy was mostly known for her sweet supporting parts on various TV series or her co-lead role on CBS’s “Mike and Molly.” When McCarthy shows up in her first scene as Megan, the dower sister of the groom, she is blunt, inappropriate, and, most importantly, funny AF. Megan is the oddball of the group of bridesmaids, which allows McCarthy to steal nearly every scene that she’s in. It was such a standout role for her that McCarthy earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and she became the lead star for many of her own movies, often playing similar versions of Megan. McCartney is a hilarious and talented actress, but even with her more significant successes afterward, she delivers tour-de-force laughs in “Bridesmaids.”
Strong Characters, or “I cracked a blanket in half”
Annie, Helen, and Megan are memorable enough on their own to carry the movie, but fortunately, “Bridesmaids” has a bench that goes deep with hilarious people. As the bride, Rudolph is another former SNL cast member who manages to find something funny, real, and unique about every role that she plays, which helps Lillian avoid standard rom-com clichés. Wendi McLendon-Covey (of “Reno 911”) and Ellie Kemper (of “The Office”) step in as the other bridesmaids in the movie, and while they are rarely the focus, both actresses kill it every time they’re up to bat. “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm was just beginning to surprise people with his comedic timing, so he’s well suited to turn heads as Annie’s douchey fuck buddy. At the same time, Chris O’Dowd is charming and sensitive as the romantic interest the audience is pulling for. It’s a huge cast, but director Paul Feig gained experience-handling ensembles with his short-lived and brilliant TV series, “Freaks and Geeks.” The filmmakers focused on building memorable characters and a great story, and Feig trusted the comedy chops of this all-star cast to bring the laughs when it was time to shoot. The end result is that everyone here has a chance to shine.
Always raising the stakes, or “Yeah, oh shit. Yeah, oh shit!”
Turning the screws to the characters until they hit rock bottom is an essential component of storytelling, but “Bridesmaids” structures that rising tension in its jokes too. Megan’s introduction has her telling a story to Annie that immediately shocks her, and continues to get worse. When the women go to try on dresses, the gastric distress they all find themselves in continues to build and build until Lillian is shitting in the middle of the street. And finally, Annie and Helen drive past O’Dowd’s trooper character to get his attention with increasingly outrageous stunts. Again and again, the audience is initially presented with awkward but relatable scenes that just get sillier and sillier until it reaches lunacy. Every time things get worse, the laughs get louder.
Rewatchablity, or “This is some classy shi … (belch)”
While humor must rely upon surprise to generate spontaneous laugher, the true mark of any great film comedy is that audiences love to rewatch it again and again. It’s a hard trick to pull off when you know what, where, and when the jokes are. Still, if the film can establish memorable and unique characters while jacking up the punch line ratio so it would be impossible to remember all of them, there’s a good chance you’ll stop and watch whenever you come upon a movie like “Bridesmaids.”
“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.