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Home / Articles / Entertainment / Screen /  Rom-com surprise
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Thursday, May 19,2011

Rom-com surprise

By Michael Phillips

 

There´s a reason Bridesmaids isn’t called The Bridesmaid. Kristen Wiig, the star and co-writer (along with Annie Mumolo) of director Paul Feig’s comedy, has a self-effacing streak running right alongside her deadly deadpan streak.

Even when she’s playing the lead, she’s not really playing the lead.

Reedy and extremely pretty, Wiig has a dry, backhanded way of nailing laughs. In the posters and ads for Bridesmaids, all Wiig’s female co-stars strike bigger poses, make bigger faces, take a larger, momentary, more determined share of the spotlight. Wiig hangs back. No stranger to broad comedy (often her least interesting work on Saturday Night Live), she astounded the Wiig-ignorant with her brief but memorable turn as the undermining cable network assistant in Knocked Up. No one has explored the inner workings of a passive-aggressive frenemy the way Wiig has. She has the Midas touch for activating a character’s petty streak while still making audiences like her.

In Bridesmaids, audiences, I suspect, will like her a lot, though her character, Annie, an unemployed Milwaukee pastry chef, is a bit of a sad sack. Annie’s half-hearted, purely expedient boyfriend ( Jon Hamm, with whom Wiig shares a riotously funny intercourse prologue) does nothing for her wobbly self-esteem. When Annie’s best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph, always a pleasure), recruits Annie to be her maid of honor, Annie’s ego gradually absorbs a series of blows inflicted by Lillian’s newfound best pal, the well-heeled and pristinely moneyed Helen (Rose Byrne), who insinuates herself into the planning and execution of Lillian’s wedding. This means war!

The best of Bridesmaids wages war, but with more than the usual R-rated rom-com subtlety. The movie peaks early with an engagement party sequence in which Annie and Helen, glasses in hand, refuse to let each other have the last toast out of newly hatched hyper-competitiveness. Later, alas, come the raunch and the vomit. Too much of it, needless to say. One scene in Bridesmaids, in particular, involving a bad mass reaction to Brazilian food poisoning, clearly got shoehorned into later versions of the script (producer Judd Apatow has copped to it in various interviews). A separate scene designed to give Wiig, co-star Melissa McCarthy (as a fellow ’maid) and associates some comic elbow room, in which Annie gets drunk and medium-disorderly on a plane to Vegas, never makes good on its promise.

What works best in this routinely shot and directed film adheres to commercial formula but lollygags enough to make the behavior and interactions fresh, as was the case in previous projects from the Apatow stable such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad. Wiig and Rudolph have remarkable natural rapport; they’re wonderful together. The scenes that truly matter to the story — the ones where we have to feel something’s at stake with this friendship — click satisfyingly into place. Annie’s romance with a genially ineffectual police officer, played by Chris O’Dowd, carries real charm, even when the contrivances keeping them apart feel, well, contrived.

Not unlike Jason Segel’s yearning puppeteer in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Wiig’s character must find a way to get unstuck. She’s self-pitying, to a degree. Too much of that sort of thing can gum up the works in any comedy. Wiig’s natural and savvy instincts to go easy and let the audience come to her serve her and Bridesmaids well.

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