Tuesday, May 24, 2011
I’m shocked—shocked!—to find the big, dirty bone of contention with Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids is the centerpiece gross-out scene, when whole mailing lists of people expecting a nice, polite feminist comedy were driven to conniptions because pretty, sweet Ellie Kemper vomited on Wendi McLendon-Covey and poor, put-upon Maya Rudolph was reduced to a curbside bowel movement. My stars! A thousand teeth-gnashers left early to write their headlines: How is toilet humor a win for feminism?
Now, I have as much interest in the Farrelly brothers as I do in the rest of Hollywood's adolescent fratfests (not just the comedies but the testosterone shootemups and the creative goregasms), but I laughed and laughed at that entire setpiece: Rose Byrne staring down timebomb Kristen Wiig, the unfortunate divvying up of bathroom pipes, Maya Rudolph’s resignation just as she gets to the other side. If Bridesmaids hadn’t opened with Wiig and her expertly played sex buddy Jon Hamm having sex on vastly different wavelengths or if Melissa McCarthy’s entire character weren’t the stock type of the overly confident fat chick that was tired when the Italians broke it out for a commedia dell’arte sketch aimed at the local groundlings, maybe the sequence wouldn’t feel earned. As it is, Feig and his cast make it quite clear that Bridesmaids has no compunction about bawdy (and bodily) ribaldry. Of course, the hand-wringing has more to do with politics that reduce us all to the sum of our demographics than criticism. Obviously I laughed: I have a penis, just like producer Judd Apatow sticking his, um, nose where it doesn’t belong. Admittedly it’s an interesting knot, largely irrelevant to the picture’s quality, but feminism means women can do everything men can, including diarrhea faces.
It’s one of the few cases where escalation—the premise of all SNL-style sketch comedy, and Bridesmaids is nothing if not a string of sketches with recurring characters—never wore out its welcome. Elsewhere, as in the bridal shower freakout or even the bit where Kristen Wiig keeps driving by Chris O’Dowd to get his attention, the constant escalation eventually breaks the reality, letting all the gas out of the balloon. When Wiig finally bursts at the bridal shower, it’s been a long time coming and it’s still grounded in the film’s palpable tension and pathos, but when she’s scooping handfuls of the chocolate fountain and sweeping hors d’oeuvres off the table, we’re back in cartoonland. Meanwhile Kemper and McLendon-Covey get lost by the screenplay—and I, for one, was dying to drop in on their adventures—and the second act setback drags on just long enough to make you wonder if they hired an editor.
Despite its loose-fitting gown, Bridesmaids is a sharply detailed take on adult female friendship and finding your way in your 30s and other snoozy generalized comedy themes, but its core is this white-hot ball of energy constantly moving in place. Beneath the skin-deep identity politics and hydra-headed comedy lavishly riffing on love, sex, and marriage is a bracing portrait of being left behind. Kristen Wiig can do silly like no one since Gilda Radner, but in Bridesmaids she expands her repertoire into character actress territory with focused subtlety. Whenever boyfriend material Chris O’Dowd pesters her about her failed bakery, with a clipped line or two Wiig turns the memory into such an exposed nerve you understand her entire place in life, totally demoralized and still licking her wounds, and from the bottom of a rut, it sure looks like her best friend is busy seizing the day. From stutter to trainwreck, it’s a titanic performance, bolstered by the stellar company of Rudolph, Byrne, and O’Dowd. If only she had a penis she’d have Oscar buzz.