Special Photo: Universal. From left, Melissa McCarthy, Ellie Kemper, Rose Byrne, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig star in "Bridesmaids."
4 stars out of 4
In the 36 years since the birth of "Saturday Night Live," more than 12 dozen former and current cast members have starred in excess of 500 feature films. Most of those movies are horrible, about 20 are very good and maybe five could be considered excellent. Three are out-and-out classics -- "Animal House," "Caddyshack" and "Bridesmaids."
Co-written by and starring Kristen Wiig, "Bridesmaids" -- based solely on the title, principal cast and main plot -- is going to be perceived and unfairly dismissed as being just another assembly-line chick flick. It also doesn't help that it arrives on the heels of the abysmal, brain-dead, kind-of-wedding-themed "Something Borrowed."
We know this movie is going to be real different the second it starts. Opening cold (no preceding credits, fade-ins or backing score), it shows Annie (Wiig) having furious but awkward sex with Ted (Jon Hamm). At daybreak after another go-around Ted all but orders Annie to leave. They have a "friends with benefits" sort of thing going except they're not friends. He's a player, she's a doormat but she doesn't really seem to mind. However unhealthy and fleeting it may be, Ted shows Annie some attention and for that she's grateful.
In the cold morning light on her way to meet her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) for coffee, Annie passes by the bakery she owned that recently went bankrupt. When done with Lillian, Annie returns home to a cramped apartment she shares with a creepy British guy and his frumpy sister who overcharge her for rent. It's barely 10 minutes into the movie and we know a bunch about Annie. She's unemployed, probably broke, depressed and spineless.
Just when it can't get any worse for Annie, it does and continues to do so for most of the remaining 110 minutes, and the bulk of it is self-inflicted. Watching the often petty wrecking-ball Annie go from one cringe-inducing scenario to the next is akin to witnessing a mangled car wreck.
Annie becomes unglued one tiny piece at a time, and in the hands of a lesser nuanced performer it would be sad and pathetic and the audience would despise her (much like Kate Hudson in "Something Borrowed"). However, Wiig does the near impossible; she gets the audience to enthusiastically root and fall for Annie. It is one of the most extraordinary comic performances -- male or female -- in the history of film.
While Wiig is putting on her acting clinic, her four fellow bridesmaids wisely yield center stage, but everyone gets to shine in their own unique way. The wealthy and impossibly tended-to Helen (Rose Byrne) not only tries to displace Annie as Lillian's best friend, she does everything to the nines. Annie has no chance to carry out her maid of honor duties the same way Helen could and the competition between the two is fierce, immediate and unrelenting.
Lillian's soon-to-be sister-in-law Megan (Melissa McCarthy, "Mike & Molly") is a gruff and androgynous sort who has no filter between her brain and mouth. Ultra-politically-incorrect, Megan is incapable of subtly or being embarrassed and elicits gut-busting guffaws every time she moves, speaks or raises an eyebrow. Think John Belushi as a fair-skinned female.
Given far less screen time but doing the most with it are Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey) as a burned-out mother/cougar-in-waiting and Becca (Ellie Kemper), a dainty Pollyanna newlywed whom Rita plans on turning into a serious party girl. Although Rudolph is given a significant part, her fans might be disappointed to hear she is regulated to a straight man role.
Keeping all of this together and humming along without rushing is Paul Feig, one the most respected TV directors of last decade who has helmed episodes of "Arrested Development," "Mad Men," "Nurse Jackie," "Weeds," "30 Rock" and "The Office." Feig is one of the scant few directors who knows the true comedic value of silence and employs that here it to maximum effect.
There may be a few people out there who might not appreciate "Bridesmaids." If you're easily offended by profanity, sexual frankness or gross-out humor, you might want to steer clear. It's very bawdy and risque; certainly not a first or even second date movie. For everyone else: go see it immediately. You might not ever laugh this hard again for the rest of your life. (Universal)