Film review – Bridesmaids (2011)

15 June 2011
Bridesmaids: Annie (Kristen Wiig)

Annie (Kristen Wiig)

For the last four years Saturday Night Live regular Kristen Wiig has had a number of scene-stealing cameos and supporting roles that have suggested she is one of the best comedic actors currently working in film and television. Her deadpan and slightly self-deprecating style is charming and endearing, but she can also be viciously passive-aggressive as she brilliantly demonstrated in her first big screen appearance, in a small role as a television executive assistant in Knocked Up. As the star and co-writer of Bridesmaids Wiig finally gets to display her full range and the results are brilliant.

Wiig plays Annie who becomes something of a reluctant maid of honour for her newly engaged best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph). Fulfilling her duties provides an enormous amount of stress for Annie who is financially unstable and suddenly competing over Lillian’s affections with Helen (Rose Byrne), who clearly wants the maid of honour gig. Along for the ride are the other members of the bridal party, played by Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper. All six performers are sensational and the film works best when they are all on screen together.

Bridesmaids: Megan (Melissa McCarthy), Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), Helen (Rose Byrne), Becca (Ellie Kemper), Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Lillian (Maya Rudolph).

Megan (Melissa McCarthy), Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), Helen (Rose Byrne), Becca (Ellie Kemper), Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Lillian (Maya Rudolph)

However, it really is Wiig who shines as Annie by making her such a recognisable and identifiable character. It is refreshing to see a protagonist whose everyday and commonplace financial difficulties are recognisably and realistically worked into the film’s narrative. It’s easy to see how Helen’s affluence and confidence is a genuine threat to her. Annie’s slightly wearied and cynical attitudes to romance and sex are also very genuine, whether beating herself up for returning to her smug casual sex partner Ted (John Hamm) or being overly cautious about nice guy Nathan (Chris O’Dowd). She’s not bitter and burnt, but just stuck in a rut due to a combination of bad luck and self-sabotage.

The actual wedding is pushed right to the background (we never even get a sense of who the groom is and we don’t care) as the focus of the film is on Annie trying to maintain Lillian’s affections while threatened by Helen’s advances. Like the male bromance, Bridesmaids is structurally a romantic comedy that is about an intense platonic friendship rather than an actual romance film. Furthermore, unlike other films about female friendship Bridesmaids employs the type of broad and gross out humour that is associated with bromance films. One extended sequence is basically a long scatological gag and in another scene the punch line is the dropping of the c-word. And it is all hilarious. Bridesmaids could well be the first womance film of its kind.

Bridesmaids: Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Lillian (Maya Rudolph)

Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Lillian (Maya Rudolph)

While the improvisational nature of the rehearsal process clearly established a great dynamic between the actors and provided a wealth of material, the film is overlong and a few scenes could have been removed. For example, none of the scenes with Annie’s obnoxious English flatmates work. These scenes do already feel considerably trimmed to the bare minimum, but they still slow the film down. A lot of the editing is also distractingly rough with several cuts failing to even facilitate a basic match-on-action.  Fortunately, Bridesmaids does consistently recover due to several set pieces that escalate beautifully to deliver some genuine big laughs.

Bridesmaids never really challenges the institution of marriage but it gleefully mocks so much of the hysteria surrounding weddings. It also contains a moving bittersweet sentiment about the inevitability of what happens to so many friendships after one half of the friendship finds long-term romantic companionship. Regardless of any subtext or lack there of, Bridesmaids is a very funny film. It’s the best film made by Judd Apatow’s production company since Knocked Up and showcases some extremely fine comedic actors that we’ll hopefully see a lot more of.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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Film review – Away We Go (2009)

11 December 2009

Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph) and Burt Farlander (John Krasinski)

The degree to which you will be able to enjoy Away We Go will greatly depend on how much you can identify with, or at least sympathetically recognise, the type of people that the two lead characters are. Burt Farlander and Verona De Tessant are a de facto couple in their early-30s who are three months away from the birth of their first child. They are part of the demographic of thirtysomethings who are very much aware that they’ve arrived at a point in life where they are yet to have achieved anything of material worth and their future is far from certain. Living a lifestyle that is situated somewhere between bohemia and lower middle-class, the onset of parenthood is of some concern. When Burt’s parents decide to move to Belgium, which is ironically viewed by Burt and Verona as selfish, the pair realise that their support base has gone and they need to figure out what part of North America they should live in to best suit their impending arrival.

Away We Go is structurally similar (but tonally very different) to recent Jim Jarmusch films such as Broken Flowers and The Limits of Control since it is an episodic road movie made up of vignettes.  The various friends and family that Burt and Verona meet up with represent a broad range of social groups and attitudes towards family. Some of the encounters edge into grotesque caricature territory while others are more genuine and sincere. However, all modes work as the sincere moments are touching and the caricature moments are appropriately designed to target people who are frankly worthy of ridicule. In particular, Maggie Gyllenhaal is wonderfully despicable as Burt’s wealthy childhood friend LN who lives the sort of privileged self-righteous faux-hippy lifestyle that only the rich can afford to live.

John Krasinski (Leatherheads, the USA version of The Office) and Saturday Night Live regular Maya Rudolph are perfectly cast as Burt and Verona. They have the chemistry of long term lovers whose relationship is past the early days of wild romance and is now built upon respect, mutual admiration and a deep trust in the way they feel for each other. Written by an actual husband and wife team (Dave Eggers, who also co-wrote Where the Wild Things Are, and novelist Vendela Vida), Away We Go successfully explores the dynamics of a normal and stable relationship. Burt and Verona are portrayed as very much in love and their acknowledged and shared uncertainty plays a significant part in what keeps them together. Despite his reputation as a visually stylish director, Sam Mendes has taken a very low-key approach to Away We Go and by doing so has made his best film since American Beauty.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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