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 – Insidious (2010)

15 May 2011
Insidious: Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) and Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne)

Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) and Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne)

The opening titles to the new film by the Saw franchise creators (director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell) suggests that we are about to experience a fun and slightly self-aware horror film in the same vein as Sam Raimi’s terrific Drag Me to Hell. A spooky opening credit sequence ends with the film’s title Insidious filling the screen accompanied by a blast of music that forces the viewer to sit up and take notice. Unfortunately, with the notable exception of a couple of genuine scares, the rest of the film falls short of this introductory moment.

Insidious is essentially a haunted house film with several nods to other classics from the genre. The use of discordant music occasionally evokes the György Ligeti and Krzysztof Penderecki compositions used by Stanley Kubrick in The Shining, but the dull, dark and washed out cinematography in Insidious is too distancing and never creates the same graceful menace of Kubrick’s masterpiece. The type of young family who are in peril places Insidious closer to films such as Poltergeist and more recently Paranormal Activity, but it lacks the magical supernatural tone of the former and the home video recorded footage novelty of the latter. Insidious is certainly part of a great tradition of scary films, but it’s a little too bland and visually unappealing to be memorable.

InsidiousThe film does take a bold and unexpected move into fantasy in the final act that somewhat redeems it, but it still doesn’t quite work. For a start the film annoyingly shifts all attention away from the up until then protagonist Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) to instead deliver all the excitement and interest to her husband Josh (Patrick Wilson). And sadly, the use of a smoke machine and a bunch of candelabras to create the otherworldly dimension just isn’t convincing enough to make such scenes any more memorable than similar moments in some of the later A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels.

Insidious is not that bad a film, but it’s a forgettable one. Wan and Whannell clearly know and love this genre but the inventiveness and craftsmanship they’ve previously displayed, most notably in the original Saw film, is not nearly as evident here.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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Film review – Knowing (2009)

21 March 2009
John Koestler (Nicholas Cage)

John Koestler (Nicholas Cage)

In 1959 a troubled young schoolgirl compulsively writes down a series of numbers, which is then buried in a time capsule. 50 years later, the time capsule is dug up and the series of numbers find their way to Astrophysicist Professor John Koestler (Nicolas Cage). John believes that life is random and his explanation for why things happen the way they do is, “Shit just happens”. So it’s particularly startling for John when he starts to realise that the series of numbers includes the dates of various disasters plus the number of people who died in each disaster. How is John supposed to respond to the events that are yet to come? What happens when the numbers run out? Who are the mysterious guys who look like members of a 1980s New Romantic band who have been injected with Rutger Hauer’s DNA?

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Film review – The Tender Hook (2008)

7 October 2008

Set during Sydney’s Jazz Age, The Tender Hook infuses the look and doomed love-triangle storyline of a classical Hollywood film noir with a distinctively Australian edge. Hugo Weaving (V for Vendetta, The Matrix) is McHeath, a shady business man/boxing promoter who is married to Iris, the film’s enigmatic femme fatale played by Rose Byrne (28 Weeks Later, Sunshine). McHeath takes an interest in Art, an up-and-coming boxer, played by Matthew Le Nevez (Peaches, Garage Days). Iris is drawn to Art as she becomes increasingly repelled by McHeath’s tendency for violence.

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Film review – Marie Antoinette (2006)

19 December 2006

Marie Antoinette is a period film with an indi/teen film sensibility. Having already proven herself on The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation as a director with talent to burn, Sofia Coppola has possibly set herself her biggest challenge yet. Marie Antoinette tells the story of France’s controversial last queen not as a weighty historical drama about the French Revolution, but as the story of a teenage girl with strong modern sensibilities. Audiences expecting scenes of suffering peasants, enraged revolutionaries and climatic beheadings are going to be sorely disappointed.

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