The classic Judd Apatow romantic comedy formula centres on a close friendship threatened by a romantic involvement, the question of growing up and moving on from one stable relationship to another. The homoerotic subtext of this (see also: every Simon Pegg and Nick Frost film ever made) has already been handled in 2009’s I Love You Man, so Bridesmaids is free to play off this formula without leaning on knowing winks and gay jokes. The combination of the Apatow ‘80s comedy redux’ sensibility and open-ended SNL/The Office skits results in one of the cleverest comedies to come out this year.
Annie (Kristen Wiig) can’t get her shit together, something that becomes readily apparent as she struggles to function as Matron of Honour to bestie Lillian (fellow SNL alum Maya Rudolph). Unhealthy relationships, a thwarted dream-business, and the threat of losing her best friend to some guy – Annie’s life is textbook romantic comedy, yet Wiig play the protagonist as both snarky and naive, unlikeable yet identifiable. The film’s best scenes stem directly from her performance, the classic neurotic who loses her train of thought, says the wrong thing and backtracks to a place far beyond the point. So much is revealed through slips of the tongue or avoided confessions that we get a tremendous sense of character in each scene, the desires and fears bubbling under the surface, that we can’t help but identify with Annie’s absurd crisis of communication.
Rounding out the cast is a range of strong women performers, whose backgrounds in TV comedy make them perfect for the slow-burning tone of Bridesmaids. The Office’s Ellie Kemper plays the naive foil to Reno 911’s Wendi McLendon-Covey as the insufferable newlywed Becca and cynical mother-of-three Rita respectively. Their energy alone makes for some of the most hilarious vignettes that sadly disappear as the film progresses. Mike and Molly’s Melissa McCarthy plays Megan, a foul-mouthed, ridiculously self-assured character who becomes instrumental in Annie’s third act resurrection. And Australia’s own Rose Byrne is delightfully villainous as Helen, the new-best-friend/ego-Ideal who stokes the fires of Annie’s insecurities.
Bridesmaids is a film of neat and not-so-neat doublings, right down to the two male love interests. Jon Hamm seems to relish playing the handsome douchebag in everything new he does, and in this film he’s almost a femme fatale in his ridiculousness. Officer Rhodes (Irish actor Chris O’Dowd) comes off a little wet or undeveloped by comparison, yet the romantic-comedy trajectory invariably makes him likeable and makes for a tidy, happy ending.
Again, the real strength of Bridesmaids is the way in which the standard rom-com formula serves as the foundation for a series of escalating set-pieces – like all classic comedies, it’s one to be remembered not for its narrative as a whole, but for all the memorable jokes and situations that crop up inside it. Though films of this nature necessarily drag in the third act, as the comedic despair gives way to resolution and reconstitution, Bridesmaids generates enough good will and laughs slow-burning and belly to carry itself from rendezvous to ring.