Reviewing a comedy is tricky, because people have different senses of humor. If only it was as easy as one question: Did the movie make you laugh?
So here’s the subjective answer. I laughed a couple times during Bridesmaids, which is a couple times more than I laughed during The Hangover, the movie of which it has been dubbed a distaff doppelganger. (Actually, I’m betting no one has ever called anything a “distaff doppelganger”. That should start and end right here.)
I could compare the movie to other films. With the climactic reveal of a teen nostalgia band at a wedding, last year’s Kristen Bell vehicle You Again came to mind. You Again also had the whole female rivalry angle. I guess where Bridesmaids trumps You Again is in its attempts to maintain a veneer of plausibility. They call this “keeping it grounded” in the biz. Not that Bridesmaids doesn’t let loose. There’s a sequence with vomit that is already achieving There’s Something About Mary-level notoriety. The funniest character in the film, Megan (Melissa McCarthy), is completely detached from reality, even when her feet are planted on the ground.
I guess I prefer my comedies to build from plausibility to full-blown farce (most episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm), be unapologetically silly (Austin Powers), or to remain plausible throughout (Meet the Parents). This ‘medium funny’ approach is hard for me to get comfortable with. Are we supposed to be laughing at the characters, or laughing with them? Do they occupy our world, or a strange one with montages of inappropriate acts performed in front of a cop?
Whether I laughed as much as I should have, what I do know is that I’d prefer more Hollywood comedies like Bridesmaids that at least assume some intelligence on the part of the audience, and fewer of the lowest-common-denominator fare. The film continues to perform well late into its run. Hopefully the message is coming through. I did my duty and went to the theater.
Kristen Wiig (also a co-writer of the script) and Maya Rudolph are well-paired. I’d see any movie where they play as friends, even if I think both might be more comfortable in a 30 Rock/SNL world as opposed to a Judd Apatow-Paul Feig-Barry Mendel world. (Producer-director-producer, FTR.)
Side note: Don’t take any criticism of the humor of the film as being about whether this movie proves women can be funny. I think its condescending and idiotic that so much of the discussion around the film is about this. Yes, women can be funny. Duh. Lucille Ball, Betty White, Tina Fey etc., etc. Moving on.
Let me talk about the technical aspects for a sec. The general belief is that comedies should be lit and photographed with bright colors and high keys. One of the things I did like about The Hangover is that it flew in the face of this conventional wisdom. It had some visual panache to it, a sort of gritty sheen that was atypical for a comedy, but made it feel more cinematic. The cinematography in Bridesmaids, by Robert D. Yeoman, is also gritty but way dank for my taste. The grain of the fast filmstocks and sometimes unflattering lighting of the characters kept jumping out at me. I would’ve liked to see director Paul Fieg channel some of the talents that Yeoman brought out for beautiful films like The Darjeeling Limited and The Royal Tennenbaums. I imagine this was part budget restrictions and part the fast-and-loose way the movie (feels like, at least, it) was shot.
And I guess that also goes to production design. Big points for the mangy dog wandering across the parking lot of the Brazilian restaurant. But if you had told me the film was meant to be set in Toronto instead of Milwaukee, I never would have known. Was that where some laughs were lost? Who knows? Hours after viewing, I’m trying to pin down what exactly kept me from fully investing in the world. It might have been the plot-inessential side characters (British roomies played by Matt Lucas and Rebel Wilson; Ellie Kemper and Wendy McLendon-Covey, the airhead newlywed and the jaded married, respectively). I know it wasn’t Rose Byrne, who surprised me with her naturalism. This is the first time I’ve seen her play a character that actually went deeper than skindeep. She was funny and dangerous and believable as the obstacle to Kristen Wiig’s character’s happiness. I attribute this also to the sHarp writing of Wiig and co-writer Annie Mumolo, who seem to have given the main friendship triangle in the film more consideration than the other character relationships.
Well, I’m approaching 800 words in this rambling review of a movie that’s been out for a month. I haven’t the intellectual strength to crystallize the criticisms into some illuminating thesis. Reviewing a comedy should be easy. I laughed; I think most other people will laugh too. On that basis, it is an unqualified recommend. On the other hand… was there a funnier movie that could have been made with this material? My spider senses are tingling in the affirmative. But precisely how…? Yes, reviewing comedy is tricky.