Bridesmaids starts off like any other big Hollywood rom-com: jaunty tune in the background, opening shot of a familiar American city skyline (often New York of course, but Chicago on this occasion) and a peek inside someone’s extravagantly expensive home. Thankfully though, the over-familiarity ends there. Giving a welcome kick in the pants to the notion that ‘chick flicks’ are all about finding “the one” and having the perfect wedding, Bridesmaids initially feels like a fresh approach to an old idea. It’s certainly won over many fans across the pond, with a swathe of positive reviews and over $100m under its belt thus far. But though there's certainly a few good laughs to be found here, delirious reports of its hilarity are, to coin a phrase, greatly exaggerated.
Annie (Kristen Wiig) has not been having a good time of it lately. In quick succession her cake business became a victim of the recession, her boyfriend dumped her and she was forced to move in to a flat shared with a revolting British brother and sister. Then her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) suddenly announces her engagement, and asks a slightly shocked Annie to be her maid of honour. Annie of course accepts, but soon finds competition for the position of best friend in the form of the wealthy and seemingly perfect Helen (Rose Byrne – a busy bee this summer, having appeared in both X-Men: First Class and Insidious). Tensions build in the run-up to the big day as outings and parties end in disaster; can Annie help deliver the perfect wedding and turn her own life around as well?
Bridesmaids is unquestionably a fun night out. The cast are likeable and game for pretty much anything. It’s almost like a female answer to The Hangover - anything the boys can do, the girls can do sillier and yuckier, and writers Wiig and Annie Mumolo certainly deserve a cheer for that. But the quality of the comedy on display is extremely variable. Predictably there’s a good dose of gross-out humour, most of which we’ve seen before. True, the requisite vomit scene is in a swanky bridal boutique rather than a restaurant, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any funnier. More disappointingly, it resorts to far too many “let’s all laugh at the ugly fat woman” jokes – so much for comedy equality. To be fair, Melissa McCarthy does a great job as the decidedly oddball Megan, and her eccentricities are given a modicum of depth when she alone among the bridesmaids tries to help pull Annie back together after a series of setbacks. But it’s a poor excuse for some queasy gags about meat flaps.
If, on the other hand, you’re a fan of the Ricky Gervais school of squirm comedy, then you’ll be as happy as a pig in you-know-what. There’s a good number of seemingly improvised scenes that go on far too long; the battle of speeches at the engagement party being a notable example of where the laughs run out long before the scene is over, and you’re left staring at the screen, willing it to end. Director Paul Feig (a veteran from the US version of The Office) could use a lesson or two in knowing when enough is enough.
Reservations about the quality of the script aside, there is no doubt at all that Kristen Wiig is ready to join Hollywood’s A-list. That the film is consistently amusing and engaging despite its lack of direction and predictable plot is almost entirely thanks to her winning central performance. Annie occasionally threatens to become annoying and unlikeable, particularly after she rejects the homely advances of Chris O’Dowd’s nice guy cop (credit to O’Dowd as well for giving a thoroughly one-dimensional character a few colourful quirks). But Wiig (having served apprenticeship on Saturday Night Live and a couple of earlier Judd Apatow comedies, who serves as producer here) perfectly pitches her performance, occasionally recalling Meg Ryan in her Sleepless in Seattle heyday. The rest of the cast are equally strong, and if Bridesmaids is as successful overseas as it was in the States then the inevitable bonus cheques should rightfully be winging their way to the entire wedding party.