The sweet and rude movie comedy “Bridesmaids” has sold more than $100 million worth of tickets in three weeks. In a world where multiplexes teem with box-office sure bets like superhero epics (“Thor,” the “X-Men” prequel), men behaving badly (“Hangover 2”) and the sequels of summer (the “Panda” movie, the “Pirate” movie), here’s a hit that was never supposed to be one, at least by conventional Hollywood wisdom. It has no marquee stars, 98 percent of the cast are women … and it’s about, um, bridesmaids.
But it is a hit — and not despite the Jekyll/Hyde push-pull of its comic bits (the subtle battling against the splattery), but probably because of this split nature. The six women who make up the main cast are allowed to be sensitive and fashion-obsessed at one moment, and the next as messy and messed up as any jerk fooling around with a cigarette-smoking monkey in Bangkok. The film deserves a closer look.
The scene featuring the ladies suffering food poisoning (spouting from both anatomical ends) is the trademark gross-out from producer Judd Apatow, the kind that can persuade guys to go with their dates or wives to see a movie called, yikes, “Bridesmaids.” Beyond the broadest yucks, though, there’s something else that gives the film both big grosses and staying power. It lets its main character, Annie (co-writer and “Saturday Night Live” staple Kristen Wiig), be as much anti-heroine as heroine — to be as believably, fallibly human as the characters celebrated in the slobby man-child comedies of not only Apatow (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” “Superbad”) but Todd Phillips (“Road Trip,” “Old School,” the “Hangover” flicks).
A former pastry chef now pushing retail at a jewelry store she loathes, Annie is a big — how shall we put this gently? — fuck-up. Asked to be maid of honor by best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph), she botches just about every wedding plan. Her weird British housemates take advantage of her, and she lets herself be treated like dirt by a casual sex partner specializing in booty calls. (Sure, he’s played by “Mad Men” pin-up Jon Hamm, but still.) And, when a nice State Patrol officer (Chris O’Dowd) starts courting her with charm and respect, she shares the wealth and reflexively treats him like dirt. (If you can say you’ve never done anything remotely like that in your life, then you’re not one of the many people I’ve known in mine.)
The movie’s true plot, much more than the wedding, is to see whether Annie can find a way to fix her mess-ups, after first recognizing her transgressions — against the nice patrolman, against the harried bride-to-be, and especially against herself. In a lovely, wordless scene, Annie creates the sort of exquisite cupcake she made before she lost her bakery. And she eats it, alone, standing at the kitchen counter with a resigned look on her face, unable to enjoy it. As a baker, she can still deliver the goods, but she has slumped to a place where she can’t appreciate their, or her own, value. She’s depressed.
What could have been a blunt, Stuart Smalley-style riff on emotional recovery is folded like egg whites into the comic batter. As mentioned, “Bridesmaids” has a definite split personality, which can take some getting used to. In addition to the puke-and-poo Apatow moments, the movie has shiny-pretty leanings — hey look! Wilson Phillips is playing at the wedding! — that are as fake as anything in the loathsome bridal movies starring Kate Hudson and Katherine Heigl (“Bride Wars,” “27 Dresses,” “The Ugly Truth” and do you really want me to name any more?). But it also has a grounding in reality that makes you care about Annie and how she turns out.
That her mother (the late Jill Clayburgh) has a hobby painting portraits of celebrities is a “wacky” movieland touch. But that her house is a modest, one-story place is the sort of detail that keeps the flick rooted in plausibility as matter-of-factly plain as the Wisconsin highway landscapes, where Annie and her state patrolman engage in flirty badinage. Maybe he didn’t even mean to, but director Paul Feig (a TV veteran moving to the big screen) lets the movie breathe and have moments of sadness that give it some depth.
As a result, Annie, the character Wiig co-wrote and plays, comes across less like a pastel-wearing cake-topper who is ankle-deep in icing than as a person with her feet on the ground. Annie’s predicament has less to do with being a woman than with being human. That’s the staying power of “Bridesmaids.” It’s not only trying to nail the joke. It’s hoping to get you where you live.