A Maid of Honor in Crisis: Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids
Bridesmaids came out in May of 2011 and changed Hollywood forever. The film was heavily anticipated, but no one really knew what it would be like, whether it would make any money or if it would be good. Box office pundits low-balled their opening weekend predictions. Deadline called the trailers unwatchable. Time magazine decided that calling it “The Hag-over” was an acceptable thing to print. Slowly, positive reviews started pouring in, though the film couldn’t shake the “Hangover but for girls” label. Once it came out, the Paul Feig comedy became a sensation. The opening weekend was huge; Thor took the number one spot, but Bridesmaids was a smash hit with its modest budget. And the film had legs, playing through the summer (I myself saw it multiple times in theaters).
Telling a relatable story about a maid of honor in over her head, Bridesmaids was also a star-making movie for several of its key players: Paul Feig established himself as a woman-friendly filmmaker. Star and co-writer Kristen Wiig proved her talents outside of Saturday Night Live. Rose Byrne became a reliable, versatile character actress. And Melissa McCarthy shot to superstardom. Along with her co-writer Annie Mumolo, Wiig crafted a unique comedy that balances genuine emotion and side-splitting laughs (the writers were Oscar-nominated, rare for a comedy like this). For me, Bridesmaids is the gold standard for R-rated raunchy comedies (succeeded by this year’s superb Girls Trip). Bridesmaids is a love story, but one about friendships between women.
Bridesmaids' ties to SNL are strong. Kristen Wiig starred on the show for 7 years, earning multiple Emmy nominations. Wiig emerged as one of the sketch comedy show’s top stars, and the show was criticized (unfairly or not) for relying too much on her recurring characters. Maya Rudolph was also a long-serving SNL veteran, known for her impeccable celebrity impersonations. Melissa McCarthy hosted the show five times and is now famous for her brilliant Sean Spicer portrayal. But Bridesmaids didn’t originate as an SNL sketch nor are any of the characters holdovers from SNL. And that’s what makes this film separate from other SNL movies.
It would have been easy for Kristen Wiig to cash in on her SNL fame by making a Gilly movie or something along those lines. Instead, she has spent her post-SNL years doing offbeat indie dramas that benefited from her off-kilter comedic prowess (Welcome to Me is highly recommended). Her most commercial films are Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (in which she plays the most grounded character). With her starring role in Bridesmaids, Wiig proved that she is not only a terrific comedian but an exceptional actress in general. Her command over her physicality in the big set pieces is matched by an incredibly heart-rending vulnerability and emotional honesty. Bridesmaids may be about a wedding, but it tells a story about a woman drowning, whose insecurities and failings are exacerbated by the threat of losing her best friend. Kristen Wiig has the invaluable ability to be hilarious but with just a dash of pathetic sadness, and the actress plays all these shades with aplomb and sincerity.
Her supporting cast is uniformly excellent. For all of Melissa McCarthy’s outrageous line-readings and crazy physical comedy, she reveals an immense empathy, compassion, and warmth. McCarthy received an Oscar nomination, and it’s quite deserved. Her performance is really unforgettable. Maya Rudolph doesn’t quite get to be as boisterous as her castmates, but she brings her character to life. There are a few scenes where Rudolph shines, and they are glorious. Rose Byrne gives a lot of depth and charm to the film, even as the bitch character. The film provides her character with some development and becomes a stronger film for not treating her like a cliché. Bridesmaids fills out its characters with such a stacked ensemble including Chris O’Dowd, Ellie Kemper, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jill Clayburgh, Jon Hamm, and Rebel Wilson.
As director, Feig doesn’t show a lot of flourish. He mostly just lets his actors do their thing, much to his credit. But the film does look beautiful. The costumes by Leesa Evans and Christina Wada are insightful and vibrant, and the cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman showcases the locations for the comedic set-pieces quite well. The film made over $288 million worldwide, and the filmmakers have wisely steered clear of superfluous sequels. As much as I love the film, we don’t need any more installments. Bridesmaids is an influential film, single-handedly reigniting the conversation about women's representation in Hollywood and heralding a new era for women in comedy.