A scene in which a couple screw their hearts out might not raise an eyebrow in a European art film, but as the opening of a romantic comedy from a Hollywood studio, it gets your attention. It also shows from the start what's so funny, and subversive, about Bridesmaids, which is directed by Paul Feig from a script co-written by SNL's Kristen Wiig.
Annie (Wiig) and Ted (Jon Hamm) are getting it on and enjoying it. The flailing limbs, gasps, and filthy talk are both sexy and — like most mechanically repetitive human behavior viewed from an objective point of view — comically absurd. When the party is over, though, Ted asks Annie to leave, and she performs the walk of shame, abetted by an automatic security gate.
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It's a sight gag Lucille Ball might have been proud of, and characteristic of the subtlety and gusto Wiig brings to the role. But laughs aside, Wiig also gets to present a female character who enjoys sex, just like a guy. And she demonstrates how women, too, can engage in crude physical comedy. On the other hand, in order to do this, her character must be miserable, victimized, and full of self-loathing. At least at first, because the film's high jinks have the ulterior purpose of forcing Annie, and the audience, to confront what's making her that way.
Her life has become a litany of self-sabotaging debacles. In addition to her dead-end relationship with Ted, she's failed at business — the bakeshop she opened went bust. Now she works as a salesperson in a jewelry store, where she drives away customers with tales of romantic cynicism. Things get so bad, she contemplates moving in with her mother (the late Jill Clayburgh, in her final role).
So she's not in the mood to hear that best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is getting married. It's not that Lillian may be replacing her with a husband — he barely registers as a character. It's that Lillian is moving out of Annie's social class by marrying into a wealthy family. More threatening than that is Lillian's new friend, the rich, perfect Helen (Rose Byrne), whom Lillian met only a couple of months before but has chosen as one of her bridesmaids. And as Annie learns, Helen has her eye on Annie's role as Maid of Honor.
Thus the contest for Lillian's favor begins, the pair's rivalry intensifying as they go through the preparatory rituals of gown fittings, bridal shower, and bachelorette party. The battle is ruthless, humiliating, and scatological. Caught up in this feud, Annie can't accept the advice or affection of Rhodes (Chris O'Dowd), a cop whom she met cute when he pulled her over for having no brake lights.
Charming as he might be with his Irish brogue, Rhodes might not be the best way for Bridesmaids to go. Why does a guy always have to show the way? He's not the only one to tell Annie what to do; it seems that the last third of the film consists of big doses of pop psychology served up by everyone else. And that includes tubby, lecherous Megan (Melissa McCarthy), who like her fellow bridesmaids is otherwise a brilliant comic miniature.