There’s a degree of calculation at work in Bridesmaids, which shrewdly provides both a feminine answer to the wedding-themed buddy raunch of The Hangover and a rebuke to critics of producer Judd Apatow, who’s consistently (and fairly) dogged for his portrayal—and non-portrayal—of women. It’s also a frequently ungainly attempt to wed big, outrageous comic setpieces, mostly involving intense awkwardness and public embarrassment, with a subtler treatment of friendship and early midlife crisis. With all these elements at play, it’s no surprise that Bridemaids sputters, coughs, and lurches, but it’s a winning shambles, buoyed by a sharp, balanced comedic ensemble and some truthful observations about how close friends adapt when their lives fall out of step.
Stepping out from her omnipresence on Saturday Night Live bits, co-writer/star Kristen Wiig still seems more sketch comedian than actor, but her script has enough genuine wit and heart to make its naked commercial savvy forgiveable. Whatever her acting limitations, Wiig has an easy chemistry with Maya Rudolph, and it’s instantly clear that their characters have been friends for a while without anyone saying a word about it. Having hit rock bottom in the wake of her failed cake business and a degrading casual relationship (with an amusingly vain Jon Hamm), Wiig reluctantly accepts her maid-of-honor duties. When some early get-togethers go horribly awry, Rudolph’s wealthy, intense new friend Rose Byrne offers to take over, sparking a rivalry with Wiig that threatens their relationship. Ellie Kemper, Wendi McLendon-Covey, and Melissa McCarthy play the other bridesmaids, with McCarthy a particular standout in the Zach Galifianakis role of a black-sheep future in-law.
Director Paul Feig doesn’t bring much flair to the table—his enervating establishing shots of Milwaukee make the film seem at times like an episode of Laverne & Shirley—but the Freaks And Geeks creator knows better than anyone how to find the laughs in excruciating situations. An early scene where Wiig and Byrne give speeches at the engagement party presses too far, but that instinct to go big pays off in an epically disgusting sequence at a bridal shop that recalls vintage Farrelly brothers. Yet as much as it tries to be raunchier-than-thou (and succeeds), Bridesmaids has insight into what a wedding means to everyone other than the bride. It laughs to keep from crying.