SXSW: All Hail Wiig! Bridesmaids Proves That Chick Flicks Don't Have to Suck
SNL superstar Kristen Wiig breezed into Austin midnight Sunday for what director Paul Feig accurately termed "Kristen Wiig Appreciation Night" -- a double header of this Friday's Paul followed by a special work in progress screening of this summer's Bridesmaids. The May 13 comedy marks Wiig's first honest-to-goodness starring vehicle, an event in itself, but here's even better news: Bridesmaids isn't just the smart and grounded antidote to the shrill chick flicks we all hate; it's the most raunchy, sweet and wonderfully vulgar R-rated comedy in recent memory. Bring it, Hangover 2.
Wiig stars as Annie, a single woman in her 30s who puts on a brave face and then completely loses it in hilarious, disastrous fashion when her engaged best friend's (Maya Rudolph) new friend (Rose Byrne) starts crowding in on her maid of honor status. Filling out the rest of the wedding party are Wendi McClendon-Covey (Reno 911), Ellie Kemper (The Office), and Melissa McCarthy (Gilmore Girls), funny ladies with razor-sharp instincts and comic chops who give Wiig ensemble support, a perfectly cast assemblage of female talent who all get their moments to shine. (Chris O'Dowd also charms as Wiig's cop suitor, while Matt Lucas and Rebel Wilson, as a pair of freakish British siblings, are hysterical and out of left field.)
By Feig's own admission the SXSW work in progress cut was basically finished, a final cut missing last-minute elements like color timing and credits, but those omissions barely registered once the laughs started -- which is to say, immediately. Bridesmaids serves up plenty of Wiig doing what she does best from the opening scene, which finds her performing Olympian coital exercises with her hot-but-horrible sex buddy (Jon Hamm). From there the hijinks take various forms, but it's all arguably topped with a memorable gross-out gag that actually serves the story and sets the bar for any R-rated comedy to follow this year.
These are seriously funny ladies, four of whom -- Wiig, Rudolph, McClendon-Covey, and McCarthy -- came up through The Groundlings together. And part of their ease as a group is in a shared fearlessness, a collective determination to go farther than most actresses probably would. In that regard, Bridesmaids is an exercise in the best kind of competition -- the kind in which individuals are inspired to push farther by their peers and given room to play in by a director with sharp instincts. Bridesmaids itself aims to point out the insanity and stupidity of female competition and unearth strength buried beneath layers of insecurity born from all sorts of minor slights, even as it acknowledges that in real life, yes, women can be catty, jealous bitches.
Credit Wiig and writing partner Annie Mumolo for finding the tragic humor in the wedding ritual, and director Feig for keeping the balance between raunch and sentiment while always training his eye on his Wiig's journey. All three make enormous strides with Bridesmaids, with Wiig declaring herself a viable leading lady, Mumolo making her mark as a writer, and Feig breaking away from producer Judd Apatow's shadow in his first feature film since 2006's Unaccompanied Minors (which, coincidentally, featured Wiig in a small role). The film feels a bit long and could be whittled down to a brisker running time, but that's not to say any of those extra minutes aren't utterly enjoyable.
Bridesmaids is, refreshingly, a movie in which women feel real. They talk about sex. They crack dick jokes. They wake up early to put on make-up and then sneak back into bed and pretend that they always look like that in the morning. And women, like men, can feel buried under the weight of life's disappointments and get stuck in limbo as everyone around them seems to move forward. Nobody registers crippling insecurity and hurt beneath a goofy laugh like Kristen Wiig. Bridesmaids proves that modern comedies about women don't have to be insipid, boring or downright loathsome. Who knew?