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Screen Scene: "Bridesmaids"

Credit: Universal Pictures

"Bridesmaids"
Directed by Paul Feig
Universal pictures
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By Alex Goodman

May 13, 2011 12:26 a.m.

“Bridesmaids” is not a chick flick. It’s not “The Hangover” with heels, as some critics have called it. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable comedy led by a stellar cast of women who beat the men at their own games and start playing new ones.

Imagine how embarrassed the Hollywood bigwigs must be when they see the movie and realize what their male-dominated industry has been missing.

The story, from Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, follows the near-total unraveling of Annie (Wiig) after her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), announces her engagement. Already unemployed and emotionally handcuffed to her sex buddy (Jon Hamm), Annie stumbles, falls and flounders through the oncoming series of wedding-related events in spectacular fashion.

In that sense, “Bridesmaids” follows in the long Hollywood tradition of humiliating the leading lady, and Wiig is the perfect woman for the job.

After years as the resident weirdo on “Saturday Night Live,” she sets a new standard for the kind of ridiculous antics comedies have thrown haphazardly onto the screen for years. Plenty of usually restrained characters have gotten drunk and made fools of themselves, but few of them get half as many laughs as Annie stumbling into first class on the flight to Vegas for Lillian’s bachelorette party.

“Bridesmaids” does, unfortunately, sometimes share “SNL’s” tendency to overindulge; several of the film’s gags play like skits that try to squeeze too much out of a one-use-only joke. Most of them involve scatological gross-out humor, though, and they argue persuasively that men aren’t the only ones who find that stuff funny.

But when “Bridesmaids” truly sets itself apart from most comedies of the last few years, it’s because of the characters.

Judd Apatow’s crew has long tried to infuse their movies with extended odes to male bonding, but the friendships are almost always between two lazy man-children who spend half their time worrying about seeming gay. Instead, Wiig and Mumolo have created a group of women who are as realistic as they are ridiculous.

It starts and ends with Wiig and Rudolph, who paint an utterly convincing portrait of best friendship. Before the madness begins, they seem to have a telepathic connection, so when Helen (Rose Byrne), the wife of Lillian’s boss, shows up at the engagement party flaunting a gorgeous, flowing dress and a special connection to the bride-to-be, Annie’s jealousy is almost unbearable. And when Lillian and Annie finally reconnect, despite all the absurdity that fills the middle section of the movie, it feels like a genuine reunion.

The supporting cast of women is flawless, too. Byrne never fails to inspire unbridled hatred, even when her character’s need to one-up Annie turns out to come from a place of insecurity, and Wendi McLendon-Covey and “The Office’s” Ellie Kemper contribute their own priceless quirks to the party of bridesmaids.

They’re all in danger of losing the spotlight, though, to Melissa McCarthy, who has clearly been holding back in “Mike & Molly.” As Megan, the sister of Lillian’s fiancé, McCarthy begins the film seeming like a crazy person, the female equivalent of Zach Galifianakis’ part in “The Hangover.” But she slowly reveals a character so confident and strong, she almost ends up the heroine.

It must be said, of course, that a few men are integral to the success of “Bridesmaids.” Paul Feig, best known for creating “Freaks & Geeks,” does great directing work here, balancing a tricky mix of smart and stupid humor. And Hamm does an admirable job laying waste to his reputation, jumping head-first into his astonishingly repulsive character.

Most importantly, though, there’s Chris O’Dowd as Officer Rhodes, Annie’s love interest. He doesn’t look like Ryan Reynolds ““ or, for that matter, like Hamm. But he’s an incredibly sweet man, smart and hard working and thoughtful, and he’s absolutely irresistible.

Men could learn a lot from “Bridesmaids” ““ especially the ones in Hollywood.

Email Goodman at [email protected].

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