For those of you who like me have in recent years come to regard “chick flick” as a purely pejorative term Bridesmaids directed by Paul Feig (Unaccompanied Minors) and starring Kristen Wiig (MacGruber) is nothing less than miraculous: A broad female-driven comedy that is both sharply observed and genuinely funny capable of inducing howls of laughter from both sexes in equal measure. What's more unlike other offerings from the genre it actually respects its audience’s basic intelligence. How refreshingly novel.
Wiig who also co-wrote the film’s screenplay with Annie Mumolo plays Annie 30-something and stranded. Since losing her business and subsequently her boyfriend to the Great Recession she’s resigned herself to mediocrity slogging through a dead-end job at a jewelry store where she labors vainly to conceal her cynicism from the bright-eyed folks shopping for engagement rings and BFF bracelets and clinging to a dead-end relationship with a handsome but solipsistic creep (Jon Hamm) who very plainly regards her as nothing more than a convenient booty call.
Annie’s lone source of relief from the drudgery and ennui is the close bond she shares with Lillian (Maya Rudolph) her lifelong best friend. When Lillian reveals that she’s gotten engaged and that she’s chosen Annie to be her maid of honor at the wedding Annie’s already shaky emotional footing threatens to give way entirely. Wiig is fairly brilliant here (and indeed throughout the film) subtly and humorously conveying both overt happiness for her friend’s milestone and internal terror over the sudden realization that the music has stopped and she’s the only one without a chair.
Lillian’s engagement sets up the film’s main comic conceit: the rivalry of passive-aggressive one-upsmanship that develops between Annie and blue-blooded Alpha bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne) a pretty prissy blue-blood who clearly covets Annie’s maid of honor role. Pressured to prove herself against the would-be usurper Annie leads the bridal party into one disaster after another starting with a Brazilian luncheon that results in a violent case of food poisoning in the middle of their gown-fitting.
As you might gather from the above example some of the film’s comic set-ups verge on the predictable but Wiig a comedienne equally adroit as the brunt of jokes or the source of them keeps things fresh and lively – and funny – throughout. I’d be remiss however if I didn’t recognize the scene-stealing efforts of Melissa McCarthy as Megan the mannish potty-mouthed sexually aggressive sister of the groom the bridal party’s oddest — and ultimately its most grounded — member.
At times Bridesmaids tries a little too hard to be an all-female version of The Hangover Wedding Crashers or any of the other films to which it has been copiously compared. The needless intestinal comedy of the wedding-gown dysentery scene in particular serves as little more than proof that women are just as capable of reaching for easy laughs via telegraphed gross-out jokes as men. (I suspect this as well as the film’s overlong running time stems in part from the creative influence Judd Apatow who produced the film.)
Bridesmaids is at its best when it’s not reaching or forcing matters but rather when it puts its trust in its talented cast. The relationship that blossoms in fits and starts between Annie and Rhodes an Irish-American traffic cop played by Chris O’Dowd is heartfelt and its evolution stunted at various points by Annie’s penchant for neurotic self-sabotage feels genuine. Wiig and O’Dowd establish an easy endearing chemistry devoid of the pat screwball give-and-take that so often characterizes rom-com courtships and it helps keep the movie aloft when its comic energy ebbs.
Along Came Polly has a place in a tiny niche of the romantic comedy genre that one might call "Poopy Love." You know these movies; they feature a nerdy guy usually played by Ben Stiller whose love interest witnesses him in the throes of some scatological or penile trauma yet falls in love with him anyway. The comedy throughout must be gross and whenever possible breast pee-pee or sphincter-related. The girl is usually a childhood friend (à la There's Something About Mary) who's grown up to be a beautiful if quirky creature--she'd have to be to fall in love with a guy who gets his wiener caught in his zipper on prom night discusses milking the cat at her parents' dinner table (à la Meet the Parents) or as in the case of Along Came Polly contracts a massive case of the squirts on their first date after eating spicy food with his fingers. But it's all in the spirit of fun as the love interest teaches the uptight guy to embrace life and there's much hilarity on the road to romance--as well as a fairly irrelevant subplot whose sole purpose is to show us what a great guy the hero is.
As Polly's leading man uptight newly wedded insurance risk assessor Reuben Feffer Stiller proves he's still the undisputed king of Poopy Love films by hamming it up to the hilt whether he's showing off his newly acquired salsa skills or making his misery and anger palpable--and physical--when his bride Lisa (played very straight by Debra Messing) has a fling on the first day of their honeymoon in St. Barts with French scuba instructor Claude (a very naked very toned very funny Hank Azaria). Crestfallen and bitter Reuben returns to the Big Apple alone and while at an art show with his best friend former child actor Sandy Lyle (Philip Seymour Hoffman) bumps into an old school chum the free-spirited Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston). The uproar begins in earnest with Hoffman on the scene--his egomaniacal former child star is a funny tub of pomposity and insecurity--and he and Stiller have nice comic chemistry together. That's more than can be said of Aniston who doesn't seem to want to get her hands dirty even though the script offers her the opportunity. She never really participates physically in the comedy the way Cameron Diaz did in Mary--she simply reacts to Stiller's antics. Her character's pet ferret gets more laughs.
Like Stiller Along Came Polly's director and screenwriter John Hamburg is no stranger to Poopy Love having written the outrageous script for Meet the Parents and the less clever though highly original Zoolander. The jokes in Polly seem limited in comparison with a high reliance on pooping farting "sharting" (when you fart and a little poo comes out) and of course the old took-a-dump-in-your-girlfriend's-bathroom-and-the-toilet-won't-flush gag. That doesn't mean the movie's not funny--it is. There's just not much here we haven't seen before.