Since it began in the late 1970s, Saturday Night Live has consistently produced some of America’s best comedy writers, several of whom have moved effortlessly into film with great results. The likes of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, John Belushi and Mike Myers have all graduated from the TV sketch show and are now followed by alumnus Kristen Wiig, whose first film as a writer, Bridesmaids (2011), has become one of the most successful comedies of the year.
The film takes the mould of a Frat Pack comedy and upturns it, pulling the women into the foreground and leaving the men with bit-part roles. The crude, gross-out humour remains the same though, except this time its a woman exclaiming “I want to feel balls hitting my face”. Wiig’s script is essentially The Hangover (2009) but with women and there’s even a familiar Zack Galifianakis-like figure, but the two films differ when it comes to the writing of the characters. Everyone in Bridesmaids just feels more real. By replacing one-line jokes with more stilted and awkward dialogue, Wiig has created a group of tenderly managed characters whose innate failures are incredibly funny.
Wiig herself plays Annie, a failed cupcake baker who bitterly tells customers at the jewelry store she now works at not to buy wedding rings and friendship bracelets because these things never work out. When her best friend, Lillian, becomes engaged she is chosen to be the maid of honour but immediately takes a dislike to the other bridesmaids, especially Helen (Rose Byrne), a Martha Stewart-esque trophy wife whom she is adamant is trying to overthrow her and become maid of honour herself.
They first meet at a pre-wedding party for Lillian where they are asked to give speeches honouring the marriage and their devotion to their friend. Each tries to outdo the other brilliantly. When one finally hangs up the microphone the other picks it up, either to tell a private anecdote, make an in-joke only they and Lillian would understand or sing a song that summarizes their sisterly relationship. The entire scene, although hilarious, plays out with such wince-inducing awkwardness that it’s very hard to watch, setting up the tone of the women’s rivalry for the rest of the film.
Their antagonism, although central to the story, is hardly the the only problem facing the wedding. Each one of the bridesmaids is more hapless than the last and Wiig does a very good job of throwing together an ensemble cast and keeping their disastrous subplots entertaining throughout the film. There are some great scenes between them, particularly with Rita, who’s more disparaging of marriage and children (“My house is full of semen… the sheets snap!”) and takes it upon herself to scare off demure newly-wed Becca.
That said, the real scene-stealer is Mad Men’s Jon Hamm who plays Annie’s obnoxious ‘fuck-buddy’ Ted. His character is a ridiculous, over-the-top, spoiled brat who drives around in a hideously ugly sports car, adores himself and takes every opportunity to knock Annie down. In contrast to the rather more stern Don Draper, Hamm’s Ted is reason alone to watch the film and as one of the very few male characters in Bridesmaids its interesting to see how he’s treated, stepping into the role normally occupied by a woman in Frat Pack comedies.
What Wiig has managed to do is to show that women, as writers and actors, can do gross out humour just as well as the men and it’s a refreshing take on a sub-genre thats grown increasingly tired over the last few years. Although sometimes Bridesmaids does go down the wedding movie route a bit to far at times its forgiven for its interesting approach to comedy which, rather than simply copy the fratboy mould but with women, ends up with an unusual but very funny film.