Bridesmaids

A year ago at this time, Kristen Wiig was mired in the boring and insipid MacGruber. Now she’s front and center in Bridesmaids, the latest from producer Judd Apatow. And just like that, all is forgiven.

While you may have the idea that Bridesmaids is (a) a chick flick (b) The Hangover with women or (c) a buffoonish comedy about all the silly things that can happen at a wedding, well… you’d be wrong on all accounts. It’s an ensemble comedy, sure, with generous amounts of raunch throughout, but there’s also a nice helping of sweetness and heart. And it’s not the wedding that’s the star of the show but rather, the entire cast—which turns in one scene-stealing performance after another.

Wiig is Annie, a down-on-her-luck single Milwaukeean. Her roommates are a weird, British, brother-and-sister combo who regularly annoy the living heck out of her. The only man in Annie’s life is Ted (Jon Hamm), a schmuck who refers to her as his ‘number three’. Her one passion in life is baking, but her attempt to make it a career failed, and now she’s stuck selling jewelry in a cut-rate shop. The only joy she has is hanging with her lifelong friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph), who recently moved to Chicago.

When Lillian announces she’s engaged, Annie happily accepts the invitation to be the Maid of Honor, only to find out that Lillian has a battalion of other friends, including the super-snooty Helen (Rose Byrnes). And since Helen feels she ought to be the real Maid of Honor, thus begins the hilarious competition for Lillian’s attention.

Along the way to the altar, all kinds of craziness busts loose as the bridesmaids vie to show Lillian a good time. The sister of the groom, Megan (Melissa McCarthy), is built like a side of beef, with none of the refinement; it’s a star-making turn if ever there was one. Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey) could be on loan from Real Housewives and is using the girls’ weekend as an escape from her insufferable husband and children. And Ellie Kemper rounds out the motley crew, not straying too far from her Erin Hannon character she plays on The Office.

There’s plenty of bawdy fun all around. Sex jokes run rampant, food goes flying, and we’re even treated to a particularly (if you’ll pardon the pun) gut-busting scene that shows you the aftermath of a vicious bout of food poisoning. Fear not, though— it’s handled in such a smartly comedic way (as absurd as that may sound) that you’ll find it impossible not to laugh through the entire scene.

The one-upsmanship between Helen and Annie, which could have spiraled into a silly mess, becomes comedy gold in Wiig and Byrne’s capable hands, and even the subplots add to the fun. Chief among them is Annie’s budding relationship with a local cop (Irishman Chris O’Dowd, who, for some reason, hangs onto his native accent even though he’s plays a Wisconsin state trooper). And the late Jill Clayburgh, who plays Annie’s mom, couldn’t have had a nicer swan song.

Veteran TV director Paul Feig (The Office, Arrested Development) keeps the festivities going by simply letting this handful of brilliant comedic actresses have a field day, and the fun never slows other than to let a little well-placed tenderness in.

When all is said and done, Bridesmaids is Wiig’s baby, and she walks away with the top honors here. Her script (co-written with Annie Mumalo, who cameos as Annie’s nervous seatmate on the plane to Vegas) never tries too hard; it’s very intelligent (yes, even with the potty humor) and is completely saturated with the kind of ‘quality comedy’ that movies have been sorely lacking lately.

It’s Wiig’s performance, though, that’s the real pleasant surprise here. It’s as if she just got tired of the ridiculous characters she often plays on Saturday Night Live and decided that it’s time to show that she can be a real actress. Mission accomplished.

And that’s something ol’ MacGruber could never say.

4/5 stars