In one sense, Bridesmaids is a refreshing film that moves the lens from perpetually adolescent man defying the onset of adulthood found in any recent cinema affiliated with Judd Apatow to the perpetually adolescent woman facing the same fate. At the same time, it’s plot is tired and, amidst a few poignant moments at the end between Lilian (Maya Rudolph) and Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Annie and Megan (Melissa McCarthy), many of the gags are built on contrived silliness and at least one disgusting battle with Brazilian food.
At the heart of the film resides a thematic battle between competition and independence. Lillian gets engaged and selects Annie as her maid-of-honor. This sets the stage for a battle between Annie, whose recent life story includes a break up, the loss of a business, and a role as an acquiescent booty call who is looking for something more. The first few scenes are of Annie and Ted (John Hamm) in awkwardly unsynchronized throes of passion. The smile on her face is forced, and her silent creeping in the morning to make herself look beautiful for when Ted awakes is sad inasmuch as she’s trying to reel him in, but has no courage to slap him when he says, “I really want you to leave, but I don’t know how to say it.” This scene sets the tone for the entire movie. Within Annie writhes a contradiction. She envies the connection and happiness between other couples, but she’s wary of letting go of her independence. However, her continuous return to men like Ted and her dismissal of the kind-hearted, Irish-brogued Nathan (Chris O’Dowd) prohibit the connection of the two and keep her perpetually independent – or, more appropriately – isolated.
This same battle exists between Annie and Helen (Rose Byrne), another bridesmaid who methodically works her way up to the role of maid-of-honor. There is subterfuge and one-upmanship throughout, which threatens to upend the entire wedding, but most importantly serves as Annie’s vehicle of self-reflection. She’s heading toward a social rock bottom and Bridesmaids makes us privy to the plummet.
But therein lies a problem. A film that begins as the female answer to male’s perpetual adolescence soon becomes little more than moments of tangential embarrassment: on the airplane to Las Vegas, Annie is relegated to coach instead of being able to join the rest of the group in first class; to cope, she pops two Zanex and chases them with a glass of scotch; the results are predictable and tiring; she’s soon demoted to bridesmaid and only a piece of furniture at the shower, where she has a break down, trashing a giant cookie card and futilely attempting to knock over a three-tier chocolate fountain. At the end of each debacle, there’s little closure or reflection. Rather, there are just setups for another debacle. And, after a while, I’m not sure why we should care whether or not this down-on-her luck self-loather deserves anything more than what she reaps.
There is something to be said for the brief moments of raunchiness and vulgarity that flit in and out of Bridesmaids, which, in a way, take advantage of the adult child’s humor found in other successes like Knocked Up or The 40-Year-Old Virgin. In a sense, this film is a bit of an equalizer, making women on screen just as human and fallible as their male counterparts. But the story requires a bit of work. For each profound moment, there is an equally silly one that feels inorganic and more like time filler than necessary narrative. A prime example of this is toward the end when Lilian goes missing – sort of – and Annie and Helen must come together to find her by enlisting the help of Nathan, a local police officer who Annie has recently treated like a passing ship in the night. Lilian’s disappearance accomplishes a few things here: makes Annie and Helen friends (predictably), reunites Annie and Nathan, and allows Kristen Wiig to be silly and nonsensical for five more minutes than needed.