x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Movie review: Bridesmaids

Heart-warming and hilarious, Bridesmaids is so much more than the average chick-flick.

From left, Rose Byrne, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig and Ellie Kemper in the hilarious comedy Bridesmaids.
From left, Rose Byrne, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig and Ellie Kemper in the hilarious comedy Bridesmaids.

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Director: Paul Feig

Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Chris O'Dowd

An exceedingly rare example of a mainstream Hollywood comedy starring and written by women, Bridesmaids has recently inspired much discussion among critics, feminist commentators and film industry insiders.

But all this focus on gender is arguably a distraction, as this cheerfully crude and irreverent "anti-chick-flick" is essentially a fairly routine boy-meets-girl story with an old-fashioned romantic heart. That said, it is also sharply scripted, emotionally engaging and extremely funny.

The film's star and co-writer Wiig came to fame alongside Tina Fey in the long-running topical US television sketch show Saturday Night Live. Her fellow co-stars here are almost entirely female, which is certainly unusual. However the director is male, the TV sitcom veteran Feig.

And the producer is Judd Apatow, whose laddish comedies, including Knocked Up and Superbad, have been criticised for their marginal or shallow female characters. With delicious irony, Bridesmaids is now Apatow's most successful feature to date, earning more than $200 million (Dh734m) at the US box office.

Wiig plays Annie, a single woman in her thirties living in the unremarkable middle American town of Milwaukee. Broke and lonely, unsuccessful in both love and business, Annie's low self-esteem takes a further knock when her oldest friend Lillian (Rudolph) announces her forthcoming wedding, handing over much of the planning to her wealthy and snooty new confidante Helen (Byrne). Much of the film's comedy is grounded in the prickly competition between Annie and Helen as they fight for Lillian's friendship.

Female rivalry is familiar comedy terrain, and it can be painfully mishandled, as in the feeble 2009 comedy Bride Wars. But Bridesmaids is a surprisingly subtle portrait of the petty power struggles and private insecurities that bind any group of friends together, especially women.

There are gross-out scenes here designed to grab the attention and reel in broad audiences, most notably a mass food-poisoning episode in an upmarket bridal gown shop which ends in a volcanic eruption of bodily fluids. But the majority of Wiig's script relies more on understated wit and wry observation, generally avoiding the boorish slapstick of Apatow's more testosterone-heavy productions.

The cast of Bridesmaids is packed with quality performers and pleasingly left-field, transatlantic talents. The Irish comedian Chris O'Dowd exudes rumpled charm as Annie's prospective traffic-cop boyfriend while Matt Lucas, of Little Britain fame, has an extended cameo as her creepy flatmate.

The great Jill Clayburgh (Love and Other Drugs) also adds a touch of class as Annie's eccentric mother, especially as the veteran star never saw her final film released, dying of leukaemia late last year.

For all the bold claims and political debate it has provoked, Bridesmaids is clearly not some landmark feminist statement. The script ultimately confirms conservative Hollywood clichés about women being emotionally fragile wrecks who aspire to marriage as their ultimate lifestyle goal.

Even so, it is refreshing to see female characters represented as rounded, funny, complex and rude - in other words, just like male characters are allowed to be. That is a minor achievement. But most importantly, this is also a sweet, warm and highly entertaining comedy for viewers of either gender.