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Forget Bridezillas And Frenemies, 'Bridesmaids' Is The Real Deal

Kristen Wiig (left) breaks the tired mold of summer wedding comedies with <em>Bridesmaids</em>, where her character grapples with a rival (Rose Bryne) without the genre's typically inconceivable levels of earnestness.
Suzanne Hanover
Universal Pictures
Kristen Wiig (left) breaks the tired mold of summer wedding comedies with Bridesmaids, where her character grapples with a rival (Rose Bryne) without the genre's typically inconceivable levels of earnestness.

I didn't say it to Guy Raz when we talked for today's All Things Considered (you'll be able to hear the interview with that "Listen Now" button up there), but I blame it on My Big Fat Greek Wedding. That winsome little bridal blockbuster hit its stride in May of '02 and played straight through to Labor Day, establishing that 15-year-old boys weren't the only audience who'd go to summer films. Since then, wedding comedies have been a reliable -– and reliably annoying — hot-weather staple, almost always playing predominantly to women, with men attending dutifully as dates, much as they do at weddings themselves.

This year as May arrived, Hollywood tossed a whole bouquet of bridal comedies at the multiplex — Something Borrowed, Jumping the Broom, and Bridesmaids all opening in the space of eight days. And surprise of surprises, this time, one of them actually turns out to be amusing enough — or at any rate, calculated enough — to appeal to folks with y chromosomes.

Loretta Devine (left) and Angela Bassett play dueling mothers in <em>Jumping The Broom</em>.
Jonathan Wenk / TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures
Loretta Devine (left) and Angela Bassett play dueling mothers in Jumping The Broom.

The quasi-official narrative is that that's because — unlike Something Borrowed in which bride and maid of honor compete for the groom, and Jumping the Broom in which the mothers of bride and groom trade glares for two hours –- the ensemble flick Bridesmaidsis essentially a raucous male comedy that just happens to star women. The studio is selling it as a boisterous farce with the occasional gross-out –- the sort of thing that would usually star a Seth Rogen or a Zack Galifinakis. Think The Hangover, basically, but with a distaff cast.

This girls-acting-like-boys notion has mostly been communicated by citing Judd Apatow's name as producer, and hyping the film's wedding-dress-interruptus sequence, wherein the bridesmaids realize they're suffering from food poisoning just as the bride's trying on a blazing white gown in an all-white salon. Digestive tract gurgles emanate from spots not usually referenced in all-girl comedies, there's a rush for the salon's bathroom, and when it proves not to have enough splashable areas, for a bathroom across the street. Things don't end prettily.

Which is more or less how things would go in a frat-boy comedy, right? ... poop and vomit equaling laughs in post-Three Stooges raunch-coms.

The thing is, what sets Bridesmaidsapart from other films of its wedding-themed ilk isn't so much that the women in it behave grotesquely (don't want to spoil any advertising buzz, but raunch delivers a relatively small proportion of Bridesmaids' laughs), or that they behave like men. What sets the film apart is that its women are allowed — for once — to behave like human beings.

Most bridal comedies are characterized by an almost relentless degree of womanly support, whether observed in practice or in the breach. Bridezillas are tolerated when they snarl, and coddled when they — inevitably — break down. Their female friends, mothers, cousins, sisters, and even rivals fuss and fume, but eventually exhibit levels of affection and understanding as the big event approaches that many men would regard as excessive even at funerals. Earnestness is everywhere, and nobody appears to be having much fun. In fact, there's generally very little evidence that the women involved could ever have been friends. In Something Borrowed it's almost inconceivable that the leading characters would have tolerated each other since childhood, let alone regarded each other as best buds. Small wonder laughs curdle.

In Bridesmaids, there's understanding and affection, but it reads differently, possibly because the performers are a kind of dream team of contemporary femme comics –- Maya Rudolph as radiant bride, Kristin Wiig as reluctant maid of honor, Rose Byrne as insecure upper-crusty rival, Melissa McCarthy as randy nuclear engineer, Ellie Kemper as blithering naif, and Wendi McLendon-Covey as bored housewife with kids.

With these women, you sense real camaraderie and very little earnestness. Yes, they're supportive, but in ways that jibe with real life, not with a screenwriter's whim. And they're not only clearly having a ball, they're having a believable ball. I know these women. You know these women. They seem plausible, no matter how crazy their comic scrapes and spats, and yes, digestive tract problems. And that's why they're funny.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.