The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, and Ellie Kemper go shopping for hideous Bridesmaids dresses.

When you hear the title Bridesmaids and see a poster that features six women in pink dresses, it's easy to expect a certain type of film. Hollywood tosses out at least one or two virtually interchangeable wedding-themed chick flicks every year. Most of them aren't very good, and usually they involve some impossibly gorgeous “loser” (such as Kate Hudson or Katherine Heigl) fretting about how she can't find Mr. Right like her about-to-be-married best friend/sister has. This being the case, it's important for me to make clear from the start that Bridesmaids is about as far from a dopey Kate Hudson/Katherine Heigl rom-com as you can get. It is smart where those other pictures are dumb, perceptive where the others are cliched.

Kristen Wiig plays Annie, a woman in her thirties whose life is a train wreck. She's dating a jerk (Jon Hamm) who uses her for sex. A nice-guy cop (Chris O'Dowd) wants to romance her, but her fear of rejection keeps him at arm's length. Her baking business has failed, leaving her buried in debt. She shares a home with two super-weird roommates because she can't afford to live on her own. Her best – and, really, only – friend is Lillian (Maya Rudolph). When Lillian unexpectedly gets engaged, Annie is secretly devastated, as she knows it will leave her a little more on her own. Nevertheless, she agrees to serve as maid of honor.

The other bridesmaids are a diverse lot that she can't quite make heads or tails of. There's the rich, snooty Helen (Rose Byrne), who competes with Annie to be the center of attention; harried mother Dana (Reno 911's Wendy McLendon-Covey), who is looking for a wild time; the naive and innocent Becca (Ellie Kemper from “The Office); and Megan, the horniest, most butch woman you are ever likely to see. (She's played by former “Gilmore Girls” co-star Melissa McCarthy, who walks off with every single scene she's in.) Annie plans a trip to Vegas for the bachelorette party, but her neuroses get in the way, causing everything to turn into a complete disaster. She even manages to alienate Lillian.

Bridesmaids was produced by Judd Apatow, and although he didn't write or direct it (Paul Feig directed, while Wiig and Annie Mumolo penned the screenplay), the film is very similar in tone to his The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. It has plenty of moments of outrageous humor, most notably a scene in which the ladies experience the effects of food poisoning while attending a dress-fitting session. At the same time, it also grounds that humor in something deeper and more character-driven. Bridesmaids is not just two hours of women engaging in pre-wedding shenanigans; it's a comic story about how Annie hits her bottom, faces the unpleasant truths about herself, and realizes it's time to get her act together.

That kind of theme is easy to tackle in a drama. Bridesmaids does it as a comedy, which is much more difficult. In fact, I think this story would almost be depressing as a drama. When you get right down to it, Annie is a pretty sad character. By going for laughs, we're able to empathize with her while still enjoying her self-created pitfalls. Just as The 40 Year-Old Virgin's Andy Stitzer would have been pathetic as a dramatic character, Annie benefits from being a comic creation. It somehow makes us like her more, with all of her inherent immaturity becoming endearing rather than off-putting. We really root for her to get her life in order.

It's been a while since I've seen a movie that made me laugh as hard as Bridesmaids did. Looking back over a list of movies I've reviewed recently, I can't find anything in at least a year that has come close. The film has several standout sequences that were particularly hilarious, including the aforementioned dress-fitting scene, a bit where Annie takes too many tranquilizers on an airplane, and a montage near the end in which she tries desperately to get the attention of that nice-guy cop, who seems intent on ignoring her. I can't stress enough that all these great comic moments serve to underscore a story that has some genuine humanity. Whereas Kate Hudson or Katherine Heigl would simply be wondering if they were going to have their existences justified by the love of a “perfect” man, Kristen Wiig's Annie needs to completely save herself.

At 125 minutes, Bridesmaids is perhaps a tad too long. At least it's delivering comedy gold, though. And Wiig is terrific, stepping up to center stage and turning in a winning performance that nails both the laughs and the heart. Ladies, if you're tired of movies that make your gender seem like man-hungry, vapid idiots, here is one that portrays you as smart and capable. Gentlemen, if you studiously avoid movies about weddings, here is one that will engage and amuse you, without depleting so much as a drop of your testosterone. Bridesmaids is a winner all the way around.

( 1/2 out of four)

Bridesmaids is rated R for some strong sexuality and language throughout. The running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes.