(Alternate title: In which A Constant Visual Feast becomes a social pariah within the film blogosphere.)
The primary emotion that characterizes my reaction to Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids, the sleeper hit comedy of the year, is disappointment. Crushing, heavy, appalling disappointment. Coupled with that, denial; I don’t want to acknowledge my disappointment. I don’t want to admit that I, seemingly alone among throngs of ardent admirers both on the web and in print, just didn’t find Bridesmaids especially funny. Mind, the film has its bright spots, but when you don’t do more than chuckle at a comedy then something’s very much amiss. The drama here works, and I can connect to it as much as a twenty-something married male can when most of that material revolves around the problems of thirty-something women in varying stages in their relationships. It’s the humor that falls tragically flat.
Kristen Wiig comprises the heart and soul of Bridesmaids; as Annie Walker, unlucky in love and in life, she’s tasked with serving as her newly engaged best friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) maid of honor. When Annie meets Lillian’s bridesmaids, conflict brews between her and Helen (Rose Byrne), the wealthy, classy, connected wife of the groom-to-be’s boss. As the nuptials draw nearer, and the inevitable bridal shower nearer still, Annie struggles to maintain her loyalty to her friend while desperately trying to keep the foibles of her personal life balanced– her failed business, her bad relationship with the callous and obnoxious Ted (Jon Hamm), and a potentially budding connection with police officer Nathan Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd).
All of this actually makes for really strong dramatics, and if the humor were to be excised from the film then Bridesmaids would work splendidly as a story about growing into adulthood and learning to accept responsibility for one’s actions. But maybe more than any other recent comedy, Bridesmaids underscores the age-old adage that comedy is the most subjective of genres. What makes us laugh is much more unique and hard to pin down than, say, what makes us cry or what makes us afraid. In the case of Feig’s film, much of the delivery and timing feels off; maybe a moment too late, or a moment too soon, or too underplayed, or too overplayed. Whatever is necessary to make a joke work usually isn’t in place for most of the film’s comedic beats; they don’t work, and in point of fact maybe they can’t because the fundamental building blocks are out of sync with each other.
If I said I didn’t laugh once, though, I’d be lying. When all of Bridesmaids‘ best elements aligned, it made me laugh– usually thanks to Hamm or the truly, gregariously hysterical Melissa McCarthy, who in fact is as good as other reviews peg her (if not better). Even in the film’s quieter moments, there’s enough worth chuckling over for the film to dodge complete comedic disaster, but for every bit that clicks there’s at least two moments that are dead on arrival. Maybe it’s because some of the material here feels really familiar; maybe it’s because there’s just something intangible underscoring the humor that just didn’t mesh for me. Whatever the reason, I found myself stone-faced and shocked at my own reaction– or lack thereof.
How did a movie packing this much talent fail to fire on all cylinders, non-stop? McCarthy and Hamm are obvious stand-outs, but Feig hails from the Apatow train, Apatow himself produced the film, and the film stars Rudolph, Wiig, and Byrne, who herself may not be strictly known as a comedienne but who knows how to be funny nonetheless. Partly, the problem is Wiig herself, who ebbs and flows between the excellent actress seen in films like Whip It, and the painfully unfunny caricature seen on Saturday Night Live. When Wiig is being human, she’s a joy to watch; when she’s being uncomfortably awkward, well, she’s uncomfortably awkward and to no positive gain for the film. Put into even more succinct terms, Wiig alternately makes the first hour of the film cringe-inducing and the second a total treat. I quite like Wiig as a performer, but as the center of Bridesmaids she brings too much inconsistency; more often than not, she’s good, but when she’s not, it’s jarring to the point of disrupting the rest of the picture. I’m not sure if that should be chalked up to direction or to acting, though I suspect it’s a bit from column “A” and a bit from column “B”.
I think the greater issue lies in the hype machine. Bridesmaids, in its theatrical run, made roughly a bajillion dollars and rose to become one of 2011’s best reviewed and most beloved movies; on any list detailing the top ten success stories of the year, it’s probably within the final five. It’s hard to ignore buzz, harder than it is to resist it, but in this case I felt safe enough with the response to let my guard down. After all, critics and film writers I trust and admire praised it immensely– if that’s not enough reason to put faith in the film, I don’t know what is. And yet my experience varied from theirs. It’s a real king bummer, but at the same time there’s a valuable lesson worth learning here– it’s impossible to always see eye to eye with other critics, even the ones you respect most.
So there it is: Bridesmaids just didn’t totally click with me. I don’t see it as being a complete waste of time, but it fell far, far below where I thought it would given how much love it’s gotten since its release last spring. If nothing else, I think it’s a necessary film that emphasizes an often overlooked truth– women can be funny too, and they can play just as raunchy as the boys. In this respect, Bridesmaids is nothing new (which could be part of why it didn’t consistently tickle my funny bone), but maybe that doesn’t matter so long as it’s the loudest female-driven comedy in the room and therefore capable of grabbing people’s attentions.