Bridesmaids (R) ★★★★

Review Date: May 11th, 2011

For those of you who, like me, have in recent years come to regard "chick flick" as a purely pejorative term, Bridesmaids, directed by Paul Feig (Unaccompanied Minors) and starring Kristen Wiig (MacGruber), is nothing less than miraculous: A broad, female-driven comedy that is both sharply observed and genuinely funny, capable of inducing howls of laughter from both sexes in equal measure. What's more, unlike other offerings from the genre, it actually respects its audience's basic intelligence. How refreshingly novel.

Wiig, who also co-wrote the film's screenplay with Annie Mumolo, plays Annie, 30-something and stranded. Since losing her business, and subsequently her boyfriend, to the Great Recession, she's resigned herself to mediocrity, slogging through a dead-end job at a jewelry store, where she labors vainly to conceal her cynicism from the bright-eyed folks shopping for engagement rings and BFF bracelets, and clinging to a dead-end relationship with a handsome but solipsistic creep (Jon Hamm) who very plainly regards her as nothing more than a convenient booty call.

Annie's lone source of relief from the drudgery and ennui is the close bond she shares with Lillian (Maya Rudolph), her lifelong best friend. When Lillian reveals that she's gotten engaged, and that she's chosen Annie to be her maid of honor at the wedding, Annie's already shaky emotional footing threatens to give way entirely. Wiig is fairly brilliant here (and, indeed, throughout the film), subtly and humorously conveying both overt happiness for her friend's milestone and internal terror over the sudden realization that the music has stopped, and she's the only one without a chair.

Lillian's engagement sets up the film's main comic conceit: the rivalry of passive-aggressive one-upsmanship that develops between Annie and blue-blooded Alpha bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne), a pretty, prissy blue-blood who clearly covets Annie's maid of honor role. Pressured to prove herself against the would-be usurper, Annie leads the bridal party into one disaster after another, starting with a Brazilian luncheon that results in a violent case of food poisoning in the middle of their gown-fitting.

As you might gather from the above example, some of the film's comic set-ups verge on the predictable, but Wiig, a comedienne equally adroit as the brunt of jokes or the source of them, keeps things fresh and lively – and funny – throughout. I'd be remiss, however, if I didn't recognize the scene-stealing efforts of Melissa McCarthy as Megan, the mannish, potty-mouthed, sexually aggressive sister of the groom, the bridal party's oddest — and, ultimately, its most grounded — member.

At times Bridesmaids tries a little too hard to be an all-female version of The Hangover, Wedding Crashers, or any of the other films to which it has been copiously compared. The needless intestinal comedy of the wedding-gown dysentery scene in particular serves as little more than proof that women are just as capable of reaching for easy laughs via telegraphed gross-out jokes as men. (I suspect this, as well as the film's overlong running time, stems in part from the creative influence Judd Apatow, who produced the film.)

Bridesmaids is at its best when it's not reaching or forcing matters, but rather when it puts its trust in its talented cast. The relationship that blossoms, in fits and starts, between Annie and Rhodes, an Irish-American traffic cop played by Chris O'Dowd, is heartfelt, and its evolution, stunted at various points by Annie's penchant for neurotic self-sabotage, feels genuine. Wiig and O'Dowd establish an easy, endearing chemistry, devoid of the pat screwball give-and-take that so often characterizes rom-com courtships, and it helps keep the movie aloft when its comic energy ebbs. rated this film 4 stars.