From the first overheated moments of "Bridesmaids," with its Kama Sutra-plus-six-positions sex ? so satisfying for him, so exhausting for her ? it's clear we're in for that rarest of treats: an R-rated romantic comedy from the Venus point of view.
For the Mars crowd, that means real people in real relationships, real raunchy, real funny. Thank you, Kristen Wiig for every single one of those old-school Rs. In fact, so unusual is this sort of humor in testosterone-driven ha-ha-Hollywood these days, it almost makes me ha-ha-happy that producer Judd Apatow is currently the industry-anointed 800-pound clown prince, since it probably took all 800 pounds of his princely powers to get this film made. (R-rated female-centric, gal-pal entertainments don't exactly top studio wish lists.)
Wiig stars as Annie, the increasingly unhinged maid of honor for her best friend Lillian's (Maya Rudolph) upcoming up-market wedding. They are surrounded by an ensemble of witty twisted sisters who come in all shapes and sizes (both the wit and the sisters, the unrelated kind, just "doin' it for themselves"), and a director in Paul Feig, who displays a lot of comedic common sense. This creative collective includes most notably Rose Byrne ("Damages") and Melissa McCarthy ("Mike & Molly"), with Wendi McLendon-Covey ("Reno 911!") and Ellie Kemper ("The Office") as the other merry maids. They all work hard to wring the most nonsense out of the clever script cowritten by Wiig and Annie Mumolo, friends whose collaboration tracks back to their Groundlings improv days. (See Wiig's Annie and Mumolo's nervous fellow passenger doing a high-anxiety, fear-of-flying scene slam at 30,000 feet midway through the movie.)
Wiig, now in her sixth year at "Saturday Night Live," was already on her way to becoming the new grande dame of comedy with a zillion weird characters (like the simpering singer with creepy tiny wooden hands and severely receding hairline). She has a fearless way of offering up her body for slapstick sacrifice that can make you forget just how fine-boned pretty she can be. In "Bridesmaids," she proves she's a gifted actress as well, giving a surprising depth and affecting vulnerability to Annie amid her collapsing world.
The story swings between Annie's everyday struggles and a string of increasingly outrageous wedding plan fiascos. Feig, who created the brilliant flash of TV's "Freaks and Geeks," does a good job of making this feel like a movie, not just a series of sketches. But what distinguishes the film is the way in which the women relate and the raunch is handled.
Take Byrne's well-drawn, well-heeled Helen, a bridesmaid with a severe case of maid-of-honor envy. In the guy version, Helen would just be a ? whatever a family newspaper allows me to call a not-very-nice-female person. In "Bridesmaids," Helen is transparently and maddeningly ingratiating as she one-ups cash-strapped Annie's every wedding idea, but she's also a full-fledged human with some layers that will surprise you.
Even the movie's ultra-gross food-poisoning aftermath unleashed upon an ultra-pricey bridal boutique shows a woman's touch, because it's mostly implied. And McCarthy in the loo? Well, words fail. If you don't know the actress' work from TV's late, great "Gilmore Girls," you will after "Bridesmaids." She turns the underestimated, beauty-challenged woman of the world into priceless comic fodder.
While the wedding-related meltdowns are serious fun, they hit all the notes you'd expect on the way to the altar: The parties ? engagement, shower and bachelorette ? and the problems ? cold feet, fractured friendships, bad fittings. Most of the something new is cooked up in Annie's personal world, which started to crumble when her Milwaukee cake shop went under. Now she works at a jewelry store, talking happy couples out of buying engagement rings.
She bumps into possible boyfriend material in the form of Chris O'Dowd ("Dinner for Schmucks") as Officer Rhodes, an adorable cop with an Irish brogue. They make a very cute couple, starting with the bad brakes (breaks?) that bring them together on one of Annie's Milwaukee-to-Chicago wedding planning runs. What makes their missteps spark is that they are so evenly matched ? liking and rejecting each other in equal measure. When things go bad, and they do, Annie literally can't get arrested, which we should all be grateful for because it's one of the best set pieces.
The writers have sprinkled in amusing characters here and there and that helps the film's two-plus hours speed by. That very athletic, tantric sex we spoke of earlier was thanks to Jon Hamm playing a handsome jerk in that Jon Hamm way that makes you forget you want someone to slap him. There are Annie's roommates, a strangely appealing British brother and sister act with no sense of boundaries (Matt Lucas and Rebel Wilson, respectively). And Annie's mom, played by the much-missed late Jill Clayburgh in her final role.
But the film is made to order for the maid of honor. The wedding wouldn't be worth having without her.