Dir. Paul Feig
(2011, R, 125 min)

Bridesmaids is a riotous film about wedding hijinks blended with a humane film about loneliness. Kristen Wiig stars, in a performance full of empathy and not a shred of ego, as Annie, a Milwaukee woman whom we meet at a low point in her life that keeps getting lower. Wiig, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Annie Mumolo, throws herself into the role with abandon, but she’s not content just to go for a laugh. She invests the role with genuine humanity, playing the hurt and disappointment underlying her absurd behavior. This is a ribald comedy but also a character study, and Wiig deserves serious consideration for a Best Actress nomination.

We sympathize with Annie because her problems are achingly plausible. She’s a baker who opened her own shop but lost it in the struggling economy. Now she’s working in a jewelry store and barely making ends meet, while occasionally subjecting herself to demeaning sex with Ted (Jon Hamm), whose special skill in the bedroom is making her feel bad about herself. But director Paul Feig, like his producer Judd Apatow, is able to elicit laughs from her various misfortunes without belittling her. A graduate of Freaks and Geeks, Arrested Development, and The Office on TV, Feig draws his comedy from situations, personalities, and relationships, rather than scatology and cruelty. There is one scene involving excrement, but Feig doesn’t let fart noises and profanity do the work for him; what is suggested by the camera and the actors is funnier than what is seen.

Annie reaches the height of desperation at what should be a joyous occasion: her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is getting married, and she asks Annie to be her maid of honor. The problem for Annie is that she is beginning to feel left behind. Lillian is upwardly mobile, in love, and making a new class of friends, while Annie has the opposite trajectory. In-between comic set pieces – and driving many of them – are observations of Annie’s insecurity, especially when it comes to Helen (Rose Byrne), an upper-crust socialite who seems to be usurping her position in Lillian’s life.

The predominantly female cast has been recruited from the under-tapped reserves of television comedy. Lillian’s bridal party is completed by Wendi McClendon-Covey (Comedy Central’s Reno 911!) as an unhappily married woman with children, Ellie Kemper (NBC’s The Office) as a wide-eyed newlywed, and Melissa McCarthy (CBS’s Mike & Molly) as a sexually aggressive single woman. McCarthy has gotten the most attention for her boisterous performance, and her plaudits are well deserved, though I think they should be more evenly distributed to her co-stars, particularly Rudolph as the bride-to-be; she’s an actress equally capable of subtle sensitivity (evidenced in Sam Mendes‘s Away We Go) and larger-than-life personae (her various roles on Saturday Night Live and currently Up All Night) and here does a little of both.

Bridesmaids may be my favorite film with Judd Apatow’s name on it, and like The Help it was a surprise blockbuster at the box office, suggesting there’s an under-served audience for quality, female-driven films – no, cynical rom-coms and the Twilight franchise don’t count. The depth of talent here is impressive; with bridesmaids like these, who needs groomsmen, or even grooms?