09 June 2011

Best Friends' Weddings

I'm one of the world's biggest (admitted) fans of the 1997 Julia Roberts vehicle My Best Friend's Wedding, which makes it less surprising that I reflected on the film fondly while watching Kirsten Wiig star in Bridesmaids. The most obvious connection is at the end, when our lavender-garbed heroines come to terms with losing their best friends to their best friends' spouses. Whether it's the dashing Rupert Everett or the doofy Chris O'Dowd, said heroines are then consoled by someone with an accent originating in the UK. And, given the frequency of glittering helicopter shots, Bridesmaids' Milwaukee is almost as glamorous as MBFW's Chicago.

Otherwise, it's surprising how much successful Hollywood comedies have changed in the last 14 summers, starting with the stars themselves. MBFW is cast in the classic structure: romantic leads (megastar Roberts and rom-com stalwart Dermot Mulroney) and supporting characters (up-and-coming Cameron Diaz and suave homosexual Rupert Everett). Bridesmaids, however, follows the Apatow-Phillips ensemble-casting-over-top-line-star formula with Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy, Ellie Kamper and, to an extent, Rose Byrne recognizable first as television actors. Though Wiig co-wrote the film and appears in almost every frame, I could almost as easily imagine any of the aforementioned women as leads.

IMDB says Bridesmaids is only 20 minutes longer than MBFW but it felt much longer to me. Roberts is locked safely in a decades-old formula, with each sequence (slapstick, musical, dramatic) tied up in a bow and cut. Wiig's film is unrulier, with higher quantities of both madcap and slack scenes. We don't just have the suggestion of gastrointestinal distress, we have characters vomiting on the heads of characters who are vomiting, a woman shitting in the sink, a woman shitting herself in the street in a wedding dress. (This necessitates a fashion tangent: one thing I always notice in MBFW is Julia's anachronistic high-waisted black jeans. 1997 must have been about the last moment you could get away with wearing such a cut without appearing deliberately unfashionable. They're something closer to what McCarthy wears in Bridesmaids.)

For me the most gripping moment in Bridesmaids is a downbeat scene the morning after Wiig's character hooks up with O'Dowd's cop for the first time. She wakes up to find he's purchased a ton of kitchen equipment so she can bake for him all day. We're meant to think this is a sweet idea that she can't get into it because of her commitment issues but it seemed to me like a fucked up, "get in the kitchen!" moment. She's justified in rejecting his offer regardless of the "baggage" from her previous failed baking venture (ruthless Wisconsinite graffiti artists changed the Cake Baby moniker on her closed shop to "Cock Baby").

But, even more than dick jokes, the Apatow-Phillips era is defined by lines are often improvised or appear to be improvisational. Bridesmaids peaks on the girls' airplane trip when Wiig gives her inspired, zonked out riff on the snottiness of more or less everyone on board, from friends to flight attendants. My favorite line in the film is probably Rose Byrne dripping (from her first class seat) that there's more "sense of community" in coach. The fakery required for everyday socializing is then delightfully eviscerated each time Wiig emerges through the curtain to first class. Roberts does any number of deplorable things in MBFW but she would never allow herself to be so big a mess. Our comedies grow untidier by the day.

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