Review by Joel Frost
Quick, name three actresses who got their starts on Saturday Night Live who have gone on to become Hollywood superstars. Too hard? Okay, name two. Still can’t do it? Hmm. Name one? Not easy, is it. Molly Shannon, Jane Curtin, Nora Dunn, Amy Poehler, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ana Gasteyer… all funny, smart, talented ladies who have had varying degrees of success since they left the show. Not one of them has managed to insert herself inextricably into the fabric of Hollywood’s power structure. Not one of them has managed to – been allowed to, one might suggest – turn her considerable talent into the kind of gold that she deserves.
There’s Tina Fey of course, but as talented, popular, and respected as she is, it can’t be said that she’s reached the levels of fame and power that command Hollywood’s utmost attention. To many, Tina Fey is the one who does that great impression of Sarah Palin. She’s been in a few mildly successful movies. She has a great, under-appreciated TV show.
Okay, now name three actors who got their starts on SNL who have become world-famous, rich Hollywood moguls. Too easy? Okay, name five. Heck, I’ll name eight. Will Ferrell. Mike Myers. Eddie Murphy. Chevy Chase. Adam Sandler. Bill Murray. Dan Akroyd. Chris Rock. All extremely successful. Almost all of them are, plain and simply, huge moguls in the entertainment business.
There’s a larger discussion that arises from this, that has to do with sexism and the ways in which people process humor from women. It just isn’t the case that the women of SNL haven’t been as funny as the men, so it has to be something else, or many other things. It’s an undeniable trend, whatever’s behind it, to the point of injustice. For goodness’ sake, it can’t continue, can it? Sooner or later, hopefully sooner, some talented woman will spring right off the set of SNL and with Ferrellian power, bust on to the big screen with such undeniable force of talent and will that she’ll change the whole damn thing, right?
If anyone can do it, it’s Kristen Wiig. For a few years now, she’s been one of the best, if not the best reason to watch ‘Saturday Night Live’. She’s utterly fearless as a performer. Like any great comedian, she manages the likable out of the absurd and awkward. She’s versatile. She has charm and charisma. She’s funny as hell. The show at times seems to hinge on her, just as it did with most of the aforementioned male stars. SNL has always been an ensemble of course, and it’s best when everyone’s firing on all cylinders, but for brief portions of time, a performer will sometimes just about take over the show. Usually, soon thereafter, that (male, so far) performer has gone on to major success in Hollywood.
So, with all that, Kristen Wiig (along with Maya Rudolph, another SNL alumn) is front and center in “Bridesmaids”. You may have wondered what the ladies were doing and talking about while the men were horsing around in films like “Wedding Crashers”, “Old School”, and “The Hangover”. Turns out they’re not just there to help our funny heroes learn valuable lessons about finally growing up. They like to have their own fun, it seems. “Bridesmaids” derives its story and humor from the relationships, new or old, loving or rivalrous, between six ladies who are drawn together to help one of them (Rudolph) prepare for her wedding. In certain ways, it’s a lot like the recent spate of guy-films about thirtysomething dudes finally realizing they may have to grow up a bit. These women face a lot of the same issues and emotions and fart jokes, and manage it with giddy aplomb.
What made movies like “Old School” good wasn’t the mindless partying and crazy hijinks. Rather, the palm-on-face tension of watching aging men behave like boys because they still wanted to and could afford to, added a layer of subtext to the proceedings. These were men raised on “Animal House”, trying desperately to get in a little more fun before they gave in to middle age. It was social criticism in the form of slappy humor.
“Bridesmaids” has a few barbs and a vague undercurrent of subversiveness, but stops short of skewering the establishment. Perhaps, to keep the movie somewhat light and pleasant, the writers (Wiig and Annie Mumolo) made an effort to avoid pointing up too many of the double-standards that women face in life, careers, and comedy. Most of this kind of energy finds its release on one character, Ted, the dreadful “fuck-buddy” (as he exclaims) of Wiig’s character. In a master-stroke of casting, Jon Hamm gives us the modern-day douchebag anti-Don Draper, who scoots around in his Porsche and kicks Annie (Wiig) out of bed after their altogether unfulfilling nude encounters. Ned represents the nice girl’s conundrum: He’s good-looking, he’s rich, he seems to like me. Why does he have to be such a shit?
Fortunately for Annie, a nicer guy shows up. It’s a pretty predictable arc between the two. At no point during “Bridesmaids” is the outcome of their flirtation in serious doubt.
Actually, not much is in doubt during this film. It’s about as safe and easy as a film of this general genre can be. By now, fart, puke and poop jokes are de rigeur in the context. It’s perhaps a touch more shocking and even liberating to see women “getting away” with that kind of thing on the big screen, so there’s that, but bodily fluids and functions aside, the audience is not particularly challenged.
Perhaps that’s a good thing. If toning down the sardonicism, sarcasm and satire is what shoots Kristen Wiig into the stratosphere, so be it. I can’t help but hope that she’ll someday find herself in a position where she’s able to give audiences the very best, the very funniest of herself. “Bridesmaids”, even with plenty of funny moments and sweetness, isn’t it.
Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Rose Byrne, and the force-of-nature known as Melissa McCarthy round out the group. Paul Feig (‘The Office’, ‘Nurse Jackie’, ‘Arrested Development’) directs. Kristen Wiig’s hair-stylist deserves a mention for helping to add a touch of luminescence to this quite-ready-for-big-time player. With some luck, justice, and a good first weekend for this film, perhaps we’ll get to see more of Ms. Wiig on the big screen in the future. Cross your fingers.
Directed by: Paul Feig
Release Date: May 13, 2011
Run Time: 125 Minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures