Women on the verge

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Chick flick and dick flick have spawned an unlikely progeny: With Paul Feig's "Bridesmaids," the trappings of the typical female-geared genre (you know, weddings and women) and dude-oriented entertainment (bodily fluids) merge to produce a movie that, in its execution, is much more than the sum of its parts.

Paul Feig's latest directorial effort - written by Annie Mumalo and Saturday Night Live's Kristen Wiig - frames the female character in a mocking yet serious light, with empathetic underpinnings. Wiig softens the typically unforgiving archetype of the lonely 30-something spinster as Annie, a failed cake-shop entrepreneur whose easygoing charm offsets a dampened sense of self-worth.

After the engagement of best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph), Annie is appointed maid of honor and head of the motley bridal crew. Fumbling in a league more suitable for the prettier, richer, more capable Helen (Rose Byrne) - a member of the bridal party and rival for Lillian's bestfriendship - Annie finds herself overwhelmed and slowly pushed into irrelevancy. She's woefully unimpressive in light of Helen's daunting skill set (the competition picked up Thai while on vacation), and the wedding preparations lie in wait of a Helen-instigated siege.

The plot itself isn't anything novel, and the guiding maxim for the film is predictable: Things get worse before they get better. Subject to a particularly bad brand of luck, Annie is perpetually shifted to the periphery. Her temporary roommate kicks her to the curb, while an attractive jackass shoves her out of the conjugal bed. You've already come to believe that no one's quite as unlucky as Annie by the time she gets shunted out of the wedding by Lillian herself. The pitiful trajectory of her life can be linked to one understated detail - she lives in Milwaukee (that's in Wisconsin).

If you've seen the trailer - largely composed of takes not included in the film - it's easy to confuse "Bridesmaids" for an on-the-road movie chronicling the stresses of organizing a bridal shower. And while the wedding activity propels the film (must ... get to ... wedding scene), the plot structure is one of the least notable qualities of a work more largely concerned with detours and indulgences. These are asides that add little to plot complications and more to the film's overall tone and atmosphere.

It's interesting to note that "Bridesmaids" - "the new Apatow flick" - was marketed as the work of its producer, bro-film ambassador Judd Apatow, though it's largely the product of (more capable) female hands and one Paul Feig (of "Freaks and Geeks" fame). Apatow is receiving a lot of the credit for a film that, though it admittedly has its footing in the rudiments of his own pictures, far exceeds the limitations that his have set.

"Bridesmaids" has its fair share of the "dude" prerequisites: Akin to the groan-inducing groin-blow, there's the tit-hit, and bodily functions supply their fair share of laughs. Melissa McCarthy's Megan, too, channels an atypical femininity that lends itself to fart jokes and physical aggression. With a largely absent male cast, it's a natural inclination to question whether the female-oriented film can exist without a typically masculine presence. But it's also a great leap forward for the chick flick to include women who can be just as unconventional and divergent as those in the film.

And while the dude-crude humor and devices fluctuate between the subtle and overwrought, "Bridesmaids" has managed to craft a constantly undulating tone, flexible in its range. From SNL-derived mumbling rambles to slapstick and gross-out humor, the film manages to go too far without losing the viewer's faith and willingness to suspend belief and be swept along with the movie: Even its particularly theatrical (and hilarious) bridal shower scene succeeds as Annie's motivations remain emotionally relevant and true.

There's an undercurrent of compassion that pervades "Bridesmaids" which airs out the grievances of women concerned with their friendships and insecurities more than getting the guy (who, in a great boon to authenticity, is attractive for personality first). For all the high drama, it's an incredibly realistic film if only for its dialogue and dynamics, unmarred (but for one intentional exception) by an understated soundtrack. Annie's relationship with Lillian is one of the most convincing - and extremely watchable - in recent romantic comedies, distinctive for a believable vulnerability and solicitude that strikes a personal chord. As for Annie, viewers won't root for her out of pity but because they've been in her shoes before.

"Bridesmaids" is a women's film for a more general audience, and with the recent release of other witty, unconventional comedies to the tune of "Easy A," it heralds the slow-but-sure transition to bucking the formula. Here, getting the guy is an aside; it's not the driving motivation for characters who sidestep the rut of convention into which female characters usually (prat)fall. Wiig and Mumalo have added meat to the bare-bones romcom female profile, scripting women whose ambition is self-generated and geared towards their own self-improvement, not anyone else's. Their women are women of the flesh.


Contact Liz at [email protected]

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