Friday, May 20, 2011

Bridesmaids: Still Waiting at the Altar

Usually when I review a film for Critics at Large, I avoid reading the reviews of said movie. Not because I am worried about being influenced by my colleagues – I'm not – but because I like to write my reviews without having stumbled across an idea or bon mot that someone thought up before me. I recognize, of course, that readers may think I cribbed from someone else anyway if, in fact, any point I make about a film has already been remarked upon by another pundit. But I’ll take that chance, assuring you that my ideas and critiques are fully my own. If I do quote someone else I always identify them as the source of the quotation.

That review policy only applies to movies that I review upon the day of their commercial release. There are others that I don’t initially review, because there’s not much to say about them, or only get around to seeing at a rep house weeks or months after they open. In those instances, I will likely have read some reviews of those movies by then and one thing I keep noticing – and Critics at Large’s David Churchill and Kevin Courrier have pointed this out, too (see, I told you I credit others with the same point) – is that too many film critics adopt a pack mentality when it comes to their reviews. It likely explains why so many movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes a web site that collates critics’ reviews have a commonality, both negative and positive. There are a couple of curmudgeons (yes, you Armond White) who can be counted on to always be on the opposite side of any critical consensus (and I am not sure that White doesn’t do that on “principle” just to be contrary), but not many. I like to think that we, on this site, do go against the grain – and often. Mostly, my fellow film critics can be counted on to have more in common with each other in how they relate to any specific movie, than to be on opposing teams in the debate. Bridesmaids, an amiable but overrated comedy which opened last week, is the latest movie to demonstrate this point.

Bridesmaids' star and co-writer, Kristen Wiig
Virtually every review of Bridemaids, starring Saturday Night Live regular Kristen Wiig, has pontificated on how  refreshingly different this R-rated comedy is from movies like The Hangover, since, unlike that testosterone-laden flick, it was scripted by two women, Wiig and Annie Mumolo. Well, that’s not really true. Yes, there are some distaff scenarios – such as the jealous rivalry between Maid of Honour Annie (Wiig) and Becca (Rose Byrne), the new best friend of bride Lillian (Maya Rudolph), in the tumultuous days leading up to the wedding – that likely would not occur in a male-oriented comedy. The Best Man isn’t usually jealous of any of his fellows, since he’s got the plum role to play in support of the groom. And certainly the film's emphasis on the women's general desire for tenderness and not just sex can be seen as specific to their gender though there are fictional male (TV) characters like How I Met Your Mother's Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) and The Big Bang Theory's Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) who are just as romantic. But much of the rest of Bridesmaids, the barf and poop jokes, the quirky, predictable romance between Annie and a charming Irish cop (Chris O’Dowd), and the way the film wraps everything up in one tidy bow at its rousing conclusion, renders it indistinguishable from guys' movies like The Hangover, Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, among so many others. I should point out that Bridesmaids is co-produced by Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Superbad), which likely explains some of the film’s overdone bathroom humour. If not, and Wiig and Mumolo came up with those scenes themselves, it merely shows that women can be as crass as men, which doesn’t impress me. (What’s happened to Apatow, by the way? His films have been going steadily downhill since Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.)

Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph
Admittedly, Wiig and Rudolph, another SNL alumna, play off each other nicely and there are some amusing one-liners scattered among the movie’s raucous goings-on. But the film's nominal plot, with Annie beginning to flip out, as things get progressively worse in her life even as the wedding nuptials and her demanding role as Maid of Honour loom large, is pretty thin. And the rest of the performances, from a strangely uncredited and hammy Jon Hamm (Mad Men)  as Annie's 'friend' with benefits, to the one-note Bryne (Damages) and the actresses playing the other bridesmaids aren’t much to write home about. Director Paul Feig, who has mostly TV credits (The Office, Arrested Development) to his name doesn’t know how to build comedy or slapstick scenarios so they resonate as clever. Contrasted to the overly frantic The Hangover; Bridesmaids is lackadaisical, but to a fault, playing out more like a sketch comedy and a mostly flaccid one at that. Besides if you’re going to venture into R-rated territory, you have to set the bar as high as There’s Something About Mary or Borat, the best of the ribald modern comedy classics. Bridesmaids, likeable as it is, and you could do worse – see Meek’s Cutoff or rather don’t – doesn’t come nearly as close to matching those hilarious movies, even if the critics would have you believe otherwise.

 – Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto. He teaches courses at Ryerson University 's LIFE Institute

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