Raunch has taken over mainstream comedy in recent years. This is neither boon nor bust for the genre. There's good raunch and bad raunch. Take Bridesmaids, the new comedy co-written by and starring Saturday Night Live's Kristin Wiig and produced under the auspices of modern comedy titan Judd Apatow.
Good raunch is Wiig's rubber-legged negotiation of an overactive, overbearing lover (Mad Men's Jon Hamm) — slapstick in the sack. It's the comfortable follow-up girl talk over lunch with best bud Maya Rudolph, who dispenses advice about avoiding undesired coital detours. ("You've got to just slap that thing away.")
It's in these moments that Bridesmaids (directed by Apatow associate Paul Feig) lives up to the best of the Apatow school of comedy, which situates modern raunch into a world of character-driven realism.
But at times Bridesmaids goes more gross-out, with gonzo body-fluid humor that often lacks the surprise or sense of timing that can make that style work. (See the Farrelly brothers' There's Something About Mary.)
Better Wiig's keening, one-eyed impression of an expectant penis than lingering shots of projectile vomit. And better a mid-shot of a sad, defeated Rudolph, sitting in the middle of the street in a wedding gown, having failed to make it to the public restroom on the other side, than a close-up of a companion whose similar problems result in expelling diarrhea into a bathroom sink.
Bridesmaids is not quite as high-concept as its title. Wiig stars as Annie, a struggling single woman whose bakery was claimed by the recession and who is just a few rungs away from rock bottom. Early in the film, Annie learns that her lifelong best friend Lillian (Rudolph) is getting married — "happy" news that hits Annie like a punch to the gut.
Assigned maid of honor duties, Annie has to plan various pre-wedding events while negotiating her jealousy over Lillian's new pal Helen, a wealthy, controlling beauty played by Rose Byrne.
Bridesmaids deserves plaudits for acknowledging financial realities that most Hollywood comedies paper over, finding stress-induced comedy and complication in Annie's struggle to maintain her role in the face of modest resources.
Wiig and Rudolph are both engaging, relatable presences, and Wiig's physical comedy is superb, whether proving her sobriety by the side of the road or negotiating a mid-air emotional minefield on a cocktail of scotch and valium. (More sketchy is the use of Gilmore Girls' vet Melissa McCarthy, whose plus-size sidekick Megan is meant to be the Zach Galifianakis of this particular hangover. At times she turns her comic relief into a character; other times you feel sorry for her.)
Bridesmaids is being praised for being a film about female friendship. But I feel like some of this is people lauding what they want the movie to be more than what it is. One of the flaws is that, despite having such good chemistry, Wiig and Rudolph don't have enough screen time together. While Lillian's fiancé is pushed to the sidelines, much of Bridesmaids is subsumed by an admittedly effective romantic subplot between Wiig's Annie and Irish traffic cop Rhodes (a very likable Chris O'Dowd). With most of the action keyed to Annie's relationships with Rhodes and Helen, the should-be heart of this good-not-great comedy — the strained but strong friendship between Annie and Lillian — gets a little lost.