Emmy-nominated Kristen Wiig emerged as the female face of comedy after bursting onto the scene on 'Saturday Night Live,' the sketch show that's played host to her iconoclastic brand of comedy for six seasons. But after stealing scenes in films like Judd Apatow's 'Knocked Up,' 'Whip It,' 'Adventureland' and 'MacGruber,' Wiig's finally stepping into her own cinematic spotlight with the raunchy, girl-powered comedy 'Bridesmaids' -- and she's bringing her funny friends with her.
Wiig plays Annie, a beleaguered single gal who strains to relate when her childhood best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces she's getting married and asks her to be the maid of honor. Among the assembled coterie of Lillian's other bridesmaids are Becca (Ellie Kemper), the co-worker; Megan (Melissa McCarthy), the butch future sister-in-law; Rita (Wendi McClendon-Covey), the "confused cougar"; and Helen (Rose Byrne), a gorgeous control freak and Annie's bitter new rival.
Cinematical accepted an invitation in July to attend an engagement party -- or rather, to visit the 'Bridesmaids' set in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where director Paul Feig was on a night shoot filming the tail end of Rudolph's on-screen engagement celebration. Camped outside the Sherwood Country Club's front valet drive, we watched as two of SNL's greatest post-millennial performers, Rudolph and Wiig, riffed on multiple variations of the same exchange before Byrne waltzed in to drive a wedge between the two besties.
We learned a few things from this scene alone. First: Rudolph and Wiig, longtime friends, have shorthand together that makes it feel like you're watching comedy magic. It's the ability to go back and forth with one another with an effortless ease, trading improvisations and reacting to new information with fresh responses, that both comediennes later credited to their improv training at the Groundlings in Los Angeles (co-stars McCarthy and McClendon-Covey are also alumni).
Also, 'Bridesmaids' ain't your average rom-com / chick flick. It's a comedy (co-scripted by Wiig and writing partner Annie Mumolo) about awkwardness, insecurity and friendship that talks the way real women talk and aims to skewer the catty, bizarre dynamics native to the pre-wedding rituals of women. If Feig, Wiig and co. pull off what they intend, 'Bridesmaids' could be celebrated as a raunchy, honest, female version of 'The Hangover.' Here's why:
Co-Writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo Wrote What They Know, So It Feels Natural
There's nothing like a truly awful real-life experience to inspire comedy gold. Co-writer Annie Mumolo -- the namesake of Wiig's character and her off-screen writing partner -- conceived the idea after living through a string of wedding parties from hell. "I was in a series of like 20 weddings, and I was like, somebody has to write about the real experience of what it's like to really be a bridesmaid," Mumolo explained. "What it's really like and what it does to you. The dynamics between women. So that's where it started. I had a bachelorette party that I couldn't afford to go to. It gets crazy."
For that matter, many of the 'Bridesmaids' cast had their own horror stories to relate to. "I've been in a lot of weddings," recalled Wendi McClendon-Covey ('Reno 911'), "and there's always one girl who has more money than everyone else, tries to sabotage everything, always has a better idea, and everybody just goes along with it so they don't make waves. And it's maddening. It's absolutely maddening. I don't want to spend that much money to go have a spa day. First of all, I don't want to go to a spa with a bunch of girls. I don't want to do a whole lot of things with a bunch of girls, you know? I want to just give the presents, show up at the wedding, and let's work our way forward -- do we have to have all these Girl Scout activities?"
What resonated for McClendon-Covey, however, was the awful truth within Wiig's and Mumolo's script. The experience of seeing childhood friendships grow apart, feeling your best friend gravitate toward new BFFs, and the peculiar social predicament that befalls any bridesmaid forced into a makeshift family with her besties' other friends and family.
"You're straddling that line between your old life and your new life, and you have the friends that you've had since childhood," she told us. "And sometimes you sort of outgrow those friendships and you move on and develop more friendships. The thing about being a bridesmaid in a wedding is that you get shoved into a circle of people that you would never hang out with in a million years. Because you've got to ask somebody's relative, otherwise there are going to be feuds in the family, and that person's usually crazy. Then there's the work person that you're with all the time -- you don't want to insult that person and not invite them. Then there's the best friend from way back that you always said, 'We're gonna do this,' not making any allowances for, maybe we'll outgrow each other or maybe we've spent enough time together. That's really what spoke to me about this; the fact that it's not a girly-girl script. There are no catfights. I hadn't seen it done this honestly before."
It's the Anti-'Sex and the City' and 'Bride Wars'
'Bridesmaids' deserves every moviegoer's support based solely on its defiance of the lame rom-coms and female-oriented dreck that routinely comes out of the Hollywood machine. "My goal is really to do a comedy for women where women go, 'That's so honest and that's so funny but that's how we really talk and do things,'" said Feig. "I wanted to do, for lack of a better term, an honest 'Sex and the City.'"
McCarthy relished the chance to jump into the kind of meaty, non-traditional role not found in anything Jen Aniston or Katherine Heigl are doing these days. "I always want to ask whoever's at the helm of that boat, 'Do you know any women like that?' I know everybody's got to have funny women in their life, and is it really the one that's like, 'This cake is so important to me!' I'm like, what are you on?? It's a cake! For my own wedding I interviewed some people and they were like, 'Today's your day to be a princess,' and I'm like, 'I'm ... gonna go, because I'm way over 30 and that's creepy.'"
Funny Ladies Have the Chance to Step Up and Get Just As Ridiculous As the Guys
"There's not one person in this cast who I don't think will be starring in their own movie in the next five years," Feig declared, and he may be onto something. Of his central six actresses, four have established themselves as comic talents, one (Byrne) is a dramatic actress who recently begun to flex her comedy chops, and another (Ellie Kemper) is already a veteran of the Upright Citizens Brigade and 'The Office.' And the best part is, not one of them is afraid to push the envelope for a laugh.
McClendon-Covey explained: "Because so many of us come from The Groundlings, these girls come from a place of not, 'Who's the prettiest?' but 'Who can make themselves look the ugliest?' Who can take themselves to the ugliest place –- that's where we come from. Forget looking pretty, who cares? I want the laugh. A lot of girls don't come from that place. They come from, 'Where's my light? Is this flattering?' No-no-no-no-no. 'How much vomit can I get on me -- and can you get closer with that camera on my mustache?'"
'Bridesmaids' Is Rated R "for Some Strong Sexuality and Language Throughout"
A PG-13 rating might have opened up the demographic towards younger audiences, but sticking with an "R" is the smarter choice and tells folks off the bat what kind of film they're in for – less an ensemble chick flick than a Judd Apatow–produced R-rated comedy that happens to be about female characters, talking like real women do.
Strip Club Field Trip As Research/Bonding
You've gotta love a group of grown ladies who take a "research" trip to a strip club for their art. Especially if they endure what Rose Byrne did in an oily encounter with a male dancer. "Someone bought me a lap dance and I was wearing this really nice expensive blouse, and I was like 'Aaah!' All over me," she said. "It was just slowly getting ruined. He looked at me and he was like, 'You okay baby? Where did you come from, what's the problem? Let me talk to you.' And I was like, 'Oh the traffic.' 'Yeah, I know.' 'Going up the 405...' Totally unsexy. I'm like the nerdy, frigid weirdo. But that was fun."
McCarthy echoed that sentiment with a gleam in her eye. "For research we all went to Hollywood Men. It was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. It's a lot of oil, more oil than I've ever seen on bodies, on any beach, and it's a lot of, like, 'You know you want this!' And getting weird eye contact and you're like, 'I don't! I don't want it so bad!'"
Guardian Angel Judd Apatow
'Bridesmaids' fell under producer Judd Apatow's watchful eye, though the quiet Feig deserves as much if not more credit. As we spoke with the cast, we heard more about the extent of Apatow's involvement as producer. "His aim from the beginning has been, we've got to set [Wiig] up to hit it out of the park," said Mumolo. "He's always wanting to get her into the position where she's going to hit home runs. He's aiming to do that in every single moment.
Wiig expounded on Apatow's comic instincts on set: "He wants everyone to have their moment. When we do a scene he's like, this person's got to kill, this person's got to have a joke – because he wants everyone to look good and be funny and be a part of it, which is awesome."
And, as producer Barry Mendel offered, "Judd's movies are like jazz; you have an idea of where you're going to go but it's always different."
Veteran Improv Players Made for a Loose Set
Feig knows that the romantic comedy genre in particular can fall victim to its own language, so he made a point to work highly improvisationally and studied rom-coms in order to see what not to do. "In general you write a script and you go into romantic comedy mode, which is that you get not flowery but clever with your language," he said. "So I feel in those movies people slavishly sticking to these written lines that are sometimes great and sometimes you're like, people don't quite talk like that."
Having four Groundlings veterans (Wiig, Rudolph, McClendon-Covey, McCarthy) and an Upright Citizens Brigade alum (Kemper) on hand helped immensely. Rudolph looked back fondly on her past.
"I wrote all this really horrible stand-up and it was so bad," she began. "Thank God I never did it. But I knew about the Groundlings because I grew up in L.A. That was a time in my life that brought me together with people who were having the same feeling... and everyone who was there and went through the same program. It's not just learning the language of improv, even though that does bond me with people like Amy Poehler or Tina [Fey] or Rachel [Dratch] coming from Second City, because we all know that same language. But it's really rare to be able to improvise on a movie."
Rose Byrne, the Secret Weapon
If you watched 'Get Him to the Greek,' you already know that somewhere inside Byrne's gorgeous Hollywood actress looks and dramatic bent, there's a comic actress waiting to come out. And despite her cultural differences (she was raised in Australia: 'We're the most unserious culture in the world')
Byrne on how she landed her part: "As a woman reading this story you know -- I know Helen, I know Lillian, I know all these girls. So for me it was brilliant to see it on the page. Everybody has a story. They originally said to come in for Lillian and I said, 'Great,' and then I said, 'Can I have a crack at Helen -- the bitch?' And they were like, 'Okay, come in for both.' Anne and Kristen have such a history together and it is created from real people and real characters and real stories from their own lives. And it's very rare to read that, especially as an actress. Usually a role requires you to take off your top in Scene 2, so to have something that's really fun and really about a dynamic between women, which is very complicated -- to explore it in a way that's not a cliché but that's also not sugarcoated is interesting."
Melissa McCarthy = Zach Galifianakis
Producer Mendel said it best: "I think Melissa McCarthy is at least as funny as Zach Galifianakis, and I think Zach Galifianakis is one of the funniest people alive. But she's tearing up this movie so hard."
Kristen Wiig FINALLY Gets a Starring Vehicle
Wiig, who's much more soft-spoken in real life, has now been going pretty much nonstop on 'Bridesmaids,' And she's so good, even her cast mates stop to watch her work. "When I've been watching filming I've looked at Kristen and she's just putting it out there," said McClendon-Covey. "And you're going, Oh my gosh, if this were real I'd be so embarrassed for her... But she knows how to do that, and it makes you love her more. It makes her more vulnerable and it makes you root for her all the more, because we've all been here, we've all done the stupid thing. At least I have."
For Wiig, pulling double duty on 'Bridesmaids' -- make that triple duty (co-writer, star, co-producer) gives her humble work new dimension: "It's a different experience entirely, just because I'm the lead in the movie. Even just saying that is so crazy."
"Even still today when I see all the trucks and the lights, I'm like, 'Oh my God, this is from what we wrote. It's so humbling."
'Bridesmaids,' directed by Paul Feig from a script by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, hits theaters May 13.