'Bridesmaids' was presented as a work-in-progress; director Paul Feig prefaced the screening by explaining that, short of color timing, proper credits and a missing sound effect, the cut shown at SXSW would very much resemble the theatrical version, opening May 13.
The laziest comparisons will lump 'Bridesmaids' in with the recently rowdy likes of 'The Hangover,' but it deserves to sit on the same shelf as '9 to 5' and any other comedy that allows a capable female ensemble to take the reins without being stifled by rom-com routine (which isn't entirely absent here).
Annie (Kristen Wiig) is a former business owner now biting her tongue, barely, at her jeweler's job as the happy couples come in; contending with inconsiderate sibling roommates (Matt Lucas and Rebel Wilson); and settling for being the impersonal hump-buddy of a rich tool (Jon Hamm). She's unhappy at work, unhappy at home, and now left in the lurch when her best friend (Maya Rudolph) announces her engagement and effectively pits Annie against Helen (Rose Byrne) for maid-of-honor duties.
The name of the game here is one-upsmanship (one-upswomanship?) as Annie, Helen and other pals (Ellie Kemper, Wendy McLendon-Covey, Melissa McCarthy) go about organizing engagement parties, dress fittings, bachelorette parties and bridal showers to disastrous effect. In between shenanigans, Annie falls for a local state trooper (Chris O'Dowd, remaining inexplicably British for the role of a Wisconsin cop) and tries to appease her mother (Jill Clayburgh, in her final performance).
If that sounds like a lot of characters to juggle, it is. At this point, 'Bridesmaids' runs a solid two hours and bears the trademark, improv-heavy shagginess of any Judd Apatow production, and this is only really a problem when the inevitable third-act confrontations kick in. (And even then, Hamm handily shows up and saves the day with his pitch-perfect sleaze.) With all due respect to the late Clayburgh, Annie's mother hardly factors in, and her roommates feel like equally arbitrary inclusions whenever they crop up.
But most of what's there is fairly funny, whether it's the titular ensemble members each working their own charms -- McCarthy's boorish bud is usually trying hardest to steal the show, and she usually succeeds -- or Wiig front and center, looking a little worse for wear in her first leading role, but genuinely endearing as a walking shambles who doesn't necessarily need a man to make her happy, but just needs a life to call her own.
As written by Wiig and Annie Mumolo, the screenplay has no shortage of insecurities for Wiig to play up, but it never succumbs to making our heroine a sociopath who operates beyond all reason in the name of love as so many other chick flicks tend to do. Her general aimlessness in life directly fuels her pettiness when it comes to the wedding planning, and her foils (especially Byrne, rarely a comedienne on screen but adept when she is) respond to her antics with fitting fervor.
Director Paul Feig ('Unaccompanied Minors') doesn't mess with the Apatow mold, giving generous screen time to each of his performers and shooting every scene with sitcom-suitable lighting. An early crude set-piece, seemingly included in an effort to rival the schlub-centric comedies of late, is nonetheless executed well, and Annie's knack for baking allows for a handful of gratuitous food-fawning scenes. (What's to be said for the notion that our lead woman can only be happy in the kitchen, who knows.)
More often than not, though, 'Bridesmaids' strikes a proper balance between its potty mouths and sleeve-set heart. It's slack in pacing but raucous in tone and held together throughout by Wiig's spotlight turn. And do you really want to know why this isn't the new 'Hangover'? These ladies don't even make it to Vegas.