“It’s called civil rights. This is the ’90s.”
We think Kristen Wiig is the best thing to happen to “Saturday Night Live” since Will Ferrell. (Of course we love Tina Fey, but our love for her didn’t flourish until “30 Rock.”) Until Bridesmaids, Wiig’s movie roles were strictly kooky, supporting types. She played the passive-aggressive Jill in Knocked Up, then followed that up with similarly schizoid characters: Bill Hader’s wife in Adventureland, the long-suffering wife of Dewey Cox in Walk Hard, the ever-loyal Vicki St. Elmo in MacGruber. All of these felt like extensions of her SNL characters, and they were occasionally the best thing going for the movie. But none of them quite prepare you for her character Annie in Bridesmaids.
Annie is a single woman in her 30s, the former owner of a Milwaukee bakery that went under during the recession. She is sleeping with Ted (Jon Hamm), a cad who declines to be her wedding guest by saying, “I wouldn’t want to make you explain what our relationship is to all those people. That would suck for you.” Annie’s best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged and asks Annie to be the maid of honor. Then everything falls apart. Lillian’s friend Helen (Rose Byrne, recovering nicely from Knowing) becomes a bridesmaid rival; Annie loses her job; she gets kicked out of her apartment and moves in with her mother; she throws a disastrous luncheon (the infamous vomiting sequence that tells you this is a Judd Apatow production); and so on.
Wiig is one of the funniest female performers out there, and she’s especially good at physical comedy. Her drunken meltdown on an airplane, the first moment in the movie when she really lets loose, is a showcase of her goofy, gangly charm. But Annie is, unlike many of Wiig’s SNL characters¹, a real person. What neither of us expected from Bridesmaids was how sad and desperate Annie is, and how much you pull for her to break her losing streak. There is, below all the laughs, some genuine emotion at play here. (This is the other telltale sign of a Judd Apatow production. Vomit and sincerity.) Annie and Lillian grow apart. Annie ruins a perfectly good relationship. She wants to get on the right track but can’t avoid self-destructing. When she loses it, on the plane and then later at Lillian’s shower, you’re torn between laughing and crying. Why does the sight of a person falling apart have to be so funny?
Of course, it’s no surprise that things turn around by the wedding. Despite the tidy, conventional ending, Annie’s reconciliation with Lillian feels plausible. They reunite one last time before going their separate ways. Bridesmaids is a promising start for Wiig’s movie career as something other than the crazy supporting character. (Wiig also co-wrote the script.) As one of her former roommates tells Annie after reading her diary, “At first I did not know it was your diary. I thought it was a very sad handwritten book.” Bridesmaids is just like Annie’s diary. Sad, yes, but funny too.
1. The closest Wiig comes to slipping into an SNL character is during a toast to Lillian, when she reverts to the relentless one-upmanship of Penelope.