Improvisation is tricky business in movies, especially comedies. What works on a set among friends won't always click in theaters with strangers. Improvisation is the best thing Bridesmaids has going for it, and also the worst.
Bridesmaids features a core cast of women with Jiffy Pop minds, bursting kernels of comedy into raunchy riffs straining against director Paul Feig's efforts to contain them. Feig obviously doesn't try hard. The movie has perhaps 90 minutes of smart and smutty humor thinly spread over a two-hour-plus running time.
One character probably wasn't crucial to the screenplay but cracked up her co-stars so often that entire scenes were created for her improvisation on the fly. That's Melissa McCarthy of TV's Mike & Molly sitcom, a roly-poly actor whose waistline is her punch line. That McCarthy steals each scene in which she's involved suggests much about the actual script, which I imagine containing directions like: "Annie and a customer swap crude insults" and whatever combusts or fizzles is the result.
Annie is played by Kristen Wiig, a terrific Saturday Night Live sketch comedian who co-drafted this screenplay with a pal. Wiig has been a welcome presence in bad movies like MacGruber, and delightful in good ones like Adventureland. She has a unique feel for neuroticism, with spot-on reactions and verbal tics that make cringing enjoyable. Bridesmaids uses her talents better than any movie before which, if you're a fan as I am, is good news indeed.
The plot concerns Annie serving as maid of honor for her lifelong best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph), despite the fact that she's in no shape to have fun. Annie's cake store failed in the recession, her boyfriend bailed, and she's deluded to think the jerk (Jon Hamm) calling for quickies might actually care about her. Broke and disillusioned with romance is no way to plan a wedding celebration.
There's also competition for the honor. Lillian's groom comes from a country club family, and Helen (Rose Byrne) is a glamorous interloper who barely knows Lillian but came with the membership. Helen is more interested in the status symbolism of being in charge, and one logic loophole of Bridesmaids is that Lillian doesn't recognize it. Another is that Annie doesn't realize Mr. Right (Chris O'Dowd) is right under her nose.
But that misses the movie's point, which is to show women can get down and dirty just like the Hangover guys. In that regard, Bridesmaids is a bit of a groundbreaker. Usually it's the dudes suffering from explosive bowel movements, getting drunk and disorderly, and spitting out the one word you'd better not call any woman. Not exactly a banner for feminism, but equal time is overdue.
The best jokes in Bridesmaids can't be repeated here but they spring from the same spontaneous minds that occasionally stop the movie in its tracks. Overall it's a fair tradeoff; convulsive laughs for uneasy moments in-between. Bridesmaids isn't ingeniously structured like The Hangover but will probably become a bachelorette party staple on DVD.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.