Let's be honest here: comedy, as a genre, has been wading in a semi-stagnant pool for a while now, where we're lucky to see even one true belly-laugher a year -- and a swath of mediocrity or, even worse, downright stinkers cluttered around it. Bridesmaids appears as if it could be of the latter breed, another tepid dip-in-the-pond of clichéd femme focuses (sure, whatever, a "chick flick") that simply doesn't have a clue about raunchiness or genuine wit, appearing as if it'll remain safe and secure while it cheekily tinkers with the ins-and-outs of prepping a bride for her big day. While 2011 has output the expected stream of ho-hum comedies, Paul Feig's crude, unsafe, yet sincere chronicle of pre-wedding shenanigans -- penned by SNL vet Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo -- easily breaks away from the pack by surprising with its ability to embrace the boundaries of the film it somewhat purports itself to be, and then, knowingly, pushes the envelope with versatile, often side-splitting takes on what's expected.
Though Wiig has popped up recently in Whip It and Adventureland, to fine successes, Bridesmaids marks her first leading performance, and she's found the right one to start with in Annie. A broke, cynical chef who's recently closed her Milwaukee bakery, losing her boyfriend in the process, she now works in a jewelry store, sleeps with a handsome but asinine man-child (Jon Hamm) looking for a no-strings sex-buddy, and avoids her odd British brother-sister roommates. Annie's sad-sap state makes for a near-perfect character in which Wiig can flaunt her ill-at-ease style, uncomfortable in her unerring self-created awkwardness. She's a sad character, almost aggressively so, which might rub some the wrong way because of how resolutely she keeps herself at arm's length from contentment. Yet there's something relatable about her self-deprecation, especially once her childhood friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) asks her to be the maid-of-honor at her wedding -- and to do the planning and organizing that comes with the territory.
Naturally, Annie meets an eclectic group of Lillian's friends and soon-to-be family who will fill out the rest of the wedding court: a sex-minded mom (Wendi McLendon-Covey, Reno 911) with a ton of kids and a biting attitude; a virginal mouse of a newlywed (Ellie Kempler, The Office); bullish sparkplug Meghan (Melissa McCarthy, Gilmore Girls), the government-employed sister to the groom; and Helen (Rose Byrne, Get Him to the Greek), a well-to-do housewife trying to strong-arm her way into Annie's spot as maid-of-honor. Feig realizes that these are all types, and he lets them run loose with their quirky mannerisms, but he doesn't go too outlandish to make them feel like far-removed caricatures. That's also part of the fingerprint that producer Judd Apatow imparts, who worked similar magic in The 40 Year Old Virgin and, alongside Feig, in Freaks and Geeks, crafting genuine characters that serve distinct purposes -- sure, a little one-dimensionally -- without feeling too phony. And from a set of graduates from the Grounlings comedy troupe to faces from SNL and The Office, they're in capable hands.
Annie's rattled by the duties and the feeling that her friend's slipping away, not to mention her own monetary and relationship woes, which zigzags along the significant events in Bridesmaids that hallmark most pre-wedding lead-ups. Sure, if you want to boil it down to the least-common denominator, Feig's picture can essentially be labeled a female iteration of The Hangover, where the ritual of strippers, alcohol, and wild partying in the groom's rite of passage are replaced with luncheons, dress-fittings, and bridal showers. But this isn't a frilly affair, nor is it simply a fantastical lampoon on idealized planning. Compliments of Wiig and Mumolo's sharply-written script, Lillian's path down the aisle turns into a stylized elevated-reality daze of misfortune, often due to her best-friend trying to cling onto what she finds familiar by her own means. But it's got something else behind its gags: when it hits over-the-top notes that play to the dreamed-up fantasies of weddings and the gleeful pre-events, it also double-backs to Annie's shambled life, lending genuineness to the missteps she makes.
No matter how someone feels about Annie's clueless desperation, the humor delivers in droves and doesn't merely play up the gross-out gags and exaggerated lunacy of wedding events just so the girls can have the same brand of comedic fun that the boys have. Sure, there's plenty of obvious, crude slapstick and physical humor -- sharing some DNA with Apatow's comedies -- and it gets over-the-top uproarious; there's a scene in a bridal boutique that mixes food poisoning and flatulence with the haughty glitz of expensive garments, as well as a booze-and-pill-driven stretch involving Annie, dejected and poor, stumbling all over the first-class compartment of a commercial plane. But there's also delightfully uncomfortable, well-telegraphed deadpan humor as well, from an overextended back-and-forth wedding speech to watching a sick-and-sweaty Annie forced to eat a sugar-coated almond, and they're exquisitely timed to the right excruciating length. Some might claim that these scenes go on too long, but I feel they're all bravely extended as they deliberately revel in discomfiture.
Maybe it's because the humor's supported by a heartfelt backbone that it's both effective and affective, extending beyond its gags into this clever, modest portrait of a woman in a growing stage that just so happens to be hysterically funny. Annie's shown at her most desperate -- sleeping with a slimeball, losing her penniless and destitute battle with the rich-and-beautiful Helen, and slowly but unsuccessfully building a relationship with an affable cop, Rhodes (Chris O'Dowd), who's got a thing for carrots -- and her state informs the hoopla that Wiig and Mumolo have written, always with some underlying purpose that ties back to the lowly baker trying to maintain a stranglehold on her old life. Bridesmaids might be out to prove that the girls are capable of playing just as dirty as the guys, as perverse as out-there as the crudity of bromance, and it evens that playing field. But it's also as interested in expressive composure while doing so, and the comedic minds at-work here have delivered one of the year's best comedies by balancing its jocular outlandishness with an eye for the stuff that other "chick flicks" squander.
Unrated vs. Theatrical Cuts:
In short, don't waste your time with the Unrated cut.
Clocking in at a bit over five (5) minutes longer than the theatrical cut (at 2:10:14, as opposed to 2:04:52) , the difference rest in one lengthier added scene and a few minor additions sprinkled throughout the film -- all which are wise edits that, really, add nothing to Bridesmaids. The big addition comes in a clumsily tacked-on blind date that Annie goes on (dropped in just before her second "adult sleepover" with Ted), where, arranged by her mother, she's stuck downstairs with a bespectacled son to the recently-separated guy she's going out with. The scene only serves to beat up on Annie's attractiveness a bit, while her uncomfortable conversation with the kid (and a mishap with her birth control pills) isn't really funny. Everything else resides in quick additions spanning not much longer than a few lines: a perverse description from Annie's mother about what her father likes in bed, bland material during the bridesmaids' meet-and-greet dinner at the Brazilian restaurant, and added "home footage" with Meghan and her beau. Add an extra-"intimate" moment with the brother-sister duo, a barf here and there, and there you go. Stick with the original cut.
Universal leads Bridesmaids down the Blu-ray aisle in a two-disc package, one high-definition disc and one pink-topped standard-definition offering. Both the Theatrical and Unrated Cuts of the film have been made available on both discs, accessible under the "Extras" menu option. A cardboard slipcase replicates the artwork on the front and back of the Blu-ray artwork, while a Digital Copy has also been tossed into the package.
Video and Audio:
Keeping with Universal's quality of output with their non-catalog, new-released Blu-rays, Bridesmaids arrives in a 1080p AVC encode that looks absolutely smashing, while lining up with the cinematography's theatrical look. Similar to other like-minded comedies, colors and skin tones are richly-saturated and filled with plenty of pop, ranging from gentle pastels in a cupcake Annie makes to the bright colors in a Brazilian restaurant and the pink-'n-purple frills of dresses against the white of a wedding boutique. Semi-tight close-ups reveal a blistering, competent degree of textural rendering, contrast balance, the works, while a wide range of interior and exterior shots -- moments in the park, late-night driving, a ritzy bridal shower -- all grapple at the pouring sunlight and darker shadows with the degree of style befitting the photography. It's a great-looking disc.
A highly-fluent DTS-HD Master Audio track cradles the dialogue with a competent, well-balanced punch that shows fine awareness of environments, obviously the bread-and-butter of the sounds design. Don't let that lead you into thinking that this track doesn't have its share of healthy, punchy sound elements, though, like the screeching of car wheels and heavy chatter in an airplane, which travel to the rear channels with enough potency to give those scene enough immersion to be satisfying. A fairly constant rush of music trails across the entire sound-stage, either subtly in the background or heavier to emphasize transitions, and this high-definition audio track supports the thumps and strums just right. Even though it's obviously not one of those discs to toss into the player to flaunt the punch your rig will deliver, the fairly-consistent amount of sound that rings through the film will certainly offer a great listening experience.
Commentary with Cast/Writers and Director Paul Feig:
Recorded the Monday before the film was released theatrically, Feig sits in on a powwow of most of the female cast members, and they all sit back and chat about the whole experience of shooting Bridesmaids -- to great, humorous lengths. They chat about scenes that were removed from the final cut (some stuff that's re-inserted in the Unrated cut, other parts crammed into the deleted/alternate scenes), as well as some fun add-ons that reveal some of the behind-the-scenes filmmaking stuff, like getting celebrity approval for likeness in regards to paintings that appear in the film. They joke around about where Melissa MCCarthy came up with the "look" for Meghan and poking and prodding at Helen's character, while they clearly reveal that the film's a labor of love where a lot of things just came together (especially during the speech scene). I'd also recommend watching the deleted scenes before listening, so you can have a reference point when they're talking up the removed material. And yeah, you'll get to hear some questions that were asked over Twitter during the commentary! Fun stuff.
Maid of Honor: Behind the Scenes (31:43, HD AVC):
Keeping things kinda straight-faced and normal for at least one of the special features on this disc, this making-of piece mixes interviews with Paul Feig, Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, and the rest of the cast and crew while behind-the-scenes footage plays behind them. They discuss the origins of the characters and the casting process, bordering on back-slapping a bit too much but still giving some sincere glimpses on their affection for the project. You'll also see some rehearsal footage in the mix, as well as a few split-screen moments showing the different camera angles during multi-camera shoots. It's a fine assembly-EPK piece that's elevated by the off-camera material dropped into the mix, growing more and more interesting as the piece progresses since they start addressing specific sequences: the Brazilian restaurant, the stark-white bridal boutique, the plane, etc.
Deleted and Extended Material:
While it appears as if this has a ton of assorted special features, you'll find that most of the extra stuff here is the hours ... and hours of unused footage that Feig shot for the film -- and that's not a bad thing, in the slightest. Two generic segments, Deleted Scenes (8:57, HD AVC) and Extended and Alternate Scenes (50:03, SD MPEG-2), are fairly self explanatory, though the deleted scenes section essentially becomes the dumping pot for all the stuff that doesn't really have a distinction: a few alternate takes on a conversation between Annie and her mother outside of the car-repair shop, the bridesmaids thumbing through a ritzy store where Lillian's registered, and a (very) wisely-removed scene in Paris. The extended takes chronologically flow along with where the film goes, starting with more wildness in bed with Ted and Annie and cascading from there, though it's a shame that these are in standard definition. They are, however, enhanced for 16x9 televisions and appear to be of mostly-finished quality.
Several of the individual menu segments also fit into the category of removed material as well, even if they're not under the same wings/menu option. Blind Date shows off the scene with Paul Rudd that was removed from the film, including the actual deleted scene (Blind Date with Dave; 5:21 HD AVC) and a slew of on-the-fly vulgarities from Rudd in Dave-O-Rama. Speaking of "-O-Rama", we've got two more of those: Line-O-Rama (12:13), offering a bunch of quick quips from the cast during their improved moments in the film (from Meghan's red-faced yelling in the boutique to Rodney's "motivation" in the park), and Drunk-O-Rama (4:21, HD AVC), a healthy stretch of Wiig's riffs while on the plane to Vegas. The other categories are on the same par as the blind-date material, hitting on segmented deleted scenes that fit under those categories: there's Roommates, which covers Matt Lucas and Rebel Wilson's British brother-sister duo; the jewely store Cholodecki's; Annie Vs. Helen, which zeroes in on some material with the pair; and Tennis Pep Talk.
Piled on at the end, we've also got a semi-funny Gag Reel (3:48, HD AVC), filled with plenty of goofing around between Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig and several scenes that were simply too awkward or laugh-inducing for the cast to get workable takes on. Also, underneath the different sections on the disc, you'll also find a few faux-commercials, including a fun lo-fi Cholodecki's Commercial and a (fairly unnecessary) Oo-Laka Juice Commercial (1:11 HD AVC) with the "roomies". And, finally, ... SPOILER ALERT ... Hold On (4:31, HD AVC) offers the whole Wilson Phillips performance that appears at the end of the film.
I laughed harder at Bridesmaids than I have at any other comedy since The 40 Year Old Virgin -- both at the theater, and a second (and, uh, third) time at home. Director Paul Feig takes the script from writer/actress Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo and delivers a strong mix of several different types of comedy, from outlandish gags to painful deadpan expanses, and crams them into the often hair-thinning lavishness of pre-wedding planning. But it mostly centers on Annie, a woman down on her luck, both professionally and romantically, who's losing her best-friend to the throes of marriage. You'll find a great mix of everything here, inside an unassuming non-"chick flick" that knows how to deliver crass comedy with the best of 'em. Universal's disc replicates the theater experience with exceptional audiovisual properties, while a smattering of special features -- a chattering commentary, making-of doc, and a trove of deleted material -- makes this disc a sure-fire keeper. Highly Recommended.