Whether it's "Step Brothers," "I Love You, Man" or "Borat," guys have laughed long and loudest over the last decade in cinema. So much so that they have spawned a new epithet, the "bromance," while their wives and girlfriends have mostly looked on from the sidelines.
"Bridesmaids" does something to redress that imbalance.
Written by Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig (who also stars) this is definitely not just another chick flick, and it has next to nothing in common with those twee, mirthless attempts to revive the romantic comedy that have kept Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Aniston and Katherine Heigl so busy in recent years.
No, "Bridesmaids" is a stiletto-sharp, raunchy, no-holds-barred yuk-fest that stands as a worthy female counterpart to the likes of "Wedding Crashers" and "The Hangover."
Wiig is Annie: single, unhappily employed behind the counter at a jewelry store and co-renting an apartment with two obnoxious Brits. Annie is trying to convince herself she's OK with the purely physical relationship she enjoys with the undeniably attractive, but decidedly brusque Ted (John Hamm, spoofing his lady-killer persona).
But when her best and oldest friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces she's tying the knot, Annie finds it hard to keep her feelings of inadequacy in check. Especially when she meets Lillian's new girl pal, the groom's beautiful, poised and disgustingly wealthy sister, Helen (Rose Byrne).
A game performer who has racked up memorable cameos in many of her SNL costars' big screen efforts, Wiig is fearless in her portrait of a maid of honor haplessly inviting shame and humiliation on her own head.
First she gets into a tug of war with Helen when it comes to toasting the bride, an excruciating display of one-upmanship that will make anyone who's fought over a friend cringe.
But things really go wrong when she invites everyone to a funky downtown restaurant before the dress fitting, a scene that starts like something out of "Sex and the City," but ends up more like an outtake from "Dante's Peak." It's a sequence of unremitting physical revulsion, a crescendo of bad taste that will have audiences either running for the washrooms or -- more likely -- rolling in the aisles.
We're not used to such unhinged vulgarity in a girls' night out movie, but the film's not pandering, it's just groping for the sweet spot. Wiig and company are acutely aware of the discrepancy between what is considered ladylike and what women are really like, especially when the chips are down. That's the wellspring for much of the comedy, whether it reveals itself in messy emotional dynamics or risqué physical antics.
Granted, the female rivalry thing has been done many times before -- think Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz in "My Best Friend's Wedding," for one -- but Wiig's readiness to embrace mortification puts this in a league of its own. It's rare that a comic of either sex will put so much on the line and still keep things up close and personal. If this performance doesn't make her a movie star, nothing will.
The film is overflowing with witty one-liners -- many of them from Melissa McCarthy's stratospherically uncouth Megan. It says something for the filmmakers' confidence that scarcely any of the gags in the trailer turn up in the film itself. That's how spoilt for choice they were in the editing room.
Director Paul Feig created "Freaks and Geeks" (inevitably Judd Apatow is producing here) and has since directed multiple episodes of "Arrested Development," "The Office" and "Nurse Jackie." Feig wisely lets the comedy go where it will, even accommodating a sweet-toothed romantic subplot (involving Chris O'Dowd as an unusually affable traffic cop) without coming unstuck.
If "Bridesmaids" isn't the funniest film of the year, we're in for a treat. The bar has been raised.