Directed by Paul Feig, 2011
Written by Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumulo
Starring Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Chris O’Dowd, Jon Hamm
NO PLOT SPOILERS, YOU HAVE TO SEE IT
The cinema was half full, which for a Monday night is good going. There were two other men, out of perhaps 200 people, both with women. The women were in groups of two, three, six, eight. We’re a few weeks into the run, and I sense a Mama Mia mighty chick-flick mood. This audience has arranged to come in parties. During the adverts (after several years that Volkswagen / Ghostbusters ad is now so annoying as to be counter-productive) and three trailers the loud buzz of animated conversation right round totally drowns out the soundtrack. I was reminded at first of the early 50s, when the local neighbourhood cinemas ran a separate “women’s programme” in the afternoon, and my mother would go with friends and a pile of clean hankies for “a good cry.” But times have changed and this is for “a good laugh” at jokes and language that would have put that 1950s audience into shock.
First off the film is severely misrepresented. I was expecting a GrossCom, along the lines of Hangover or Hangover 2. The trailers focussed on the excruciatingly funny and crude bridesmaids dress shop scene. That’s five minutes of the whole, and nothing else is that gross. Excellent. While both Hangover movies are very funny, you get gross-out fatigue. It’s not a GrossCom, but it plays on aspects. The age of the audience suggests that most graduated through the high school comedies, on to dating movies like There’s Something About Mary in their teens, and now there’s a wave of wedding movies as they hit the age (which brings us back to the lads’ versions: Hangover / Hangover 2). As weddings spiral in elaboration and expensive destinations, there’s a fascination mingled with horror at the overwrought concepts.
And so to Kristen Wiig. She co-wrote it, and she plays the lead role of Annie. She’s in her late thirties and came to fame in Saturday Night Live. The scriptwriting is first class, the comedy acting even better than that. We virtually never leave Annie. I think she’s in every scene, part of virtually every conversation. Things don’t happen behind Annie’s back, the only exception I can think of being the in-flight sequence, where we see various of the six bridesmaids in conversations. This gives powerful identification. The other thing is that Kristen has lines on her face. She’s not Botoxed them. Part of the appeal of the movie, is that no one is drop-dead Hollywood gorgeous. Like High School movies, this is a protagonist versus Queen Bee story. The Queen Bee, Helen, is played by a beautifully-groomed Rose Byrne, allegedly way more beautiful than Annie, or the bride-to-be Lilian (Maya Rudolph). Even so, there is no one in the cast of Cameron Diaz, Anne Hathaway, Halle Berry level Hollywood perfection. That’s vital, and a reason that though the film is in some ways SO American, it doesn’t come across as SO Hollywood because the women look real.
Annie and Helen compete at the engagement announcement party
The other aspect is RomCom, and the male love interest is Chris O’Dowd from the IT Crowd who plays Police Officer Rhodes. O’Dowd is cuddly, scruffy, loveable (as in The IT Crowd) and they even make a joke about how an obviously Irish guy is a Wisconsin cop. I thought you had to be a citizen … says Annie. I got a dispensation because I’m so tough and strong says O’Dowd. He’s contrasted with the rat Annie meets for sex with no commitment, played by Jon Hamm, basically playing and looking like his character from Mad Men. For some reason, he’s not credited on the movie. But he looks film star. No one else does, and that’s deliberate.
John Hamm as the rat.
Chris O’Dowd is the cuddly cop
For a lone guy watching there are some interesting aspects on reactions to jokes from 198 women. Women always find eating the sugarary confection for solace bit hilarious, as here. That one passes men by. But if you watch in a coffee shop, so many women buying cakes preface the purchase with lines like I know I shouldn’t but … / You mustn’t tempt me! Oh, OK, a piece of the … / Oh, dear, I won’t be able to eat all of it … The roots of anexoria run deep.
L to R: Megan, Becca, Helen, Rita, Lilian, Annie
I also noticed that while the story is Annie v Helen, the Queen Bee, who tries to take over her role as Maid of Honour and then the whole wedding planning, there are some touches that I suspect are scripted, indicating Annie isn’t a pushover (as we come to find out). When they’re looking at the potential bridesmaids dresses, Annie goes for the short Graeco / Roman slave girl frock because it’s the cheapest. But Annie has long legs, and always wears short skirts, so it’s the one that would flatter her most.
Helen, the Queen Bee
Comic side roles are great. Megan (Melissa McCarthy), the largest and butchest bridesmaid is as well-acted as it is well-written. The cameo of Annie’s British flatmate (or room mate as it is in the USA) is played by Little Britain star Matt Lucas. Rebel Wilson, who is Australian, plays his sister. Both are British (which is why the sister can’t work). This is not an issue, but the choice plus that of Chris O’Dowd suggests the writers and directors were simply into current British sitcom. This is a director who works with actors and focusses on actors. The lines are clear amidst uproarious laughter. The reaction acting throughout is first rate.
Boarding the plane. Helen leads.
Enough. No plot details. No joke giveaways. This is a very funny movie indeed, and the guys who dismiss it as a chickflick are really missing out.
The DVD will be a biggie. There are so many sequences that demand rewatching. The microphone / speech competition between Annie and Helen; choosing the bridesmaids dresses, the flight to Las Vegas.