The good thing about Bridesmaids is that it isn’t just a Judd Apatow movie that substitutes women for men in the same old formula. That’s definitely the danger with Apatow, who’s made a career out of producing a very particular kind of movie, one in which immature male friends bond, share in a few gross-out jokes and become better people. Bridesmaids features bonding, gross-out jokes and a bit of personal growth for its immature main character, but it does so in a way that feels natural for its female ensemble while also refraining from placing them on a pedestal. Apatow’s name may be the one that attracts publicity, but it’s star and co-writer Kristen Wiig who carries the movie.
Wiig plays Annie, a 30-something single woman whose life is falling apart: She’s lost both her boyfriend and her fledgling cake shop, works at a job she hates and can’t even make rent. On top of all that, her childhood best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) has just gotten engaged, and Annie has been enlisted as the maid of honor. Planning a series of elaborate events to celebrate the next stage in her friend’s life only makes Annie more aware of how little direction she has in her own, and it doesn’t help that Lillian’s newest close friend Helen (Rose Byrne) is a rich, beautiful and irritatingly perfect know-it-all who’s constantly upstaging Annie.
Wiig and director Paul Feig, a longtime Apatow associate, don’t hold back on the raunchy comedy: In one particularly nasty scene, the entire bridal party is struck with food poisoning during a dress fitting, and the results are stomach-churning for both the characters and the audience. But those moments are effortlessly balanced with a genuine concern for the shifting nature of friendship and the crisis of finding yourself an adult without having achieved any of the things you expected you would. Wiig isn’t just a gifted comedic performer; she’s also a strong actress, and Bridesmaids allows her to showcase both of those abilities. Like a lot of Apatow productions, Bridesmaids is loosely paced and heavily improvised and could stand to trim 15-20 minutes from its two-hour-plus running time. Even as it sometimes drags, this is a smart and funny movie that satisfyingly expands the Apatow brand.