Two-part harmony ... Kristen Wiig, Rose Byrne. Photograph: Universal/Everett / Rex Features Universal/Everett / Rex Features/PR
hrough an act of karmic rebalancing, or cosmic reparation, the universe has made amends for Hangover Part II. Bridesmaids is a terrifically funny, smart and tender ensemble comedy starring its co-writer Kristen Wiig, and it pulls off the remarkable trick of being brutal and gentle at the same time. The full horror of being a bridesmaid is shown, but Wiig persuades you there is something genuinely loving and sisterly to be found at the end of this incredible ordeal.
A good deal has now been written about Bridesmaids being at the vanguard of a new feminist revolution in Hollywood comedy – a sorpack to go with the fratpack – and how, before this, women were marginalised or treated as second-class turns in Hollywood, a theory that holds up if you discount the colossal commercial success of the Sex and the City movies. It\'s certainly true the comedy of Rogen, Ferrell, Carell et al has been very laddish.
So there is something in Bridesmaids that is particularly interesting: how it offers a male, or male-seeming dimension that is not featured in all the other sugary girly-romcommy treatments of engagements, bridal showers, wedding ceremonies, etc: the world of status-envy and career-disappointment. It is the women\'s relationship with each other, and not with men, that is central. So what is dramatised in these characters is not the traditional single-girl qualities of vivacity or demureness, comically flavoured with man-pleasing sexiness or anxious self-doubt, but the bridesmaids\' competitive sense of themselves as successful or otherwise: at home, in business and in the wider world. And what\'s important to social success is not romance, exactly, but marriage.
Wiig plays thirtysomething Annie, who in early middle age has woken up to find herself a failure. Her bakery business, in which she invested all her money, has gone broke; she has to walk past the boarded-up premises on the way to a terrible job in a jewellery store in which she cannot help but warn couples buying engagement rings that love won\'t last. There is a magnificent scene in which Annie finds herself in an argument with a teenage girl who wants to buy a necklace reading "Friends for ever". She herself is single, in a demeaning "fuck buddy" relationship with Ted, played by Mad Men\'s Jon Hamm. The only real thing in her life is her single friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) who tells her she is getting married, and that Annie is to be maid of honour.
Annie must whoop and hug with delight, but Wiig shows that, in her heart, she is horrified at Lillian\'s disloyalty at leaving her behind in the dismal pit of spinsterhood. She instantly takes a dislike to one of the other bridesmaids, Helen (Rose Byrne) a wealthy, Martha Stewart superwoman who presumes to organise everything and to believe herself a better friend to the bride-to-be than Annie. Poor Annie has nothing in common with the motley crew of bridesmaids, and the traditions of being a bridesmaid are soon revealed to her not as a festival of love, but a theatre of cruelty, dominated by envy, unhappiness and fear.
Wiig hilariously dramatises Annie\'s desire to make the bridesmaids\' parties and functions operate down at her own unmoneyed level – through an ambiguous need to rebuke smarmy Helen for her wealth and snobbery, or possibly just to wreck the whole thing. Just before the women visit an impossibly chi-chi boutique to have their expensive bridesmaids\' dresses fitted, Annie insists on taking them to a dodgy Brazilian restaurant, where they pick up a dose of food poisoning, with horrendous results.
Annie is perpetually finding herself at posh engagement parties and social functions where she is financially out of her league. Mocking and laughing at it all – the sort of joke she crucially used to share with Lillian – is now quite unacceptable and inappropriate, and Wiig shows how desperately lonely and resentful Annie is becoming. There is a nice running gag in which Annie will find herself standing next to men, total strangers, and the people to whom she is introduced, steeped in the ideology of coupledom, keep assuming that she is "with" this embarrassed, random man.
To be a bridesmaid is to be a failure: that seems to be the awful truth. Something about someone else\'s impending marriage makes the bridesmaids\' existences seem second best, and even the married bridesmaids – those who have attained the great prize – instantly become disenchanted with their life choices. A gentle, almost childlike bridesmaid confesses her discontent with never having sex. A bridesmaid mom confesses her horror at sharing the house with three lively teenage sons ("There\'s semen everywhere. One blanket actually cracked") and at her husband\'s banal, insatiable conjugal needs: ("I just want to watch the Daily Show once, without him entering me"). Annie\'s own sense of failure, amplified and accelerated by the intolerable humiliation of being a bridesmaid, threatens to poison everything, including a promising new relationship with a nice cop, played by Irish actor Chris O\'Dowd.
Obviously, Bridesmaids does resemble the Hangover template a little: one Bridesmaid, Megan (Melissa McCarthy) is in the Zach Galifianakis role. It\'s not exactly groundbreaking, but what\'s striking is how fresh and unusual the comedy looks. Offhand, the only recent point of comparison I can reach for is Jonathan Demme\'s 2008 movie Rachel Getting Married. As for Wiig herself … well, some obvious wordplay suggests itself on the subject of how she has always been the supporting player but never the lead. Well, this movie has made her a star. It is her special day.
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