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Saturday, January 31, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Bridesmaids transfers the bromance formula to women
Ladies' night
on
The comedy would benefit from editing.
The comedy would benefit from editing.

Bridesmaids is actually two movies, which may explain why it clocks in at a sprawling 125 minutes. It's a wedding farce à la Father of the Bride, and it's a romantic comedy that rigorously follows that genre's stations of the cross.

One of those is the Meet Cute, and here's how it goes down in Bridesmaids. Hapless Annie (Kristen Wiig) drives a beat-up car, and when a cute cop (Chris O'Dowd) pulls her over because of a faulty brake light, you just know these two are going to get together.

Nothing revolutionary there, but there's a strange interlude that makes this my favorite scene in a hit-or-miss comedy. In the middle of a drunk test, Annie pretends the glaring headlamps are a spotlight, and she attempts to charm her way out of a ticket by doing a maniacal soft-shoe, complete with Judy Garland hands. It's a lovely, loony moment. Wiig, a Saturday Night Live cast member, brings tremendous comic energy to her role. That helps prevent this cumbersome film, which she co-wrote and co-produced, from collapsing.

Bridesmaids was directed by Peter Feig, who created television's Freaks and Geeks. That cult favorite was executive produced by Bridesmaids producer Judd Apatow, who has, for better and for worse, established the state of the art in Hollywood comedy. When he's really on his game, Apatow can define a cultural moment, as he did with Knocked Up. Lesser Apatowian vehicles, with their witty one-liners, appealing casts, gross gags and slightly icky sentimentality, are usually engaging enough. Forgetting Sarah Marshall was engaging enough, and so is Bridesmaids.

There's a calculated quality that's a little unseemly, though. Apatow's dude-centric films are synonymous with the latter-day concept of bromance, and Bridesmaids looks like a transparent attempt to expand the bromance franchise to women. (When I saw that Slate was calling it a ho-mance, I stopped trying to devise a neologism.) Bridesmaids also satirizes the well-documented mayhem surrounding brides and bridesmaids, and I bet a lot of women will identify with that.

Annie's best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), is getting married, and she designates Annie her maid of honor. Annie is clever but tenuously employed, and her modest ideas for parties and gowns are upstaged by those of Helen (Rose Byrne), the wealthy, manipulative wife of Lillian's fiancé's boss. The other bridesmaids are caricatures, and they've blurred together in my mind except for the one played by Melissa McCarthy, who was so warm and memorable as the chef on Gilmore Girls. As an aggressive slob of a bridesmaid, she's funny, but her antics become wearisome.

The film alternates scenes from Annie's increasingly desperate life (she's fired, kicked out of her apartment, etc.) with comic set pieces involving the bridesmaids. These tend to begin promisingly but would benefit from editing. A garish sequence that finds the bridesmaids on an airliner grinds on interminably and doesn't have much of a point.

I'm baffled by the key relationship between Annie and Lillian, which morphs according to the needs of the plot. There's uncomfortable, juicy stuff about class and wealth going on here, but these themes go largely unexamined. I do like this performance by Wiig's fellow SNLer Rudolph, who plays it straight except for some amusing ad-libbing near the end. But I wanted to know more about Helen, who's a cardboard monster up until the moment that she is, all of a sudden, sympathetic. Helen's sharply funny but poignant exchange with her resentful stepchildren threatens to send this comedy to a very sad, very real place. I almost wish it had gone there.

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