A review of the funny, bawdy "Bridesmaids," produced by Judd Apatow and starring Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne and Jon Hamm.

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Contrary to what you may have heard, “Bridesmaids” is not a female version of “The Hangover,” despite one extended gross-out sequence that’s aiming hard for that audience. Instead, it’s something more unusual: a female-centered ensemble comedy that’s ultimately about the importance and power of friendship. And, yes, it’s funny as hell.

Kristen Wiig, who wrote the script with Annie Mumalo, stars as Annie Walker, a 30-something woman whose life is a mess: Her dream of opening a bakery failed miserably; her roommates are beyond weird; her lover (Jon Hamm, in a hilarious extended cameo) barely realizes she exists; and her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), has announced that she’s getting married and moving away. Annie, reeling from the news but trying to be supportive, finds herself the maid-of-honor leader of a ragtag group of bridesmaids. Among them is the ridiculously pretty Helen (Rose Byrne), a woman whose uncanny perfection (she sends beautifully packaged shower invitations from which an exquisite live butterfly emerges) and burgeoning friendship with Lillian feels threatening to Annie.

Watch any of the scenes between Wiig and Rudolph and you’ll see something rarely shown in the movies: that giggly, affectionate way that longtime female friends talk to each other; the way they completely relax in the other’s presence, over the kind of breakfast-at-a-coffee-shop or wine-at-Lillian’s-apartment date they’ve had a hundred times before. You completely believe the friendship between these two (the way we didn’t believe Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin in “Something Borrowed”) and it lights up the movie.

As does Wiig, who brings her arsenal of eyes-closed exasperation, singsong voices (which become even more singy when she accidentally ODs on anxiety meds) and trailing-off sentences — not to mention her uncanny knack of making something seem crazily funny, like her imitation of a penis (you had to be there), or a wigged-out Annie calling a flight attendant named Steve “Stove.” (“Are you an appliance?” she asks him. OK, I just giggled again.)

“Bridesmaids,” like virtually every movie touched by Judd Apatow (he’s a producer), feels longer than it needs to be, and the scenes about Annie’s romance with a sweet state trooper named Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd) are a little draggy. (Unlike the women in this movie, Rhodes isn’t allowed to have much of a personality.) But it’s full of offbeat laughs, particularly from Melissa McCarthy’s tough-gal, puppy-loving bridesmaid Megan, and the feud between Annie and Helen, conducted behind ladylike tones and picture-perfect smiles — until Annie has a complete banshee-shrieking meltdown at Helen’s over-the-top bridal shower.

“Why can’t you just be happy for me and then go home and talk behind my back like a normal person?” demands a furious Lillian — and while it’s a funny line, it comes from a character who knows she can say anything to Annie and they’ll still, eventually, be OK. Don’t be fooled by the vomit scene that everyone’s already seen in the trailers (and that would have been funnier if a little less explicit); “Bridesmaids” is, ultimately, a love-and-friendship story.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com