Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Bridesmaids is hilarious.

Red faced, uncontrollable embarrassing bellowing laughter hilarious.

Wincing in pain because now your ribs feel like they’ve been worked over by a skin head with a Louisville Slugger hilarious.

It’s the sort of comedy that builds momentum, with such skilled dexterity that by the end of the film it seems unable to come up with a shot that isn’t funny (A blissful reaction shot from a minor character in response to the mayhem unfolding before her is for my money the funniest moment in the picture).

The film follows Kristen Wiig who has been enlisted as Maid Of Honor for her best friend. Unfortunately this roughly coincides with Wiig’s life completing the process of going to completely to shit and the dueling stresses cause her to crack up in some truly spectacular ways (Including a mid-flight meltdown which will go down next to Albert Brook’s legendary Quaaludes scene in Modern Romance).

There is a good case to be made that comedy is at its core the demolition of dignity (as anyone who has watched Basil Fawlty attempt to beat his car to death with a sapling can tell you). And it’s here that Bridesmaid’s truly excels. Watching Wiig struggle to keep her composure and cool only to have the whole of existence conspire to strip her of both is a wonder (So degraded is Wiig’s lot in life that it even manages to make sex with Jon Hamm look like a bad deal). Never before has the ability to keep down a Jordan Almond seem to have nearly cosmic moral importance.  (It should be noted that this is a distinctly separate, though related, branch of humor from the wince humor so in vogue since Curb Your Enthusiam. In that brand we are laughing because of how completely the central characters make others lose their cool and dignity. Not because of how desperate they are to keep their own.)

If the film has a flaw it is only that it is not as much of an ensemble piece as the ads and posters promise.  But given how funny and well realized the central characters are this seems a bit churlish.

Comedy is, for me the toughest genre to write about. Bill R, over at the indispensable The Kind Of Face You Hate recently argued (well as always) against the “Comedy is subjective, therefore if it makes people laugh it works.” Line of criticism, arguing that it denigrates the work and thought that goes into truly great comedy. The fact is though that this philosophy is something I subscribe to.

The idea is, if an audience laughs, they think it's funny, and therefore it is funny, and so comedy is a more subjectively judged artform than pretty much any other artform you might name. Well, that's horseshit. By the logic just outlined, if I cry at a movie, that film is emotionally powerful, or if I get scared by a horror movie, it's a good horror movie, or if I etc. at a movie, that movie succeeds at being etc. In short, if anyone feels the emotion the filmmaker wants you to feel, then the film is good.

 I’d argue that it kind of does. Fear and laughter are two of the only responses, which are more or less impossible to rationalize away. (It’s therefore ironic that I find comedy so difficult to write about for the exact same reason I find horror so rewarding to analyze). You might be mad at yourself for how the film got you. You might think the film cheated. But if the film has snuck past your defenses and provoked the response it desired, it has won on its own terms.  I would further argue that the films ability to circumnavigate one's defenses is no small thing at all. Indeed the ability to get past my defenses sums up pretty well why I still go to films (or read or listen to music, etc. etc.)

Anyway this is all sort of off topic, but its my roundabout way of noting that while Comedy may not be entirely subjective, it is the most difficult genre to articulate. We’ve all had the disastrous experience of trying to explain a joke to someone who just doesn’t get why it's funny. Trying to explain why I find something humorous always feels perilously close to dancing about Architecture. But in Bridesmaid’s I can at least point to the reason. It is simply impossible for me to think of Kristen Wiig, sweating like a pig and giving the weakest smile she can manage as she forces down a Jordan almond, and not feel a surge of affection and a need to burst into gails of laughter. The two impulses are not as contradictory as one might think.


Peter Lenihan said...

I haven't read Bill Ryan's piece, so it might be kind of disingenuous of me to write this here, but if I understand what he's saying based on the excerpt I think he's completely right--just because something is funny (or scary) doesn't mean it's good. This is especially true, I think, for someone like me, where the majority of horror movies (and perhaps comedies) I watch were made before 1970. Which doesn't mean I think all horrors and comedies made before 1970 suck or anything--it just happens that's where my interests lie, and as a person that can only devote so many hours a week to cinephilia, it's most likely what I'm going to watch. So when I do watch a recent horror movie I'm scared shitless not because it's good but because I'm not really inured to modern shock tactics. But that doesn't mean Saw is any good, and I'm sure if I watched more modern horror movies I wouldn't be scared, but my opinion of the film would remain the same (and just to make sure that I don't come across like a only-old-movies-are-good snob, I recently caught up with Let Me In and I thought it was really a masterpiece).

Same goes for comedy. Chaplin is an extraordinary actor and performance artist, possibly the greatest, but his films don't exactly consist of slipping over banana peels and if they did he wouldn't be regarded in the way he is today. Critical treatments of his work never stop at "he was very funny"--there's a sense of the lyrical in his work, an understanding of how people are, that is integral to the comedy that goes beyond just being funny. And I would argue all great comedy directors have that, whether we're talking about Sturges or Lubitsch or Tati or even Apatow.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Well to a certain extent I can agree. In any genre you're going to have cream and I'm certainly not saying that their can't be superior work in either field.

But comedy and horror are striking at such primal places and unlike so much art have actual goals whose success can be measured tangibly. Now that's not saying I have to be happy about it. I touched on this in my Your Highness review. I did laugh, knowing full well that I would hate myself in the morning.

And I'd argue that the upper crust can be a double edged sword. The Orphanage for example is a fine horror film in almost every regard, except for the fact that it is not scary (well that and the ending is spectacularly ill conceived). And just as a horror film which scares you must on some level succeed, I would argue that a horror film that does not horrify fails on some fundamental level.

Heartbeeps might be conceived on a higher level than the average comedy as an anti comedy dadist prank, but it's never going to replace The Blues Brothers.

deadlydolls said...

I also really liked Bridesmaids. I think it worked so well because it was a good movie about interesting, believable characters more so than JUST a comedy. Wiig was hilarious, but she was also so damn sympathetic. It's been intersting to read about HOW Bridesmaids is being written about, how it's supposed to be a historical moment for female comedy or not, and so on. It's kind of fascinating, but really, it's just a good f*cking movie.

le0pard13 said...

You've sold me, Bryce. I'm going to take this in over the holiday weekend. Thanks.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Emily: Very much so. In fact I think it's only because of that underlying solidness that Bridesmaids is able to stand up to such scrutiny.

@ Le0: Hope you enjoy!

le0pard13 said...

Saw it on Friday (while my kids took in KUNG FU PANDA 2). Chalk up another for Bryce's recommendations! I guess the other thing I appreciated about the film was that the film didn't go the expected route we've seen many times in the comedies centered on men. I think that's great. Ending on that Wilson Phillips song was a perfect fit, too. Thanks, man.

Joe said...

Hey, Bryce... ever wondered what my neighborhood looks like? Wonder no more. Kristen Wiig's apartment building in this movie is literally a few blocks from my house. The exteriors were shot here, and so were all the opening montage scenes (the art museum, lakefront, etc.), which was pretty awesome, not knowing that beforehand.

As for your assessment of it, I agree for the most part. Especially in the face of Hangover 2, which I saw yesterday, and this was a much funnier movie in that vein.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Leopard: Glad you liked it man. I always get nervous about my recommends when hard earned cash enters the equation. So I'm glad you dug it.

@ Joe: You're the one who wrote Cock Baby on her sign aren't you you monster!