March 18 2013 12:00 AM

The 'Saturday Night Live' star catches the bouquet as a memorably messed-up maid of honor in 'Bridesmaids'


The royal wedding has come and gone. Now it’s time for a
coronation and, in “Bridesmaids,” Kristen Wiig demonstrates she’s more than
qualified to be the new queen of comedy.

In addition to playing the central role of a depressed
former bakery owner for whom life offers nothing particularly sweet, Wiig
co-wrote the raunchy yet often tender screenplay with Anne Mumolo. They
understand the complexities of long-running friendships, how admiration and
jealousy can sometimes go hand in hand when your BFF seems to have the world at
her feet at the same time you can feel the world on your shoulders. Unlike the
insipid, borderline-misogynistic “Something Borrowed,” “Bridesmaids” doesn’t
define all of its female characters solely on the basis of their abilities to snag
a man, or that all-important little band of gold. “Borrowed,” which seems like
a muddleheaded script even Sandra Dee would have rejected 50 years ago, insists
that putting on a white dress will whitewash away all your problems. In
“Bridesmaids,” Wiig and Mumolo make it clear that the real fairy-tale ending
comes when you’re happy with yourself.

Wiig plays Annie, still reeling from the failure of her Cake
Baby business and trying to dull the pain with the occasional tryst with a
sleek, loathsome Lothario (a very funny Jon Hamm). Although her mom (the late
Jill Clayburgh, marvelously cast) tries to boost her spirits, Annie has
apparently convinced herself that if the sun comes out tomorrow it will only
give her sun poisoning.

So she’s hardly in any sort of shape to take on maid of
honor duties for her buoyant buddy, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), who is as upbeat
and enthusiastic as Annie is morose and disconnected. If that’s not quite
enough, Lillian also has a sparkling, wealthy and immaculately groomed new pal
named Helen (Rose Byrne), whose elegant air of condescension and sly sense of
superiority will ultimately drive Annie to alarming extremes.

As Annie unravels, Wiig hits the comic jackpot, showing this
woebegone woman’s desperate desire to please and her utter inability to
recognize how much is too much. When Annie anxiously tries to top Helen’s toast
to Lillian by ladling on sticky-sweet sentiments worthy of the world’s worst
Hallmark card, or pretending to have some psychic connection with her that no
one else can comprehend, the sequence is harrowingly hilarious and
magnificently modulated: As much as you wish Annie would simply shut up and
save what’s left of her reputation, you can’t wait to hear what she says next.
The same is true of a terrific montage late in the film, in which Annie tries
to get the attention of a police officer (Chris O’Dowd) by committing as many
moving violations as she can think of.

While Wiig could easily have turned “Bridesmaids” into a
vanity vehicle, she generously shares the spotlight. In complete contrast to
Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin in “Something Borrowed,” Rudolph and Wiig are
completely convincing as longtime friends who have packed many years of shared
confidences into their easy rapport. Rudolph illustrates the misgivings and
insecurities behind Lillian’s sunny serenity without turning her into a bitchy
Bridezilla (which is one of the crushing mistakes Hudson makes in “Borrowed”).
Byrne doesn’t reduce Helen into a tyrannical trophy wife, either: One of the
film’s most refreshing surprises is that, even though it’s obvious why Helen
aggravates Annie, Helen isn’t vicious or scheming. She and Annie share the same
goal — giving Lillian a splendid wedding — but have differing ideas about how
to accomplish it.

What Zach Galifianakis was to “The Hangover,” Melissa
McCarthy is to “Bridesmaids.” As
Megan, the most assertive and adventurous of the bunch, McCarthy reaps big
laughs while slowly revealing unexpected, fascinating facets of Megan’s
personality. While she’s the movie’s brassy, convention-defying bombshell,
McCarthy doesn’t overlook the sharp little details nestled inside this larger
than life personality. Wendi McLendon-Covey, as a harried mom who sees the
bridesmaid gig as a temporary pass out of her suburban hellhole, and Ellie
Kemper, playing a newlywed with precious little life experience, also
contribute amusing asides, although their screen time is limited.

The worst that can be said about “Bridesmaids” is that, not
unlike many receptions, it goes on a little too long. That’s a common flaw in
many of the movies produced by Judd Apatow; there’s a tendency to keep cramming
in the jokes, even if they don’t always advance the story (case in point: the
ridiculously funny and painfully slow-moving “director’s cut” of “The
40-Year-Old Virgin” that was released on DVD a few years back). Even the filler
in “Bridesmaids” is generally high-quality, however, primarily because Wiig and her co-stars are so engaging you really don't want to see the party end.