On that regular occasion when some scribbler or movie honcho decides he'd like to alienate at least half of the ol' fan base by declaring women less funny than men, he'll usually trot out the backhanded compliment that the gentler sex just has too much dignity for farce. I don't know whether the cast of Bridesmaids huddled up with director Paul Feig on set and explicitly decided to pulverize that illusion once and for all—but not 30 minutes into the movie, there's a wedding-dress fitting interrupted by an eruptive case of food poisoning, and after our heroines finish vomiting into each other's hair and lining up to use a fancy marble sink as a commode, the bride (Maya Rudolph) rushes out of the store and shits in the street. With the bustle of her white gown bunched around her crouching form, she looks like a swan defecating in the reflecting pool. So much for dignity.
As for comedy...well, I dunno. There is something a little labored about Bridesmaids, as if Feig and star Kristen Wiig were trying to compensate for a decade of Judd Apatow's dong jokes by bypassing the genitalia and going straight for the universally scatological. Considering this is the first direct reunion of Feig and Apatow since they co-created the wondrously warm (and female-led—you rule, Lindsay Weir!) Freaks and Geeks, the project feels dispiritingly calculated: Last weekend saw the opening of Something Borrowed, and here is something blue. But I'm not sure the audience will leave gratified. All that straining for ribaldry feels a little sad, like Feig and his actors know they're sacrificing honesty for coarse bumptiousness. I don't think it makes me a chauvinist if, when a movie climaxes with two people screaming in public about their bleached assholes, I feel a little sorry for them.
It may just be that I don't find Kristen Wiig much fun to watch. In her SNL skits and supporting movie roles, she's shown two gears—discomfort disguised by maddeningly persistent cheer; affectless muttering—and she doesn't add many here, at least until her final outburst, a mortifying and self-perpetuating overreaction that destroys most of a garden party. (The fact that her rampage frightens away actual swans does make it funnier.) And this is a Wiig vehicle, not an ensemble picture: Most of its improvisational bits are strung on the implosion her character, maid of honor Annie, even as her best friend's wedding coheres into an inexplicably elaborate showcase at the hands of usurping Helen (Rose Byrne). Annie's grievances are nicely detailed—there's a collapsed cake business, sociopathic roommates and a terrible fuck buddy (Jon Hamm)—but they don't leave room for the rest of the bridal party. The only member of the supporting cast who makes an impression is Melissa McCarthy, as a gal Galifianakis. It's only in a couple of set pieces (including a blotto flight to Vegas) that the picture threatens to develop momentum and camaraderie.
But Bridesmaids can't do that, because while it is billed as a women's group-bonding comedy (a bra-mance?), it's also a movie that operates from the premise that women are brutally competitive and backstabbing—that they basically can't bond as a group. "Why can't you just be happy for me and then go home and talk behind my back like a normal person?" Rudolph eventually asks. And while it's beyond my expertise to comment on the accuracy of this gender stereotype (you thought I was going to get suckered into that one, but oh no, you were wrong), it leaves the film exhaustedly bitter as well as filthy. I laughed a lot, but I never experienced any joy. You'll probably laugh, too—you're not above a good poopin'-in-the-street joke—but you may feel a certain frustration with the movie not getting its shit together.