In her first leading role, Kristen Wiig (who also wrote the script with Ann Mumolo) plays Annie, a thirtysomething singleton living a lonely life in the drab city of Milwaukee. Opening with an excruciatingly embarrassing sex scene between Annie and fatuous man-child Ted (Jon Hamm), Bridesmaids starts as it means to continue, being gloriously crude, unashamedly unsophisticated and cheerfully foul-mouthed.
The morning after the night before, Annie finds herself unceremoniously dumped as Ted declares himself uninterested in a relationship; uninterested in anything, in fact, other than himself, his car and his hair. Annie, a talented baker, once owned a cake shop but she went bust in the recession and is reduced to sharing a tiny house with insufferable British siblings (Rebel Wilson and Matt Lucas). She mans a counter at a cheap jewellery shop owned by the greasy Don (Michael Hitchcock), a job arranged by her mother (Jill Clayburgh), as a favour. With an uneven smile and a mostly cheerful disposition, Annie is frantically maintaining appearances but she knows she is nearing rock bottom; alone, broke, hopeless and desperate.
Her outlook darkens even further when her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces she’s marrying her wealthy boyfriend and asks Annie to stand for her as bridesmaid. No sooner has Annie begun making her pre-nuptial arrangements – engagement party, dress fitting, hen night – than she finds a rival in snooty Helen (Rose Byrne), the ice-queen wife of Lillian’s fiancé’s boss who has seemingly usurped her position as Lillian’s best pal. While Helen busies herself taking over the arrangements, mostly by throwing money around, Annie struggles to remain in control of her colourful brood of fellow bridesmaids (Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper), her floundering personal life and her friendship with the bride-to-be.
Although men are firmly sidelined in this story, a potential romance appears when Annie meets expatriate traffic cop Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd), a gentle, kind-hearted policeman who eats a few of her cup-cakes and takes her out on a date. A later scene, in which Annie does all she can to get his attention while driving alongside his parked patrol car, is one of the film’s funniest moments, with O’Dowd’s default confused expression acting as a hilarious counterpoint to Wiig’s exuberant mugging.
Given Hollywood’s popularity-seeking tendency to fetishise every clichéd element of the matrimonial experience, Bridesmaids' central idea that tying the knot is more a collection of unnatural social obligations than a white-rose-tinted daydream is a real breath of fresh air. The fact that the film is funny – often side-splittingly so – is an added bonus. Feig’s success, achieved through lively improvisation, is in marrying outrageously over-the-top comedy set-pieces with far more subtle insights into female friendship, social mores and the hopelessness of sudden unemployment. Wiig’s bubbling insecurity keeps the frantic comedy grounded in a palpable reality, the laughs emerging naturally from the situations rather than feeling like a series of interconnected skits.
Bridesmaids doesn’t all work (and at a little over two hours, there’s a little too much of it) but the stuff that does works extremely well, with the razor-sharp ensemble mining a rich seam of crude belly-laughs. The standout from the cast is Melissa McCarthy as Megan, a short, round accumulation of base instincts who crashes though the story without a shred of self-consciousness and with a true vulgarian’s love of salty language.