Original US release date: May 13, 2011
Production budget: $32,500,000
Worldwide gross: $288,383,523
In May of 2011, director Paul Feig released his new comedy Bridesmaids to the public and turned it into a hit far beyond the level of what anyone had anticipated. Focusing on complex and realistic female characters, Bridesmaids tapped into an underserved audience during the typical male-driven blockbuster season, opening one week after Marvel Studios’ Thor. The counterprogramming worked and Bridesmaids earned nearly $300 million worldwide and significantly raised the profiles of not only Feig, but some cast members, as well.
Kristen Wiig takes the lead in the film as Annie. Middle-aged and down on her luck, Annie now has to find it within herself to be supportive of her life-long best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) after Lillian gets engaged. Though Annie is chosen as Lillian’s maid-of-honor, a jealous streak emerges after Annie meets Lillian’s newer – and seemingly more put-together – bridesmaid BFF, Helen (Rose Byrne). From there, hilarity ensues.
And that’s not an overstatement. Bridesmaids is genuinely hilarious, to a far greater degree than most films that are advertised and marketed as comedies. One scene in particular featuring Annie and a young boy is brilliantly funny and a scene that I immediately wanted to find and send to friends. But the film as a whole, though heartfelt, never loses its comedic slant and even presents the more dramatic moments with a wink of the eye and tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Two supporting stars in particular positioned themselves to get a lot of mileage out of this film. Melissa McCarthy had been primarily relegated to television roles or small film parts until Bridesmaids. She unquestionably made the most of her opportunity to play bridesmaid Megan, as I recall her being the most-talked about character from the film. After that, she hit the ground running and has been a huge star ever since. And it’s no wonder; not only is she consistently funny in the movie, but she radiates sincerity and relatability. She’s naturally somewhat exaggerated in order to get the desired laughs, but it’s easy to understand why so many people fell in love with her performance, here.
Rose Byrne had been featured in a handful of films before she portrayed Helen, but none that put her as firmly in the spotlight as this particular film. Only one month after the release of Bridesmaids, Byrne was prominently featured in the underperforming but excellent X-Men: First Class as longtime comic character Moira MacTaggert. It was the one-two punch she needed, as the disparate natures of the roles, combined with the high profiles of both, firmly gave her the opportunity to craft a stable, versatile career for herself. As Helen, she largely plays it straight, but in future roles (such as the Neighbors franchise), she really got to flex her own comedic muscles, which have plenty of power.
So, the impact of Bridesmaids can’t be denied. But even if careers hadn’t been solidified by the popularity of the film, it’s still a great movie, anchored in the idea that one can’t love others without loving oneself. Kristen Wiig’s Annie has a charming arc and while she gives a low-key and subtle performance, it’s no-less hilarious than anyone else’s in the picture. She essentially represents the layperson who wants to be happy for their friends’ successes but can only find the strength to do so if they, themselves, are content in their own life. She’s a good person in a bad place and she doesn’t know how to handle it properly. On the flip side, Maya Rudolph’s Lillian is getting everything she’s ever dreamed of, but might lose her best friend in exchange.
The core of Bridesmaids‘s success was centered in its genuinely funny humor and its presentation of the female perspective. All of the women in the film feel real and whole and like people we all could know. I would imagine that, for many of the female viewers, the characters feel a lot like them, but I can only speculate. I just know that, in spite of the necessary comedic hyperbole, the entire film is grounded in reality and presents the idea that we can all find a way to laugh at ourselves, in most cases. And, even if that’s a difficult task, laughing at Bridesmaids is not – and that’s the hallmark of a truly successful comedy.
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