Smart, hilarious "Bridesmaids" tells 'chick flicks' to suck it

Bridesmaids (2011) 
125 min., rated R.
Grade: A -

Ever since SNL comedienne Kristen Wiig received her brief but hilariously deadpan big-screen gig in Judd Apatow's "Knocked Up" and about fourteen supporting bit parts, she's finally found her solo headlining vehicle in "Bridesmaids." This raunchy, rowdy, R-rated, and yet warmly felt, human, and always fun marriage of gross-out hijinks and female-centric charm is a testament to Wiig's brilliance as a comedy goddess. Being a Judd Apatow production, "Bridesmaids" is pretty long for a comedy, but it'll have you laughing so hard and so often that time will fly when you're having fun. 

Wiig plays Annie, a Milwaukee thirtysomething whose life leaves more to be desired: she has booty-call sleepovers with a chauvinistic jerk (a hilariously smarmy Jon Hamm), her bakery business went under and now works at a jewelry store, and she shares an apartment with two creepy, unpleasant British siblings (Rebel Wilson and Matt Lucas). The only positive constant in her life is her childhood best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), who's recently engaged and crowns Annie to be her maid of honor. Immediately frazzled, Annie then meets the motley crew of a bridal party, including the prim, seemingly perfect Helen (Rose Byrne). She tries to outdo Helen at every turn but merely embarrasses herself as all the pre-wedding planning gets to be too much for Annie's emotions. 

The women, not men, are at the forefront of the shenanigans much like 2002's raunchy, unjustly maligned romp "The Sweetest Thing," proving the ladies can have just as much fun as the dudes. But "Bridesmaids" is too smart to be called another "chick flick" (a sexist and condescending label anyway) and it's more than just "Bride of 'The Hangover'." In fact, this movie would tell a shrill wedding comedy like "Bride Wars" to suck it. The script by Wiig and her Groundlings improv buddy, screenwriter Annie Mumolo (who has a quick on-screen role), is both honest and hilarious. And director Paul Feig, who collaborated with producer Apatow on the beloved TV series "Freaks and Geeks," holds the jokes long enough to let the awkward moments play out believably and humorously. He also makes sure his whole cast of sharp comediennes get in on the spotlight. 

Front and center, Wiig is a secret weapon. She's a nimble physical and verbal comedian with ace timing, and not a vain actress. Identifiable, appealing, and dexterous, she can do anything and always makes you root for Annie, despite how petty her jealousy is. Her loopy charade from mixing pills and booze on an airplane is hysterically priceless, as is Annie and Helen's one-upmanship during their speeches at Lillian's engagement party, along with the way in which Annie tries getting her love interest's attention. Following lunch at a questionable Brazilian restaurant, a dress fitting turns into a vomitorium from food poisoning. It's a broad, outrageous gross-out set piece and played with such comedic fearlessness, but feels a bit shoehorned in. Otherwise, the humor is grounded from the social discomforts of real-life situations and the relationships among women actually feel real. The history of Wiig and Rudolph's real-life friendship carries over on screen as Annie and Lillian with warmth and naturalism. 

Melissa McCarthy is an absolutely ballsy force, almost unrecognizable as the butch, coarse, sexually ravenous Megan, with her brash, weird punchlines delivering a laugh every time. Rather than coming off as a caricature, Megan is delightfully odd, endearing, and real. Get this woman a spin-off, stat. She even gets to share a funny scene with her real-life husband, Ben Falcone, as a plane air marshall. Even the usually straight-faced Byrne gets to shake it up a bit, fabulously playing off Wiig. Her Helen could've easily just been a screechy, snotty villain but shows a sympathetic side. Of the last remaining bridesmaids, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper have the least to do as cougar wife/mother of three Rita and naïve, Disney-loving newlywed Becca, but nearly always hit their mark and show comedic discipline. Chris O'Dowd is charming in a non-traditional way as Annie's love interest, Officer Nathan Rhodes, an Irish state trooper. Finally, the late Jill Clayburgh is wonderful in her final role as Annie's mother, who's enrolled in AA. 

Bottom line, no one in the winning cast is afraid to look silly and leave their inhibitions at the door, or make fun of themselves, including the band Wilson Phillips that gets the last laugh, well, second to last. Try getting their song "Hold On" out of your head afterwards. "Bridesmaids" is comic bliss, and it's about time.