Film Review: Bridesmaids

'Saturday Night Live' cast member Kristen Wiig makes a successful bid for big-screen stardom in this bawdy, hilarious comedy about the downward spiral of an insecure maid of honor.

Founding “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels has called Kristen Wiig one of the top three or four performers in the 36-year history of the show, and while that opinion can be debated endlessly, there’s no denying she’s one of the standouts of the current cast, a chameleon with a large repertoire of zany (and sometimes highly irritating) characters. But Wiig’s brief sketches on “SNL” give no indication whether she’s capable of carrying a feature film as the leading lady.

Fortunately, the faith of her first starring movie’s producer, Judd Apatow (another comedy heavyweight), has been justified: Bridesmaids, which Wiig wrote with her friend Annie Mumulo, is a solid and very funny vehicle for a newly minted big-screen star.

It seems like every other female-driven comedy these days has a wedding theme, but Bridesmaids is something of a riposte to that cliché. It’s not really about the sentimental allure that marriage rituals have for many women, but what a grind the process can be. And more than that, it’s a film about female bonding, and how a life-changing event can impact a longtime friendship.

Wiig plays Annie, a pretty thirty-something woman who works in a jewelry store now that her own business, a bakery, has failed. She’s unlucky in love too, stuck in a one-sided relationship with a conceited cad (an unbilled Jon Hamm) who can’t wait to kick her out of his bed. At least Annie has a devoted best friend, Lillian (“SNL” alumnus Maya Rudolph), to confide in.

When Lillian announces her engagement, Annie naturally agrees to be her maid of honor. But Annie has an instant rival in Helen (Rose Byrne of “Damages”), the wealthy wife of Lillian’s fiancé’s boss, who has become fast friends with Lillian. Wiig brings the persistent one-upmanship of her “SNL” character Penelope to a hilarious scene in which Annie and Helen compete to deliver the most heartfelt toast at Lillian’s engagement party—the first inkling of a resentment that grows increasingly bitter and ruinous as the wedding approaches and Helen tries to usurp Annie’s role with grandiose schemes.

Reportedly, director Paul Feig and producer Apatow suggested the scene in which the bridal party gets an attack of food poisoning while shopping for their dresses at a posh salon. It’s the kind of gross-out sequence characteristic of so many “laddie” comedies today, and a possible turnoff to a portion of the movie’s target audience. But Feig and Apatow’s request that Wiig and Mumulo add more “sex talk” to their script has paid off handsomely, resulting in a rare brand of raunchiness that springs from a decidedly female perspective.

As co-writer, Wiig provides good comic opportunities for her talented supporting cast, which includes the adorable Ellie Kemper of “The Office,” the formidable Wendy McLendon-Covey of “Reno 911!” as the burnt-out mother of three boys, and the sensational Melissa McCarthy (“Mike and Molly”) as a plus-size, butch-looking bridesmaid with no discernible inhibitions. But Annie’s crippling insecurities are the heart of the film, and Wiig creates a portrait of a woman at loose ends that is simultaneously poignant and rib-tickling. The emotions in this comedy are real, but Wiig is also unafraid to go broad, as in the inspired sequence in which she goes to desperate lengths to win back the local cop whose heart she broke (played by charming Irish actor Chris O’Dowd).

The real-life friendship of Wiig and Rudolph comes through strong in their scenes together, making the rift between their characters even more painful. As Helen, Byrne brings a saving vulnerability and poise to what could have been a one-dimensional bitch. And it’s very touching to see the late Jill Clayburgh with ample screen time in her final performance as Annie’s practical mother.

Delivering lots of heart and big laughs, Wiig does herself proud here as both writer and performer. “Saturday Night Live’ better prepare itself for yet another graduate to a big-screen career.