Every time I remember that Wendi McLendon-Covey is starring in a new sitcom on ABC (The Goldbergs), a spark of righteous joy passes through me. How can you not root for this woman? She was a longtime member of LA’s Groundlings, a hilarious fixture on Reno 911!, and perhaps the most relatable, cynical wedding attendant in Bridesmaids, as well as (somehow) the most underrated character in the movie. I’m still baffled? I am. As downtrodden mother-of-three Rita, she threw down priceless anecdotes: “The other night I’m slaving away making a beautiful dinner for my family, my youngest boy comes in and says he wants to order a pizza,” she said to Becca (Ellie Kemper). “I said no, we’re not ordering pizza tonight. He goes, mom, why don’t you go and f*ck yourself? He’s nine!”
This very line inspired me to enter Bridesmaids into the Best Movie Ever? anthology, even though it’s a flawed and insistently overlong comedy. You just can’t do better for recent movies than Bridesmaids for brilliant character study dotted with moments of extreme (and sometimes ill-advised) vulgarity mixed with — get this — refreshing subtlety. And lines like the aforementioned, which point to the film’s greatest strength: realistic, endlessly laugh-out-loud funny dialogue.
Here are five reasons Bridesmaids takes the cookie cake:
1. Kristen Wiig’s Oscar-worthy hopelessness
I can’t even look at Kristen Wiig’s smirk without whimper-laughing. Somehow her turn as unemployed cake boss Annie Walker wasn’t considered an Oscar shoo-in, and I ask: Is there a more dynamic and thoughtful performance from a comedic female protagonist in the past five years? Maybe Rooney Mara’s Hot Topic-sponsored visage in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was unintentionally funnier, but Wiig strikes me as the sole contender for “awesome and hopeless funny lady of 2011.” Even from the beginning, as Annie converses with her best and soon-to-be-married pal Lillian (Maya Rudolph), she is a glorious loser. She’ll sneak into a yoga class with you and not pay. She’ll imitate a penis for your amusement. She’ll cover her teeth in food and pretend it’s not the hackiest sight gag ever. And most importantly: She just makes you believe you’d be friends with her, as illustrated by the fact that I just unassumingly pretended she spends the whole movie interacting with us alone. You get her, you accept her, you’re embarrassed by her. That’s why she’s perfect.
Her most outrageous moment in the movie? Certainly the plane trip where she gets loopy, wanders into first class, and starts an argument with a flight attendant she calls “Stove” (she misreads “Steve.”) “Are you an appliance?” she inquires. She also tries to beat up a giant cookie at the bridal shower from hell, and the cookie essentially wins. So there’s that too.
2. The subtlety hiding behind the insanity.
Maybe Bridesmaids is most remembered for the scatalogical blitzkrieg at the wedding dress store (the result of food poisoning that maid of honor Annie accidentally inflicts on Lillian’s wedding party at a sketchy Mexican restaurant), but my problem with that scene is its utter atonality against the otherwise reasonable plotting up to that point. It just feels like some suit read the Bridesmaids script and insisted on gross-out humor to feel like he had a say, and to make a half-hearted stab at “endearing” male audiences. I hate when I’m watching a movie and all I can hear is the meetings that led up to it, particularly if they’re boneheaded meetings.
But in that key scene after most of the bridesmaids have rushed off to the bathroom, we flash back to Annie, who is face to face with Lillian’s brown-nosing, shamelessly lavish pal Helen. Helen hates Annie and threatens to overtake her maid of Honor status with the kind of aggressive maneuvers that Eve Harrington would find morally obtuse. Helen is the only person in the wedding party who didn’t eat the Mexican food, so when she corners Annie and asks if she feels like throwing up, Annie bites her tongue and insists she feels fine. Naturally Annie is ghost-white, sweating hard, and trembling with queasiness, but she murmurs that she feels great. In an amazing comic moment, Annie “proves” she feels fine by softly chewing and swallowing — jaggedly — a Jordan almond. It is the most hilarious almond I can think of, and it works because Wiig’s dead-eyed commitment is spellbinding.
3. The best blooper reel. Seriously #1.
Yes, this blooper reel isn’t technically a part of the movie, but its improvisational gusto and ludicrousness permeates the film. It is astounding. All of these people make me cry. McLendon-Covey’s riff is the best.
4. Melissa McCarthy’s… accent?
This monologue is funny. It’s even outrageously funny. But what makes it work is the gritty voice in which it’s delivered. Melissa McCarthy was eligible for almost every existing award in 2011 (Emmy, Oscar, Pulitzer Prize in Scat Drama, Nobel Prize in Mike and Molly toleration), but she arguably picked up her Academy Award nomination for achieving a strange balance between sensitivity and Hindenberg-sized stunt comedy. How many puppies did she end up taking from the bridal shower? “I took nine,” she said with unassuming, rootsy confidence. “I took nine.”
5. The blooming of Rose Byrne
Bridesmaids is the movie where Rose Byrne jumped out from behind Patty Hewes’ smoldering shadow on Damages and became one of our only true heroes (and apparently Bobby Cannavale’s girlfriend, according to Sunday’s Emmys). Sure, Melissa McCarthy earned the Oscar nomination, but that was ultimately something of a calculated PR move for the Academy. Byrne is the true star, just a relentless Stepford droid whose pleasantly condescending stare conceals a freakish need to destroy the women around her. Though she’s an archetype, I can’t think of any worthy comparisons in pop culture. My favorite moment is when she finally teams up with Annie, and in order to win over the cop Annie’s been wooing all movie, she sits in the car with her while she passes the cop’s traffic stop again and again. There’s a particular moment when Helen snidely covers her ears while Annie blasts music that is sublimely snobby.
What are your favorite parts of Bridesmaids? And will you watch The Goldbergs?