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Nasty girls: Bridesmaids 

*Bridesmaids (R)

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown

Former Saturday Night Live cast member Jane Curtin has confirmed that John Belushi once loudly shared his opinion that "women are just fundamentally not funny." And Bridesmaids provides just the most recent evidence that it's time we stop acting like that's true.

It's insulting to have to stoop to a list of counter-examples, just like we don't want to use Rob Schneider as evidence that men aren't fundamentally funny. But since great comedy has at its core always been about subversive honesty, we've had a long road culturally — from Mae West to Joan Rivers to Sarah Silverman — toward being comfortable with it coming out of the mouths of the fairer sex. While we've been more willing to appreciate slapstick charmers like Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett on the small screen, the history of American mainstream comedy box-office stardom has generally been as female-friendly as a third-grade boy's birthday party.

Now, we're squarely inside an era where cinematic comedy is often built on R-rated can-you-top-this gross-outs. Can America handle distaff disgust?

Producer Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin, etc.) seems to think so, since he gave SNL's Kristen Wiig this showcase for not-ready-for-even-after-prime-time laughs. Wiig co-wrote (with Annie Mumolo) and stars as Annie, a 30-something woman who's asked by her recently engaged best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) to be her maid of honor.

But it's not the best time for Annie to be handling a major responsibility. Her bakery business and her long-term relationship both recently failed, leaving her finances as precarious as her emotional state. So when another one of the bridesmaids — Helen (Rose Byrne), the wealthy wife of Lillian's fiancée's boss — starts insinuating herself into the planning, it's a bit too much for her to take.

In plenty of ways, Wiig and director Paul Feig (Freaks & Geeks) stick to a successful Apatow formula. The story structure is never so rigid that it won't allow room for freelancing a randomly (and hilariously) off-color conversation. The dialogue snaps with intelligence, and while belly laughs are the meat on the menu, there's a sentimental side, here involving Annie's tentative first steps at a relationship with a good-natured Irish cop (Chris O'Dowd).

The primary point of departure from that Apatow game plan is that most of the key performers are women — and they're just as solid as any of the ensembles Apatow himself has assembled. The supporting standout is Mike & Molly's Melissa McCarthy, playing the bride's vaguely off-kilter future sister-in-law, Megan. Her inappropriate bluntness steals nearly every scene she's in.

Then there's the low-key and endearingly human Wiig, who steps away from the polarizing weird characters that have been her SNL trademark. As willing as she is to look ridiculous, she's also surprisingly charming in playing a woman trying desperately to maintain her dignity at a time when she's constantly being reminded of how far she is from her dreams.

If there's a problem with Bridesmaids, it's really the same problem that typifies most Apatow-helmed projects: its willingness to indulge any comic moment leads to something more meandering than necessary. Though there's nothing inherently wrong with a two-hour-long comedy, Bridesmaids lingers primarily because the creative team won't accept the basic editing premise of sometimes needing to "murder your babies." It's funny, but not always disciplined.

Then again, maybe it's OK giving these women a little extra time to shine. Heaven knows — and Belushi's blather notwithstanding — it's been a long time coming.

scene@csindy.com

Film Details

Bridesmaids
Rated R · 125 min. · 2011
Official Site: www.bridesmaidsmovie.com
Director: Paul Feig
Writer: Annie Mumolo
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O'Dowd, Matt Lucas, Jill Clayburgh and Rebel Wilson

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