Weddings, and the planning of weddings, are subjects that have long been mined for comedy. The 2011 film Bridesmaids could have stuck to the absurdity of being part of a wedding party. There’s hardly a woman who hasn’t experienced this. I was twelve the first time I was part of a wedding party as a junior bridesmaid. I remember being incredibly excited to be chosen. I also remember how quickly I realized it wasn’t necessarily going to be an amazing experience.
We all know the drill: buying an expensive, likely hideous dress you’ll never wear again, being stuck in a group of people for a variety of events you don’t know and doubt you’ll ever like, feeling like a traitor to your friend/relative if anything goes wrong on their “most special day.”
Bridesmaids hits all these notes, and does it brilliantly. But that’s not where it stops, not by a long shot.
Annie Walker (Kristen Wiig) is going through a tough time in life. A talented baker, her bakery went out of business during the last economic bust. On top of that, her boyfriend at the time left her, she has no savings, and is working a crummy retail job her mother (Jill Clayburgh) secured for her through a friend. She has a sometime lover (Jon Hamm) who considers her nothing more than a sex buddy.
However, she is thrilled to find out her best friend since childhood, Lillian (Maya Rudolph) has become engaged. She expects to be the one to plan all of the major events leading up to the wedding.
To her dismay, a new friend of Lillian’s, Helen (Rose Byrne), co-opts what Annie sees as her rightful place as both best friend and planner of the wedding events. Every pre-wedding event is a disaster, and it’s always Annie’s fault. She takes Lillian and the other bridesmaids to a restaurant and they end up vomiting and worse from food poisoning in the middle of a posh bridal salon. She gets them kicked off a plane on the way to the bachelorette trip to Las Vegas. Sick of Helen’s pretensions and jealous of her relationship with Lillian, she has a total meltdown in the middle of the bridal shower. Lillian ejects Annie from the wedding party and ends their friendship.
On top of all this, Annie is fired from her job and kicked out of her apartment by her roommates, which forces her to move in with her mother. She also sabotages her budding relationship with a nice cop named Nathan (Chris O’Dowd).
One of the other bridesmaids, Megan (Melissa McCarthy) finally gives Annie a tough love speech and tells her she is her real problem. Slowly, she tries to find ways to repair her life: showing her mother how much she appreciates her, giving her sex buddy the heave-ho, reaching out to Nathan, who rejects her at first, and returning to what she loves to do most, which is baking.
On Lillian’s wedding day, Helen seeks out Annie and begs for her help because Lillian is missing. Nathan finally agrees to help Annie and tracks her down. It turns out Lillian is simply having a panic attack about getting married. Annie and Lillian reconcile, and Annie takes part in the wedding.
I don’t think we often contemplate how much great comedy comes from sadness. In the case of Bridesmaids, Annie is a deeply sad person who has seen every aspect of her life go differently from the way she expected. We also don’t often recognize how much of our self-esteem comes from the work we do, whether it’s a passionate pursuit, like Annie’s baking, or something we do just to pay the bills, such as Annie’s job in a jewelry store.
There is one scene in particular where Annie bakes and meticulously decorates one gorgeous cupcake, looks at it—and then morosely eats it. After the first time Nathan and Annie have sex, he tries to encourage her to bake again by putting out baking items in his kitchen. This causes Annie to run away. It’s one thing when she did it for herself, and another when she has to do it for someone else. She can’t face that failure again.
At the jewelry store, Annie is confronted by a teen girl who comes in to buy a present for her best friend. Stinging from her loss of her own friend, she unfairly attacks the young girl, calling her a name that immediately gets her fired. The exchange between Annie and the girl is funny, but also tinged with sadness, because it comes from Annie’s depression over losing her best friend.
Having recently gone through a couple of bouts of unemployment (the latest ended a week before writing this post, yay!) I can totally identify with Annie’s situation. Like Annie, it was hard not to feel like a failure, even though my latest job loss had nothing to do with me personally (the company went under). Also like Annie, I realized my friends were the lifeline that would help me get through it.