The most perfectly realized scene in Bridesmaids is an early one. Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Lillian (Maya Rudolph) have been best friends since early childhood, so when Lillian announces her engagement, it's no surprise that she chooses Annie as her maid of honor. But in more recent times, Lillian has acquired another close friend, the lovely and wealthy Helen (Rose Byrne), and suddenly Annie feels threatened. This tension plays out at a social engagement in which Annie and Helen keep snatching the microphone out of each other's hands, in order to one-up the touchy-feely sentiments directed at Lillian.
It's a great sequence, so confident in its ability to convey not only the awkwardness of the situation but also point a laser beam directly at Annie's insecurity, Helen's plasticity and Lillian's bemusement-bordering-on-irritability.
Bridesmaids can't maintain such a high level of hilarity over the course of its 125 minutes, but when its game is on, it ranks among the funnier endeavors of the past few years. Judd Apatow is one of its producers, and the film certainly falls in line more with his brand of product -- raunchy comedies that often reveal unexpected depths (e.g. The 40-Year-Old Virgin) -- than with the usual formulaic rom-coms with female protagonists and wedding themes (e.g. the abysmal Something Borrowed).
But let's be quick to steer most of the credit away from Apatow -- and even director Paul Feig -- and place it where it clearly belongs: at the feet of Wiig. The talented comedienne has perked up many a movie in supporting roles, and she's sensational in her largest part to date. Working from a screenplay she co-wrote with Annie Mumolo, she possesses the same sort of brashness that the likes of Madeline Kahn and Bette Midler used to display in comedies, yet her more delicate features allow her to smoothly apply the brakes and ease back into the more frail aspects of her characterization.
Wiig's Annie and Byrne's Helen are as different from the rest of the bridesmaids as they are from each other -- Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey) looks for any chance to get away from her married life, Becca (Ellie Kemper) is as naive as a Disney heroine, and Megan (Melissa McCarthy) is always on the prowl for a good time. Because she's obese, McCarthy's character endures the most humiliations -- some things never change -- but the game actress is nevertheless a dynamic presence.
The imaginative casting continues with Wiig's romantic interest: Rather than predictably sign the usual lug like Gerard Butler or Ashton Kutcher, they went with relative unknown Chris O'Dowd, an appealing Irish actor who matches up nicely with Wiig.
As expected, the film contains a smattering of gross-out gags, yet while some are undeniably funny, they can't compete with the moments in which the laughs stem mostly from Wiig's genuine comic chops, whether it's the aforementioned microphone scene or the sequence in which she unwisely mixes booze and pills while aboard an airplane. Granted, the actress has been around for years, but with Bridesmaids, it's not exactly inappropriate to declare that a star is born.
EVERYTHING MUST GO
Inside every comedian known for vulgarity, there apparently resides a master thespian hoping to break away from the gags that initially defined his career. Jim Carrey has The Truman Show and The Man on the Moon, Adam Sandler has Punch-Drunk Love and Spanglish, and Will Ferrell has Stranger Than Fiction and now Everything Must Go.
With few exceptions (The Truman Show, obviously), these films rarely make a dent at the box office, so Everything Must Go is destined only for art-house acceptance or, failing that, the tiny multiplex auditorium that isn't playing Thor or one of the myriad summer sequels.
That's a shame, because this adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story ("Why Don't You Dance?") is a gem -- perhaps more of a diamond in the rough than a polished jewel, but still. Ferrell stars as Nick Halsey, a relapsed alcoholic who loses his job, his wife and his house all on the same day. Locked out of the home he shared with his spouse (who's temporarily living at an undisclosed location) and low on cash because she froze all their assets, Nick parks himself on the front lawn, guzzling beer while surrounded by all the possessions she chucked out along with him.
Only two people in the neighborhood bother socializing with him: Samantha (an excellent Rebecca Hall), a pregnant woman whose husband is always away, and Kenny (promising newcomer Christopher Jordan Wallace, whose only previous screen credit was playing Christopher "Biggie" Wallace as a child in 2009's Notorious), a portly boy fighting boredom since his mom's up the street working as a caretaker.
Nick's AA sponsor, a cop (Michael Pena), informs him that he can't live on his lawn, but he can legally remain there for a couple of days if he holds a yard sale. So with the help of Kenny, Nick reluctantly starts selling his cherished possessions, all the while attempting to come to grips with his present situation and future uncertainty.
While it's true that a better actor might have knocked the rich role of Nick Halsey out of the park, Ferrell is nevertheless fine in the part, allowing us to largely forget the baggage that his clownish canon can't help but bring to the project. It's a smart career move on his part, and it will be interesting to see if he's able to build on it.
Yet the real discovery here is writer-director Dan Rush, making impressive debuts in both capacities. From little moments that sneak up and surprise you to climactic confrontations that don't always go down as expected, he shapes the material into something memorable and meaningful. The blockbusters will be the ones to stick around in the theaters all summer, but this is one of the films that will stick around in the mind for that same duration.
Priest begins with some juicy exposition related through trippy anime (not surprising, considering the source material was a Korean graphic novel) before plunging into its story about a "Warrior Priest" (Paul Bettany) who sets out after the vampires who kidnapped his niece (Lily Collins). And for a while, the picture looks as if it might deliver on a palatable pulp-popcorn level: Director Scott Stewart keeps the proceedings moving at a breathless clip, Bettany's seething conviction as both a man of the cloth and a man of action is inspiring, and the obvious plot parallels to John Ford's The Searchers (seriously!) are a nice touch.
Nicest of all, though, is the decision to initially keep the vampires out of sight, a throwback to the rule dictated by filmmakers Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur that suspense is best maintained when the monsters exist in the mind rather than on the screen. However, this being 2011, we know we'll eventually see the vampires -- which is fine ... until we actually see them. These creatures are, in a word, laughable.
Created entirely through CGI -- unconvincing CGI, I might add -- they suggest the result of a threesome between Dracula, The Road Runner, and a slug. The exception is the "human vampire" called Black Hat (Karl Urban), who in the end turns out to be a stock movie villain, only with sharper teeth.
After a strong beginning, Priest ends with a whiff of Jonah Hex about it. Keep searching.