Move over, Tina Fey! 'Bridesmaids' catapults Kristen Wiig from 'SNL' star to Hollywood triple threat

kristen-wiig

Image Credit: Suzanne Hanover

Talk about getting the story wrong! I’m always gratified when a movie that I love kills at the box office, and I can even deal with a little end-zone-dancing studio spin, but really — the notion that Bridesmaids, the terrific new matrimonial comedy of cracked sisterhood, somehow “exceeded expectations” by taking in $26.2 million at the box office this weekend (representative headline on TheWrap: “‘Bridesmaids Over-Performs”) is actually a little insulting. Sure, it sounds like a compliment (people dug the movie so much that they went even more than the marketers were predicting!). But why would a major comedy produced by Judd Apatow, heralded by enthusiastic reviews, featuring a breakout performance by a venerable Saturday Night Live star, the whole thing pitched as a funny, soulful date movie to an audience that regularly turns the worst sort of pandering chick-flick crapola into major hits… why would that movie surprise anyone by making as much on its opening weekend as The Bounty Hunter or Failure to Launch?

What the “exceeded expectations” line is really about is the movie industry, and the media, paying homage to the collective “wisdom” that occurs whenever Hollywood, doing that thing it does, remembers all over again, every couple of years, and with great stunned surprise, that there’s this weirdly esoteric, fringe-group demographic — I believe the term for it is “women” — who actually enjoy seeing their lives portrayed on screen every bit as much as men do.

Speaking of men and women, let me dispose of that other canard — this one made, quite often, in the reviews themselves — that seemed to stick to Bridesmaids like some discarded wad of PR-concept chewing gum. That’s the notion that the film is somehow the female equivalent of The Hangover: a naughty fun bash of a movie, this one for girls instead of guys. Now Bridesmaids, don’t get me wrong, is a naughty fun bash of a movie. But even if you happened to like The Hangover better than I did, that movie is never really more than a riotously over-the-top situational nightmare comedy. It is not, let’s be honest, a movie that attempts to tweak your funny bone, your heartstrings, and your brain-strings at the same time. It’s not a movie that pretends to emerge from, you know (how can I put this unpretentiously?)… actual human experience. Bridesmaids does, and that’s its glory.

Of course, the movie’s real glory is Kristen Wiig. A quick word about the script that she co-wrote with Annie Mumolo, her longtime buddy from the Groundlings comedy troupe. There are moments in Bridesmaids that are zany and shocking and flat-out hilarious — the food poisoning scene set in just the kind of billowy snob-chic bridal boutique that deserves what it gets; Wiig’s plane-ride tantrum under the influence of whiskey and tranquilizers. But I’d argue that for all that, there isn’t a moment in the movie that stoops to caricature. Even the most outsize characters (like, spectacularly, Melissa McCarthy’s blunt and hulky sister warrior Megan) have details, dimensions; every scene, no matter how funny, feels life-size. In today’s Hollywood, that’s a major achievement, and it marks Wiig and Mumolo as exciting new screenwriting voices. With Bridesmaids, they’ve crafted an even more witty and signature piece of work than Tiny Fey did back in 2004 when she wrote Mean Girls.

But, of course, Wiig isn’t just the co-screenwriter; she’s the movie’s star as well. And even if, like me, you’ve always found her to be an inspired farceur-flake on Saturday Night Live, you may not be prepared for what an outrageously good actress she is. The comment boards on EW.com make it clear that a lot of folks have a weekly hate-on for Wiig on SNL. They find her penchant for wispy-headed rapid-fire neurotic lunacy too broad, and too repetitive. All I generally want to say to those people is: Find someone else to hate! To me, Wiig is a sneaky creator of verbally intense, solipsistic fruitcakes who gives every sketch she touches a charge. Sure, at times she’s more inspired than others, but who isn’t on SNL? She’s a spark plug, a utility maniac.

In Bridesmaids, however, she scales herself back, creating a fully rounded character who lashes out, more and more hilariously, because of the desperation that Wiig portrays without flinching. The one movie that Bridesmaids reminded me of, just a little bit (at least, emotionally), is My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), which I wrote a mixed review of at the time but now think is Julia Roberts’ best film. In fact, I think it’s just about the richest and most heartfelt chick flick of the last 20 years. My Best Friend’s Wedding gets deep inside squirmy emotions of jealousy and revenge — and heartache — that most of these movies stylize into trivia, and that’s what Bridesmaids does as well. When Wiig’s Annie, trying to keep her game face on, feels the childhood friend (Maya Rudolph) for whom she’s going to be maid of honor sliding toward another, “better” friendship (with the impeccably, almost subliminally superior Helen, played by Rose Byrne), all the forces of loserdom seem to fuse in her at once. She has no real guy, no career, no money, and now, not even a best friend. And so she starts to wallow. Yet she also gets rip-roaringly angry, and Wiig is brilliant at portraying Annie’s blowout tantrums as high comedy that also express something real — the disgust we can all feel at being outclassed, and maybe at a culture that puts too much of a premium on class. Wiig, as Annie, is the best kind of movie rebel, the kind who’s never more heroic than when she’s making a staggering fool of herself.

To have given this performance, in a movie that she co-wrote; to make audiences laugh the way they did at Bridesmaids this past weekend, yet also to dig this deep into feminine craziness and self-pity — that’s not just expanding your image. That’s aiming high and winning, taking Hollywood to a place that it needs to go, but too often — sometimes for years — forgets to. In Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig brings the funny, brings the humane, and proves, on top of all that, that she may just have what it takes to become a major screen star. That’s what I call exceeding expectations.

So did you see Bridesmaids this weekend? If so, what did you think of Wiig’s performance, and of the movie itself? If you were already a fan of hers, did she surprise you? And if you’re one of the people who’s never liked her on SNL, did she win you over anyway?

Follow Owen on Twitter: @OwenGleiberman
Read more:
Owen Gleiberman reviews ‘Bridesmaids’
Jon Hamm laughing at ‘Bridesmaids’ clip is one of the best reviews film could get
All I want for Mother’s Day is for ‘Bridesmaids’ Melissa McCarthy to be a movie star


Comments (127 total) Add your comment
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  • Dina

    Move over Tina Fey? LOL Kristen wishes!

    • Emma

      It’s what I wish as well. I’m sick of Tina.

      • Liv

        Me too. My friends act as if I’ve committed some kind of sin against god by not liking Tina Fey. She’s so overexposed.

      • Josh

        You’re joking, right? If you don’t like her sense of humor, that is one thing. But overexposed? Do you need reminded of its definition?

      • Annie

        Or, I don’t know, have room for both? Why can’t we have two great comediennes rocking showbiz?

      • LeeAnn

        A lot of people are overexposed. What’s important is the quality of each exposure, and Fey has made sure each one counted. Her humor is intelligent, yet extremely accessible. Wiig is great, and Fey appreciates her as well, so I don’t think the comparison is necessary. However, for comparison purposes, it would have been more equal if they compared Bridesmaids to Baby Mama, not Mean Girls, which was based on an existing book.

      • Kate

        Mean Girls was an original story. The book that inspired it(Queen Bees and Wannabes) was not a work of fiction, it was about how parents can help their teenage girls navigate the clique-y world of high school.

    • logjammer

      oh it’s happening

      • Jill

        oh it’s not. La Wiig has a ways to go before she can clean Fey’s shoes, let alone fill them.

      • Marj

        lmfaoo!! it happened…

    • Ann

      While I liked Wiig in Bridesmaids…she has a long way to go to be in the same league as Fey. The way that Fey writes is very layered while being funny…read Bossy pants.

      • LeeAnn

        I agree completely. To be honest, before I read Bossypants, I thought Fey had hit her high point in her career. After reading it, I believe that if she is so inclined, she has so much more to offer. Her ability to communicate complex ideas in simple ways without insulting the audience’s intelligence is certainly an enviable skill.

    • beaver

      Get out of your closet Owen. There’s already too many chick flicks.

      • Emma

        You misogynistic jackass.

      • beaver

        Thank you. Now back yo your dishes before your brain explodes.

    • mawhi

      Why does she have to move over? Why is there only one space open?

      • TC

        Exactly. Something tells me it’s because they’re two talented and very funny women. It’s easy to compare them. I just read Bossypants and Fey mentions that she always gets asked, “How does it feel to be the boss?” and it’s because she’s a woman. Being a female boss is surprising to a lot of people.

        I really liked Wiig in Bridesmaids – a lot – but I don’t liker her on SNL at all, except for her Penelope sketch. Fey was a brilliant writer on SNL, and Wiig does have a long way to go to be even mentioned in the same breath as Fey.

    • Cygnus

      Interesting, that EW thinks this movie was a success. It was panned by critics and finished second in its opening weekend. That spells disaster for another by-the-numbers chick flick. MSNBC said this may have sounded the death knell of the chick flick genre. People don’t want to see them. They’re cliche and unoriginal. The flavor of the week starlets they keep rolling out are bland and boring to watch.

      • Kelly

        Panned? What reviews have you been reading? Sure, there are probably a few negative ones in the bunch, but I’ve read good things and I’ve actually seen it. Did you? I laughed and laughed, just liked everyone else did in the theater.

      • Holly

        First, this movie wasn’t panned by critics AT ALL. Second, obviously, you haven’t even seen this movie because it is not a chick-flick. Just because the main characters are female, doesn’t make it one. Third, there are no flavor of the week starlets in this movie. If you want to post something like this, you should know what you are talking about first.

      • Kris

        Umm in what world does a film that received mostly positive reviews (it got a 76 on metacritic) and outperformed expectations, qualify as a failure? You must be one of those people who think if a film doesn’t premier in first place at $50 million dollars, its a failure. Bridesmaids was never expected to beat Thor.

      • Cygnus

        OK, the 3 women who saw the film, my wife said it was horrible, and that’s saying something for a lover of chick flicks. 76 on metacritic after an opening weekend is not good, that number will settle down to the mid to low 60’s. Few movies that open at second, especially in the summer movie time-frame, rarely go up in box office ranking. This movie won’t come close to reaching $100mil domestically, which is the usual measuring stick for successful. Good luck on DVD and the Lifetime channel in the coming years.

      • Lilac

        What are you talking about?? It has gotten terrific reviews and did great at the box office. “Womens” movies have often done better in the long run as word of mouth spreads too so box office results should stay strong. I actually saw it on Friday and thought it was excellent. It was a great mix of hilarious over the top scenes, a sweet romance, and real emotion. GREAT movie.

      • @Cygnus

        you are not very bright. Your wife didn’t like it so it bombed? 100 mil is the measure for success? Wow, just go back into your little hole, drink your bud light while wearing a dirty white tank top, and leave the rest of humanity alone… oh, and please do not procreate. The movie was a success weather or not YOU or YOUR WIFE liked it moron. No, 100 million dollars is not what it has to reach to be successful. The whole thing cost less than $40 million to make and market… so if it hits that worldwide it is a success. Seriously, get a clue you pile of crap

      • Cygnus

        @Cygnus Mon 05/16/11 4:24 PM
        you are not very bright.

        …says someone who likes a chick flick starring two of the worst SNL females ever. Tell me, did you line up for Sex and the City 2 also? What about Failure to Launch? Ghosts of Girlfriends Past? For every successful chick flick (usually wrapped up in a guy raunch cliche), there’s about 100 horrible chick flicks. I understand a woman’s need for something other than the testosterone filled orgies that make the big bucks, or the goofy animated slosh that Disney/Dreamworks rolls out every month. However, demand better. Not just the same tired girl gets married and her posse of bitchy friend jokes.

      • Anonymous

        It’s an R-rated movie, idiot. They do not make as much as lower rated movies. The Hangover “only” made $43 million it’s first weekend, and it was the second largest opening for an R-rated movie EVER. Secondly, I have yet to read one negative review. You need to get your facts straight before you criticize a movie you haven’t even seen.

      • Evie Kane

        Are you thinking of Something Borrowed instead of Bridesmaids?

      • thin

        I’m glad to see that at least someone on here knows what they are talking about. Thanks, Anonymous, for saying what I was going to say.

        It also needs to be aimed at Mr. Glieberman, who seems to be conveniently ignoring this minor fact to fit his thesis that this is a gender issue. It would be dumb to try and pretend that men and women in comedy (as with so many other things) always get equal treatment, but it’s also dumb to try and oversimplify an observation that the movie “overperformed” by turning it into an example of misogynism. The fact of the matter is that though they are often well-liked, Judd Apatow’s movies have often had relatively modest openings (less than $20 million, sometimes much less), and R-rated films virtually never open large. It’s very likely true that expectations were also affected by the movie’s female cast, but it’s just kind of a gross oversimplification to make that the whole story.

      • Woot

        I know this article is super old, but for some reason I stumbleuponed it. Anyways, Cygnus said this movie wouldn’t even hit 100 million. Well guess what? It’s at nearly 140 million domestically. SUCK IT!!!!!

    • Marcy Runkle

      Does she have to move over? We can’t have TWO smart, funny women out there? God forbid!

      • Kris

        Agreed. Film is littered with funny men but there is some sort of notion that America can only handle one funny, female powerhouse. Their both great, why can’t they both be stars?

    • kate middleton

      I so agree. There is just no comparison between Tina and Kristen. Tina is much more well rounded and is most well known for her writing. Kristen is lucky to be compared to Tina, but she’s got a LONG way to go.

  • scrutinizer

    kristen is what i most look forward to when watching snl. she reminds me so much of a comic genius from the 1950s…joan davis. i was anticipating this film with much eagerness and was so happy to see her succeed with this project on so many levels. not only has she established herself as a truly gifted writer she has proved herself to be one hell of an actress with a great future ahead of her.

    sublime to

    rubber faced physical humor

  • Bob

    This movie was terrible. I think the only reason it made what it did was because word of mouth didn’t spread fast enough. It was raunchy and just not funny at all. Downright painful much of the time.

    • heather

      Actually, it’s quite the contrary, Bob … the positive word of mouth (not to mention the terrific reviews) is what made “Bridesmaids” open successfully. If the raunchy humor bothered you, why did you go to see an R-rated Judd Apatow movie in the first place? When I saw the movie (which I thought was overly long but definitely not terrible), I missed a good portion of the jokes because everyone in the theater was laughing so loudly.

      • nana

        Preach!!! It’s; I saw it Friday, and I’m already going again tonight. It was sooooooo funny! Sometimes you just need a good laugh, and Bridesmaids gives you that, and so much more.

      • Riley

        Most men don’t get it because they don’t see the dynamic that women have with eachothher. Hilarious…the plane scene itself was the funniest thing I’ve seen in years.

    • logjammer

      twas HI-larious

  • Andy Bluebear

    Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. EW (and other media) tend to overhype things in order to proclaim them a modern or “insta” classic. Let’s not forget, the woman has been in her share of flops, and while her performance here was ok, there were many other performance which helped sell the movie as well. One hit does not a talent make. I’m still not sold on her acting; she’s decent, and can be funny, but just as many times she falls flat and disappoints. If her next movie is a hit, then sure, she’s on a roll. But let’s scale things back a bit, mmmkay?
    Also, how is she a triple threat? She acts and writes…when she also directs, sings, dances, or produces, then ok, she’s a triple threat…

    • heather

      I hope you’re a child, because when a grown man uses words like, “mmmkay?” it’s a little sad and a lot off-putting.

      • Matt

        Yeah, it’s almost as sad and oft-putting as a hipster trying to put a complete stranger “in his place” on a message board…so sad…

      • Cajo

        or “her place”, right Matt?

      • Jill

        Matt ftw. heather does come off as a snotty, annoying hipster…the kind who needs to be punched in the face. Repeatedly.

      • Matt

        Cajo, I love you!!! It’s me, Blorp!

    • Madeline

      I agree with Andy. I laughed really hard at the food poisoning scene but I found the movie VERY formulaic with an unfortunate ending. Acting all around was pretty good but I think there’s a bit too much hype going on for the movie.

    • kate middleton

      I agree with Andy. What is Owen’s definition of a triple threat? Just because Kristen has one “hit” movie doesn’t make her the new queen of comedy. She’s been in a lot of movies that bombed (MacGruber anyone?) too. If she was the lead in another movie that does well, then maybe you’re on to something. I’m not sure if I see that happening though…

      • D’s Advocate

        I’m guessing that by “triple threat” he means:
        1)TV star
        2)Movie star
        3)Screenwriter,

        but if he does, that’s stretching it quite a bit.

  • Christopher

    But you’re missing the point that major studios shy away from female-driven movies because it’s the international box office that suffers most, not domestic. I’m not sure this movie changes that.

    • bill

      Glieberman: Nonsense as usual when you try to write something other than a review. A: The movie was hilarious; the writing, directing and supporting cast was superb. However, Wiig, to many, while very facile and clever, is rightly just ok as an actress. I for one never believe her. She seems to always have a trick facade. You can’t will your readers to feel as you do and your attempt to do so is ridiculous and, while I’m at it, contemptuous. B: It’s not unreasonable for studios to not expect an ensemble film without film stars to top $20m. The Bounty Hunter + Failure to Launch don’t compare, marketing-wise, as sh*t as they were. There are plenty of good films that don’t open big/succeed.

  • resa

    i didnt see the movie but i do hate her characters on snl although im sure shes talented….from what ive heard of the movie, its full of teenage bathroom humor and thats not really what i want to see…when isaw them promoting the movie on tv, the actresses kept talking about scenes where t hey fart and vomit. Ill save my money

    • Liv

      This is how I feel. I wish there were movies where women were doing things other than mooning over douchey men but from what I’ve heard this movie seems to just take them and make them into douchey men. Le sigh.

      • FYW

        It’s an Apatow movie. Women are either whining, nagging shrews out to emasculate irresponsible manchilds by taking away all the fun from their lives, or they are irresponsible manchilds, but with a vagina and (non-man)boobs.

      • Lilac

        There is one douchey man and he is really shown to be a complete waste of space. The real love interest in the movie is an absolute doll though. I thought he was perfect and was a great representative of the nice guys that do exist.

    • HG

      From the previews, I thought the movie would be what you described: a lot of gross out humour, but it’s not. It is actually pretty funny and witty and portrays women in a well rounded light with all of their insecurities and strengths. The only scene that is aweful is the one in the wedding boutique. I just closed my eyes during it.

  • MYK

    “The comment boards on ew.com make it clear that a lot of folks have a weekly hate-on for Wiig on SNL. They find her penchant for wispy-headed rapid-fire neurotic lunacy too broad, and too repetitive. All I generally want to say to those people is: Find someone else to hate! To me, Wiig is a sneaky creator of verbally intense, solipsistic fruitcakes who gives every sketch she touches a charge. Sure, at times she’s more inspired than others, but who isn’t on SNL? She’s a spark plug, a utility maniac.” <– This paragraph is funnier than anything Kristen Wiig has EVER done. Definitely written by someone whose taste remains firmly inside his mouth. [Luckily, Mr. Gleiberman didn't have to present this orally, there's no way in hell he'd have been able to do it with a straight face. Or, all the more sad if he actually believes it.]

    Sneaky? That would imply forethought that she clearly does not possess. That 95% of her SNL characters are the same non-descript, mid-western accented, bombastic (sorry, "verbally intense"), scene-chewing dreck that rattles one's fillings week after week doesn't read in the slightest as "sneaky". That the flats and lights don't fall down around her every Saturday is the real mystery. Solipsistic? well that's true. But for her, not her characters. Spark plug? More like Molotov Cocktail; as she throws herself through the window of any sketch and burns it to the ground. Lucille Ball Ms. Wiig is not. That the reviewer made the tiniest of allusions to this, is very telling… and very wrong.

    All I have to say about this editorial is, I hope the check the studio sent you for it clears. As for the film, I'll wait for it to show up on Comedy Central next month… then have something better to do. If you want a real laugh, look up the SNL corn syrup commercial and replay the part where Wiig is told that she "should have kept her mouth shut". Makes me giggle every time.

    • thin

      The thing with her characters is that when they were new, they were really funny. They only stopped being funny when the new-ness wore off and it started to feel like you’re watching the same things over and over and over again in different costumes.

  • annie

    Kristen Wiig tries way too hard to be funny, both in this movie and on SNL. She makes me cringe.

    • replying to annie

      annie, I know what you mean. I really tried to make myself like Wiig, but it’s just not going to happen because my sense of humor and hers differs by a mile. While I respond to Fey’s observation-and-comment driven humor, I don’t respond to Wiig’s brand of physical I-don’t-even-know-what-to-name-it humor. That said, I do realize that other people perhaps do share Wiig’s sense of humor and find her funny, and that’s their prerogative. I don’t, and that’s mine.

      • replying to annie

        *differ

      • kate middleton

        I’m completely with you both. I can see how she’s funny to some people, but I’m not one of them. Tina is so much funnier to me, and we know a lot about her style of humor since she’s written so much stuff. Not so with Wiig.

  • Jo-Ann

    Funniest movie I have seen in years! I’ll be going back again to catch the jokes I missed the first time because of the loud and raucious laughter…Kristen is a joy!

    • HMac

      Couldn’t agree more!

    • nana

      ITA!! HILARIOUS.

  • TorontoTom

    I can only pray that the success of this movie will cause Wiig to jump ship and leave SNL – it would be the best thing for the show! I cannot stand her.

  • Sparky

    Did nt find it quite as funny as the reviews made it seem. Personally I thought Rose Byrne and Chris O’Dowd were the best things about the movie.

  • Mrs. C

    The title of this article is the only thing to which I take offense…Why fabricate a competitiion between the two, and why imply that there can be only one female movie star at the top?

    • Shaw202

      ^This. Thank you, Mrs. C.

      • FYW

        Because EW loves to fabricate drama and stories like this to get more people to read the articles, making the “hit” counter go up, so they can charge advertisers more? Ew sure loves to fabricate stupid feuds. Remember when this magazine/website were actually good? Le sigh.

    • mawhi

      This, yes. It’s part of the problem.

  • Hillary

    Loved it– some scenes had me laughing so hard and then other actually made me a bit teary eyed. Could totally relate to the strange competition you feel when a lifelong friend has a new friend.

    • nana

      Absolutely. I agree completely. They really nailed it; I loved the friendship aspect.

  • jfms777

    I liked “Bridesmaids” much, but I think the lead role would have been better served by Reese Witherspoon or Amy Adams. Wiig is a
    better writer than actress. But since she wrote it, not surprising she would star. She is good–but she can get on your nerves.

    • lefty

      I couldn’t disagree more. Having Reese or Amy would immediately put it into “chick flick” territory. They couldn’t carry a movie this comedic any day of the week. I thought the movie was excellent and Kristen was amazing in the lead. I laughed as hard as, if not harder, than I did during the Hangover. I was crying from laughing so hard.

  • Katie

    I actually think the best part of the movie was Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph’s friendship. You can tell they’re friends in real life and it just translated so well on the screen. I would rather have seen more scenes like that than focusing on two women fighting over a best friend (instead of a man).

    • HG

      Their friendship was awesome, and I hope that someone writes a movie based on the strengths of women’s friendship. However, a lot of women do feel insecure when their best friend gets new friends. I thought it hit on a topic that is not discussed as much in Hollywood and was fun to watch.

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