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Bridesmaids (2011)

by Steve Habrat

For those of you out there who were convinced that Judd Apatow was nothing but a sexist who made movies simply for immature males and about male tribulations have an argument no longer. Mr. Apatow and director Paul Feig have officially made a movie for females that tackle arduous female relationships with each other and themselves. To all the men out there who are writing Bridesmaids off as a “chick flick” need to suck it up and take the trip to pick up the Blu-ray because I guarantee you are going to laugh your ass off. Bridesmaids leaves the recent string of “bromance” films in its comedic dust and can proudly call itself one of the funniest movies since The 40 Year-Old Virgin. Much of its success lies on the slim shoulders of the comedienne in the center of all the pandemonium and that little lady is SNL alum Kristen Wiig. Wiig co-wrote the script with her pal Annie Mumolo and it is drenched in wicked shrewdness along with many other bodily fluids. Wiig also happens to prove to the suits out there that she can indeed carry a film and does not have to settle for the occasional cameo or background character. Her performance here is strikingly similar to what we saw from Steve Carell in The 40 Year-Old Virgin.

If one were to quickly glance at the title of this film and have no clue what the film is about, many would assume that it’s some new Kate Hudson bomb that follows her shallow quest to pull Matthew McConaughey for the fifth time. A disposable romantic comedy that presumes Hudson breaking a heel and falling down is comedic brilliance. The type of film that will last for about a month at the theater and then quickly make it’s way to DVD. It’s refreshing to see Wiig, who up until this film had not snagged herself a starring vehicle, a woman with pitch-perfect comedic timing step up to the plate to play Annie, a woman who has seemingly hit rock bottom. She is a victim of the recession as her bakery she started has been reduced to a boarded up graffiti wall. We also learn that her boyfriend picked up and ditched her after her bakery closed down. She spends her nights with a wealthy playboy (Played by a never better John Hamm) and spends her days paling around with her best friend Lillian (Played by another SNL alum and real life BFF Maya Rudolph). Annie complains to Lillian about her problems and figures she will always have a shoulder to lean on with her. That is until Lillian drops the bomb on Annie and proclaims that she is getting married. At the engagement party, Annie is introduced to the wildly colorful bridal party. She meets innocent Becca (Played by The Office’s Ellie Kemper), bored-housewife-with-a dark-side Rita (Played by Reno 911’s Wendi McLendon-Covey), the uber-confidant Megan (Played by scene-stealing Melissa McCarthy), and the wealthy and malicious Helen (played by Insidious star Rose Byrne). Annie finds herself pitted against Helen in the quest for maid of honor and hilariously self-destructs from the battle.

Wiig manages to play Annie not as a desperate-for-love caricature but as a wounded and vulnerable heroine. We root for her to, yes, find love but also to hold on to her best friend even as Annie and Lillian grow further and further apart. The universe has come crashing down on this poor soul and she is more desperate than ever to find a friend she can actually trust and does not come equipped with ulterior motives. Wiig also does the seemingly impossible task of making a horrific breakdown uproariously hilarious. There are scenes in this movie that will leave you howling with laughter and scenes that will have you wishing Annie was a real flesh-and-blood human you could give a big sympathetic hug and reassure her that everything will be okay.

It is an absolute thrill to watch Wiig and Mumolo lob a rowdily unpredictable comedic sequence that begins subtle and erupts into full on chaos at the audience. A bridal gown fitting that ends with food poisoning will bring you to your knees with laughter and shrieking “Oh, my God!” and a prescription drugs and scotch fueled meltdown on a plane to Vegas tops anything that was found in the incredibly overrated Hangover in terms of shock comedy. Wiig’s physical comedy comes to a head as she suffers a nervous breakdown during a shower in Helen’s mansion and battles Helen’s excessive wealth and her ability to purchase friends by throwing down with a giant cookie. Wait until you see it. It should join the ranks as one of the funniest scenes in the history of comedy.

When you’re not recovering from the countless belly laughs (trust me, there are PLENTY!), there is a scene of hushed, sincere emotion that will leave you speechless. Ones that left the entire packed theater silent in the particular showing I attended way back in May. You could actually feel the heartbreak hovering in the room and it became almost painful to sit and watch. One scene finds Annie confronted by the chunky Megan that is the definition of powerful and uplifting. Or a scene that shows Annie telling her mother that things have gone from bad to worse that will tug your heartstrings until they snap. It will warm your heart when Annie begins to find love with a sensitive Irish cop Rhodes, played by the charismatic Chris O’Dowd. The film is a testament to what great script writing and great direction can do for a film.

The ladies of Bridesmaids manage to prove that they can party just as hard as the boys and leave the Wolfpack looking like a bunch of cubs. They are real, honest, and hugely likeable even when they are reduced to hot messes. The performances here are what make the film seem effortless and strangely protracted. Like all Apatow films, it drags on about twenty minutes too long, but you’ll be willing to overlook it mostly because it blindsides you with overwhelming emotion. From the male perspective, it was nice to sit on the sidelines this time around and let the film just wash over me. It’s going to dispatch women from the theater to debate about the mechanics of their relationships just as Apatow’s “bromance” films struck chords with men. Already a strong contender for the best comedy of the year, Bridesmaids needs to party it’s way to the top of your must-see list. Grade: B+

Bridesmaids is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Super (2011)

by Steve Habrat

Last year, Hollywood released the highly intelligent but morally questionable Kick-Ass. It shocked audiences with it’s unblinking portrayal of what it would be like if an ordinary citizen decided to don a cape and prowl the streets fighting crime. They would be beaten to a bloody pulp. And yes, Kick-Ass had plenty of Looney Tunes moments sprinkled throughout but it was unfathomably offensive. It also happened to be a wonderful movie that had quite a bit of depth to it. Early this summer, director James Gunn released his indie superhero outing Super, which globs on the black humor and spurting arteries with such maniacal glee, you almost start to question Gunn’s sanity. Yes, it’s THAT twisted.

I will admit that I found moments of Super enjoyable and the climax was an emotional sucker punch. I will confess to chuckling when Rainn Wilson’s dopey Frank would conk evildoers on the noggin with a monkey wrench and yell, “Shut up, crime!” But I sat stirred by how savage the film behaved even outside the inevitable action scenes. It wears a crooked grin even while it blindsides us with rape, child molestation, substance addiction, and endless foul language that would please Judd Apatow. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude when it comes to films of this nature but I completely understand why the film was never released into mainstream theaters.

Frank thought he had everything going for him in life. He had a beautiful wife Sarah (Played by the cooing Liv Tyler) and a mediocre job as a cook. He thought he had aided Sarah, who was apparently an ex-junkie, in kicking her habit and changing her life. That all changes when ostentatious drug dealer Jock (Played by Kevin Bacon, who seems to be everywhere this summer) shows up and steals Sarah away from him. One night, in a sequence that appears to be left over from Gunn’s zombie/alien opus Slither, Frank has a vision from God. He is told to don an amateurish suit of armor and parade around the streets as The Crimson Bolt. While building his alter ego, he strikes up a quirky friendship with a local comic book store clerk Libby (Played by an extremely off-putting Ellen Page). She convinces him to let her be his mad, bloodthirsty sidekick and together, they aim to take down Jock and get Sarah back.

Super does offer up its fair share of craggy authenticity. The film is shot with a handheld camera and at times, if the violence isn’t making your stomach groan, the camerawork sure will. It’s twitchy but alarmingly confident. Like Kick-Ass, the film realizes (only every once in a great while) that it has to use some sort of idiosyncratic distraction from the gruesome atrocities at hand. It does this by juxtaposing the action with freeze frames and animated “BOOM”s and “WHACK!”s that look like scribbling from a teenagers own private comic book creation. It’s efficient but also seems like just a petty attempt to soften the blow of the relentless cruelty.

The shining star in this bloody mess is Rainn Wilson’s disciplined and committed performance as Frank. It’s a relief to not see the Office funnyman relegated to tween scum like The Rocker but after Super, I have to wonder about Wilson’s actual character (according to the Blu-ray features, he stood by the project from the get-go). The worst part about the film is the abhorrent performance from Ellen Page, who is downright out of control. I failed to see anything funny about her character and see this as one of the lower points of her career. Everyone else is incredibly underused including the surprising presence of Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The Walking Dead) as Abe, Jock’s right hand hitman. All his character does is munch on jellybeans, stare at Frank, and occasionally remember to fire his pistol. There is none of the subtle brewing intensity that he is so famous for. Bacon, however, seems to be having a blast in the role playing another villain (he was also the baddie in X-Men: First Class) and Tyler, who claims she found the script “touching”, seems to be bored to tears.

Overall, the film has an arresting climax that is great compensation for the warped first portion. It is moving and almost becomes a tearjerker. The final showdown between Jock and Frank is guaranteed to shake you up even if you have found the rest of the film despicable. Super is just simply not a film for everyone. If you are in the target audience, you’ll have a blast with it. If not, you will just walk away shaking your head and wondering why Hollywood doesn’t make more wholesome movies like they use to. Either way, it will get a reaction out of you and that is what good cinema should do. While I consider myself in the target audience for a film like this, it left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. I was left wishing the first half were as gratifying as the second. I also could have done without Page but I think all will safely agree that Wilson is downright magnetic. He is the heart and soul of Super and believe it or not, that allows us to forgive most of its morally contestable moments. Grade: B-

Super is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.