Most marriage comedies, let's face it, are facile, glib, cute or manipulative. "Bridesmaids" is bust-a-gut funny, a high-adrenaline string of slapstick gags and verbal hysteria.
But that's just the first of its achievements. The chain reaction of misunderstandings that drives the plot is worthy of a domino-toppling championship. The tone straddles bathroom-joke farce and a nuanced exploration of midlife friendship reminiscent of "Sideways." The laughs are anchored in genuine human emotions.
Most important, this is the film that elevates Kristen Wiig, until now a scene-stealing token actress in guy comedies, to the rank of authentic movie star. She plays Annie, a put-upon single woman asked to be maid of honor for her old pal, Lillian (Wiig's "Saturday Night Live" colleague Maya Rudolph), who's marrying a rich guy.
As Annie endures the mean realities of minimum-wage life -- humdrum clothes, a decrepit car, a stupendously irritating pair of brother-and-sister roommates -- Wiig lets us see and know the inner person. Her tense smile and panicky, eager laugh expose Annie's yearning to be accepted, her ill-concealed worry about slipping down from Best Friend Forever to Object of Pity. The film, which Wiig co-wrote, showcases her fretful-Everygal qualities. She's a genius at pretending nothing is wrong while stress fissures slowly crack her facade.
Lillian's new friend Helen (Rose Byrne), a swan-necked country club sophisticate, is an emblem of the grace Annie aspires to. Wiig explores Annie's jealous insecurity honestly, even when it sparks flashes of unbecoming spite. The character's wit is her first line of defense, but she's prone to fire off the kind of wisecracks that do more damage to the teller.
There's a bitingly funny exchange between Annie, who works as a jewelry clerk, and a teenage customer shopping for a friendship bracelet. Annie warns the girl that friends part. The customer replies that she's confident they won't. Their disagreement escalates to smiling animosity, peppery impatience, then outright rudeness. Suddenly they're hammering each other with the filthiest insults imaginable. Wiig's timing is breathtaking, as nimble and tireless as a great drummer, and director Paul Feig's nimble editing backs her rhythms seamlessly.
Much of the humor comes from the one-upping battle between Annie and Helen for ownership of the increasingly exasperated Lillian. Annie turns the engagement toast, the bridesmaids' lunch, the gown fitting and the shower into catastrophes, yet she becomes more sympathetic with each debacle. As Annie searches for a scrap of hope each disappointing day, she has good reason to feel the gods are aiming at her.
While Wiig is the undisputed star, she's not the whole show. The film generously spreads the laughs around a gaggle of hilarious co-stars (among them "Reno 911's" Wendi McLendon-Covey, "Mike & Molly's" Melissa McCarthy and the late Jill Clayburgh, perfectly cast as Annie's emotionally needy mom).
There are juicy parts for the menfolk, too, with Jon Hamm as a wealthy jackass keeping Annie on a string, and Irish actor Chris O'Dowd as a sweet-natured state trooper. The film has a warm heart, but it disdains easy, comforting laughs. Wiig, Feig and company know that the drip, drip, drip of daily torture often evokes the loudest howls of laughter.