Bridesmaids; R, 120 minutes; Regal Downtown Mall 6

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Bridesmaids arrives at a grim moment in the history of filmed entertainment, when people are actually asking whether women can be funny in American movies—and whether big studios will let them. At such a low moment, there may be no choice but for women to reclaim the gross and raunchy comedy of bodily functions formerly dominated by man-boy ensembles. The trailer for Bridesmaids fairly represents it as a set piece—we’ll call it the food-poisoning incident—but leaves an uneasy impression: Ah, long at last, girls are allowed into the vomit party.

Judd Apatow reportedly told “SNL” cast member Kristen Wiig (far left) that if she wrote a comedy, he’d produce it. That comedy is Bridesmaids.

Judd Apatow reportedly told Kristen Wiig that if she wrote a good star vehicle for herself, he’d produce it. Wiig and writing partner Annie Mumolo came up with Bridesmaids for Apatow associate Paul Feig to direct. Good for all of them: It takes guts and genius to take on our low expectations for a comedy about a wedding with lots of women in it.

Wiig’s character suffers splendidly through becoming a maid of honor for her childhood friend (Maya Rudolph). She negotiates the celebratory but variously demeaning rituals of wedding preparation mostly by screwing them up. Broke and lonely and depressed to begin with, she loses her shitty job and shitty apartment and shitty sub-boyfriend (Jon Hamm) in the process, and eventually, hilariously, loses her shit. Fellow bridesmaids include a rich, too-pretty rival (Rose Byrne), a coarse, chubby firecracker (Melissa McCarthy), a newly-married naif (Ellie Kemper) and a long-married cynic (Wendi McLendon-Covey).

Bridesmaids beautifully reverses the roles of wedding-movie convention while transcending the chick-flick formula. This time it’s the groom who stands around looking nice, without saying much of anything. If the film doesn’t wholly succeed—the naif and the cynic seem to get abandoned somewhere along the way—it’s not for lack of trying. In particular, Byrne and McCarthy both get to shine, both intelligently expanding on their given shtick. And Wiig makes the most of being spooked by real interest from a sweet, available man (Chris O’Dowd).

There’s another important Apatow touch: breathing room. (Some call it “being too long.”) Some portions of Bridesmaids get stretched on purpose, whether to feel lived-in and emotionally honest, or to wring laughs from awkward protraction. Others simply suffer from imprudent or inelegant cutting. But given Hollywood’s prevailing view of women—that to be relatable is to be restrained—overstaying its welcome makes Bridesmaids seems seductively subversive.

The challenge of assimilating into a male-dominated society can create some funny situations—what UVA alum Tina Fey, in a semi-facetious reference to her own life story, has described as “lurid tales of anxiety and cowardice.” The funniest stuff in Bridesmaids, and the most serious, comes from how well Wiig understands the agony of nonconfrontationalism: how to be a true friend to her fellow woman, and to herself.

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