Not Just Another Chick Flick
Weddings get a bad rep at the movies. Generally speaking, they’re the scene of more heinous crimes against fashion, friendship and food than your (not so) friendly local Liquid nightclub. Case in point: Bride Wars . My Best Friend’s Wedding . Runaway Bride .
Which is probably why actress and writer Kristen Wiig didn’t want to work on a movie about a wedding. Not at all. Not even when the film she found herself writing with friend/co-writer Annie Mumolo ended up being called Bridesmaids .
“I feel like when we started writing it, we never saw it as a wedding movie,” says the Saturday Night Live alumnus.
“In the earlier drafts for the first three years, there wasn’t even a wedding in it at the end. We didn’t really set out to make it different from other movies or make any statement about those movies.
“We just wanted to write a fun script where our friends could come in and play and write something that had a lot of women in it…”
Wiig had been working on comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live for a year by the time she and Mumolo began writing Bridesmaids in 2006. That lauded TV show helped the actress hone knife-sharp improv skills (more on that later), as well as get a feel for character-driven comedy.
But it was Wiig’s work in film that gave her the real impetus for scripting her own movie. That impetus came in the form of power-producer/director Judd Apatow. Hailed as something of a comedy hero, Apatow mined movie gold with films like Anchorman , The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up .
It was the latter that he worked on with Wiig, the actress appearing in a supporting role in the 'unexpected pregnancy' chuckler. Remembers Wiig:
“I was approached by Judd to write a script, so I called Annie and asked if she wanted to do it with me. She had this idea that she had talked about before, and said, ‘Let’s write it out.’”
Adds Mumolo: “We wanted a movie without the frill. We wanted to tell the story of what our experiences were like - the down and dirty, gritty version of bridesmaids, where not everyone’s hair is perfect and everyone looks good and has cute stories.
“We learned as we went, and Judd guided us. He has a commitment to being original, and he doesn’t stop until he finds it...”
“Every time we do a movie, I always think, ‘Who stole some of their scenes? Could any of these people star in their own movie?’” Apatow says. After seeing Wiig light up the screen as Jill in Knocked Up , he knew he’d found his next star.
“After Knocked Up , I thought Kristen deserved to be the lead of a movie. I asked her if she had any ideas and she came back to me with this idea about bridesmaids she’d worked on with her friend Annie Mumolo.”
Together, Wiig and Mumolo spent years re-writing their script, boiling it down to its funniest bare essentials. They were adamant that their wedding movie wasn’t going to end up being a nuptial nightmare in the same mould as Bride Wars .
“ Bridesmaids focuses on something that a lot of women can relate to: the people who are in the wedding,” Wiig says.
“We wanted to tell the real story of what it’s like to be in one and what you’re expected to do. It’s a lot, and it’s kind of a pain in the ass.” They started in a place of familiarity…
Write What You Know
They say that the best writers write from experience, and that’s exactly what Wiig and Mumolo did with Bridesmaids .
“Annie’s been in weddings and gone to showers, and her stories sound like they came out of a movie,” Wiig laughs. “She was in a wedding in which she couldn’t afford to go to the bachelorette party because it was a crazy trip.
“She got an email that read, ‘It’s going to be $2,500 a person, and everyone chip in.’ Her response was, ‘What? How did this happen? How do I have to spend all this money and time?’”
As the script continued to evolve and change, slowly morphing into the film that would eventually be shot, thoughts turned to who could best direct such an unusual project…
According to Wiig, Paul Feig (above left) was pretty much the first name that came up with regards to Bridesmaids ’ vacant director’s chair.
A friend of Apatow’s, Feig co-created beloved but sadly abandoned TV series Freaks And Geeks with him in 2000. When that show was cancelled, Feig went on to helm episodes of Mad Men , Weeds and The Office .
“Judd mentioned him, and we met to discuss,” recalls Wiig. “Paul cast me in my very first movie role in Unaccompanied Minors as a slutty mum. After meeting with him, I called Judd and I said, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’
“Not only is Paul incredibly talented and hilarious and has such a good mind for comedy, he’s also incredibly patient and collaborative. All the girls loved him to death. I can’t imagine anybody else as our director.” Luckily, Feig wanted in...
“Throughout the years, Judd and I have kept in touch and wanted to figure out a project to do together again,” Feig says.
“ Bridesmaids came to me several years ago. Judd invited me to a table read of Kristen and Annie’s original script, and I thought it was very funny. I was very interested.”
What most attracted Feig to the film? The very fact that it was a story about women, not to mention its honest presentation of female relationships – and yes, dalliance with seriously filthy humour.
“I’ve always been interested in doing more female-based stories,” the director explains. “I enjoy these stories and the emotions and the comedy that can be had in them.
“It’s exciting to bring Judd’s style of humour to a movie about women and still make it honest and real. We’ve explored themes that women can relate to while guys will also find it hilarious.
“What we wanted to capture was women talking like women do behind the scenes where guys aren’t privy to it.” Women like lead character Annie…
At Bridesmaids ’ heart is the story of Annie (Wiig). She’s just lost her baking business to the recession, and is wallowing in the despair of singledom. Which is just when her best friend Lillian asks her to be her maid of honour.
“It’s a very elegant story of one person pulling her life together,” notes Feig. “There’s such humanity about Kristen. She has the ability that few comedy performers have: she can play real and small as well as big and crazy.
“Yet she always grounds the bigness and the craziness in reality. My theory on comedy is that you can go as big as you want, but it has to come from a real place. She brings all that weird humanity to this role, and she’s able to summon up vulnerability at the same time that she is holding it together.”
For Wiig’s part, she wanted to create a lead female character who could stand on her own without falling into demeaning traditional archetypes.
“Sometimes girls in movies are portrayed as very girlie and perfect and they’re simply the neighbour or the wife,” the actress says.
“There’s so many funny actresses out there that to have a movie that has many funny roles for women, instead of just a couple on the side, was gratifying for Annie and me to write and help cast.”
With Wiig scooping the lead role, they now needed to find themselves a bunch of bridesmaids…
“ Bridesmaids is a gang comedy, so it’s very hard to write until you cast,” Apatow says. “The most fun part of this process was to audition every funny woman in town and to come up with a group of people to play these characters.
“Then we spent a few weeks with Paul, improvising and letting everybody make the characters their own. That’s when the really funny stuff came out.”
For the role of Helen, Lillian’s rich new friend who makes Annie’s life a misery when they start competing for the bride’s affection, Apatow didn’t have to go far to find the perfect actress.
Having just worked with Rose Byrne ( Damages , X-Men: First Class ) on Russell Brand whirlwind's Get Him To The Greek , he knew she’d be perfect as Helen. Byrne was up for it, and she had only one request.
“Give me a crack at being the bitch,” says the actress. “It’s rare that you read a script about a group of funny women in a situation that is familiar to everybody. Being a bridesmaid in a wedding drew me in; the part was so funny.
“Helen was just delicious; every time she came on the page I thought, ‘What’s she going to do now? No she didn’t… oh, yes she did.’ It just kept getting worse.” She wasn’t the only bridesmaid to cast, of course…
Another scene-stealing, ugly-dress-wearing aisle-stroller came along in the form of Megan, sister to the groom and confidently butch in everything she does. The part was bagged by Gilmore Girls’ Melissa McCarthy, in a change-up to the actress' usually sunny persona.
“I love Megan,” McCarthy assures us. “From the beginning, I wanted her to look physically like Guy Fieri on the Food Network with a big, boxy shirt. There’s nothing feminine about her except for her nails and pearls.
“She seems crazy, but she’s actually the happiest one; she’s totally well adjusted. She gets men, and her attitude is: ‘I hit it whenever I want.’ I just love that we always kept her happy, in control and confident with herself. No matter what it is, good or bad, Megan’s attitude is: ‘All right!’”
Wiig turned to her classmates at the Groundlings comedy club in search of other funnybone-tickling actresses to add to the ensemble. Eventually she cast Wendi McLendon-Covey in the role of Rita, a bored housewife who’s looking for some action.
With the addition of The Office star Ellie Kemper as a young newlywed, the gang of five bridesmaids were finally united. But you can’t have a wedding without a bride…
Keeping Bridesmaids well and truly in the comedy family, Wiig’s Saturday Night Live playmate Maya Rudolph was approached to play bride Lillian – an opportunity that Rudolph threw herself at without a second’s thought.
“When you know somebody well, you have a shorthand,” Rudolph notes of working with Wiig. “It’s so much fun to incorporate it into this film, because it makes it feel real… not just for the audience, but for us as well.
“Kristen and I have this strange way of talking to each other and making each other laugh, and you can see it throughout the movie. When do you get the opportunity to do that with somebody who shares the same brain?”
Wiig confirms it: Bridesmaids was a set overflowing with giggles. “We did a lot of laughing,” she says. “We weren’t intentionally trying to make each other laugh, but I remember the scene at the shower where we have the really serious fight and start talking about her bleaching her asshole, that was totally improvised.
“We were yelling at each other and were kind of looking at each other like, ‘Are you gonna laugh, because I am going to start laughing.’ Maya and I instantly clicked together when I started working with her and we definitely have a second language with each other.” Time to bring in some men…
Though Bridesmaids is a female-centric movie, it’s not a tree-hugging anthem to man-hate. In fact, one of its most put-together characters just happens to be one with a Y chromosome.
During Annie’s travels, she encounters police officer Nathan Rhodes. He falls head over heels for her, but year’s of weird relationships means Annie just doesn’t know how to react when she meets somebody who genuinely likes her.
The role of Rhodes went to Irish actor Chris O’Dowd, whose CV includes the likes of The IT Crowd , Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel and Vera Drake .
“People can be very sacrosanct about their scripts, and they can want nothing to be changed, and be very protective,” O’Dowd notes of the crew's love of improv. “But here, it was: ‘Whatever the best lines and best scenes are will be used.’ That’s the way it should be.”
The improvisation even extended to encompass O’Dowd’s Irish accent. “Chris came in and he did an American accent,” recalls producer Barry Mendel, “and then I thought, ‘Let’s try his natural Irish one.’ All of a sudden, this whole other side of him came out, this whole new charm.
“It helped us to flesh out his character in the final writing process, and I think he felt more comfortable being able to react on the fly during the shoot, too.” Rhodes isn't the only man in Annie's life, though…
The complete antithesis to Officer Rhodes, Ted is the guy that Annie’s been dating. A distant commitment-phobe with a swish ride and an even swisher apartment, he’s just interested in her for one thing, and it isn't her baking skills.
Smooth operator Jon Hamm of Mad Men fame nabbed that role, clearly drawn to a character that would shake up the stoic persona that he’d become known for on that ‘60s-set TV show.
“Jon plays Ted,” says Apatow, “somebody who Annie sleeps with who she would like to go out with. Basically, it’s just a sexual relationship, and it epitomises how bad she feels about herself that she lets this continue to happen. But he’s so handsome, it’s hard not to.”
Improv And Improve
One thing that Apatow’s movies have become famous for is their ability to allow improv on set that actually results in some moments of comedy gold. And Bridesmaids was no different, even before cameras rolled.
“We would improvise for hours,” says co-writer Mumolo, “and Judd would film us. Then we would go over what we taped and then work that into the script. We followed his lead. Additionally, during the movie, we were rewriting it on its feet, feeding jokes and sculpting.”
Wendi McLendon-Covey (above right) offers her impression of the work process: “We filmed all of the scenes as scripted, but then there were some scenes that lent themselves to more improv.
“So we made sure we got the coverage of the scripted version and then they would just let us go. Definitely at the opening engagement party scene where you see all of us for the first time, there was lots of improv for that.”
Improvisation was particularly important during the rehearsal period, when the actors got together for the first time and began to feel out the particulars of their characters.
“Paul and Judd had the actors rehearse and improvise,” Wiig says. “We could have a scene in the script that we didn’t touch because everyone was happy with it through all the rewrites.
“Then, when the cast read it, something didn’t feel right or an improvisation made us think, ‘It’s better now; I didn’t even think of this other side.’ It evolves through rehearsing and improvising, and then it just becomes more real and natural.”
Wiig hopes that if Bridesmaids is a success, it'll lead to more similar female-oriented movies getting the green light.
“I guess for me, every movie I’ve done has been mostly guys,” she muses. “ Whip It is another example of a movie that has mostly women in it. I hope that it’s not a rare thing for the future to have a comedy or any movie have a lot of women in it.
“So many people are saying that [Bridesmaids] is this different thing because of that, which is sad to me, to see a poster with six ladies on it as being rare, because there are so many amazing, funny women out there who should have the opportunity to do more things like this.”
She needn’t worry. Bridesmaids took its bow Stateside in May, and has been earning itself almost unanimously rave reviews…
What The Critics Say
Bridesmaids walks down the aisle here in the UK this Friday. In the US, it has already amassed an impressive $136m in box office receipts. Expect that number to double as the film rolls out around the world.
The critics have also been more than kind, gifting the film overwhelming positive notices. On Rotten Tomatoes, it’s currently 89% fresh, and much of the accolade has revolved around Wiig.
“Kristen Wiig is an indisputable goddess of comedy,” say Rolling Stone . “This rowdy fem-friendship movie she stars in and wrote with Annie Mumolo is infused with the Wiig brand of wicked mischief.”
Other reviewers, like The Standard , have compared it favourably to The Hangover : “One of the funnier comedies (of the) year (certainly better than The Hangover: Part II ).”
For Wiig, the idea that her movie is being branded ‘the female Hangover ’ doesn’t sit quite right. “When we were writing it, [ Mumolo and I ] weren’t like, ‘Oh, yeah! Now it’s the ladies’ turn!’” she says. “It’s 2011; I don’t even know why it’s an issue.
“There are so many funny women in the world, and there has been for so many years, so I’ll be happy when people can just move on from that, and things can just be ‘comedies’ and not ‘female’ or ‘male’, and everyone gets an equal opportunity.” A toast to that...