Kristen Wiig

Bridesmaids (2011, Paul Feig), the unrated version

Whatever its faults, Bridesmaids‘s filmmakers get credit for making Maya Rudolph’s parents black and white, instead of ignoring her racial background like many other films would. Sadly, being better in that regard does not make up for Rudolph’s performance being the film’s worst or her character being dreadfully underwritten.

Writers Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, for the wedding and lead in to the wedding, borrow from a lot of popular movies (some even from producer Judd Apatow’s oeuvre). It’s sometimes successful, but in the end, it’s trite.

Luckily, Wiig did not just cowrite Bridesmaids, she starred in it. Her performance is fantastic, as is her story arc. Removing the wedding stuff with Rudolph might get rid of Bridesmaids‘s MacGuffin, but it would have produced a far better film.

Bridesmaids suffers from too much funny business. The filmmakers eject multiple subplots to concentrate on Wiig and her problems. There’s her romance with genial cop Chris O’Dowd, her sex-only relationship with an uncredited Jon Hamm (who’s hilarious) and her life just generally being in a bad place.

From the start, Mumolo and Wiig never ground Bridesmaids in a believable reality. They seem to think setting it in Milwaukee will do the trick alone–and it does some of the heavy lifting–but Wiig’s life is cartoonish. Unfortunately, the script often relies on being absurd instead of sincere.

Great supporting turns from Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy help, especially during weaker sequences.

Feig’s direction is affably indistinct.

Wiig’s performance is, again, fantastic.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Feig; written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo; director of photography, Robert D. Yeomen; edited by William Kerr and Michael L. Sale; music by Michael Andrews; production designer, Jefferson Sage; produced by Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel and Clayton Townsend; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Kristen Wiig (Annie Walker), Maya Rudolph (Lillian Donovan), Rose Byrne (Helen Harris III), Melissa McCarthy (Megan), Wendi McLendon-Covey (Rita), Ellie Kemper (Becca), Chris O’Dowd (Officer Nathan Rhodes), Jill Clayburgh (Ms. Walker), Franklyn Ajaye (Mr. Donovan), Jon Hamm (Ted), Matt Lucas (Gil) and Rebel Wilson (Brynn).


Knocked Up (2007, Judd Apatow), the unrated version

Once upon a time, I read how what Apatow really does with Knocked Up is make a film about how men need to change to be acceptable for women. I think the article used stronger language. While that aspect of the film is present, it’s an extreme reading. It could just as well be about how a contentless young woman learns there’s something more important in life than shoes. Apatow backs off that aspect in terms of lead Katherine Heigl (she couldn’t have handled it anyway), but does give Leslie Mann (as her sister) a decent arc.

Unfortunately, he eventually loses track of Paul Rudd (as Mann’s husband) on his arc.

The film never really succeeds because it eventually requires the viewer to believe Heigl’s a good person. She’s not a murderer or anything… but good person is a stretch. Heigl doesn’t have any dramatic range (though her comedy timing is surprisingly good) and the romance between her and Seth Rogen, which one might say is essential, fails.

So, instead, Knocked Up is often just really funny. Even when Apatow’s doing his heartfelt scenes, he manages to get in a bunch of dick and fart jokes.

It helps he’s got Rogen, who’s fantastic, and the rest of the supporting cast. Jason Segel’s awesome; Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Martin Starr, all good. Alan Tudyk and Kristen Wiig (especially Wiig) are great in small parts.

Apatow seems to want the viewer to think about Knocked Up, which doesn’t play to its strengths.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Judd Apatow; director of photography, Eric Alan Edwards; edited by Craig Alpert and Brent White; music by Joe Henry and Loudon Wainwright III; production designer, Jefferson Sage; produced by Apatow, Shauna Robertson and Clayton Townsend; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Seth Rogen (Ben Stone), Katherine Heigl (Alison Scott), Paul Rudd (Pete), Leslie Mann (Debbie), Jason Segel (Jason), Jay Baruchel (Jay), Jonah Hill (Jonah), Martin Starr (Martin), Charlyne Yi (Jodi), Iris Apatow (Charlotte), Maude Apatow (Sadie), Joanna Kerns (Alison’s Mom), Harold Ramis (Ben’s Dad), Alan Tudyk (Jack), Kristen Wiig (Jill), Bill Hader (Brent), Ken Jeong (Dr. Kuni) and Craig Robinson (Club Doorman).


Paul (2011, Greg Mottola)

Maybe Simon Pegg needs Edgar Wright or maybe Nick Frost just shouldn’t be writing because Paul should be great and it’s not.

Some of the problem comes from having Seth Rogen voice the titular, CG alien. Rogen does a fine job but he’s such a dynamic presence, Pegg and Frost sort of fade into the background. But it’s also a really busy script, with Jason Bateman hunting down the fugitives, Kristen Wiig meeting up with them and then John Carroll Lynch (as her father) chasing them down too.

Oh, and Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio as Bateman’s subordinates.

It also occurs to me it’s Pegg’s first American film (as a co-writer and production force) and that factor might be the damning one. Mottola is the wrong director for this film. He brings no personality to it and he probably got Hader and Wiig the jobs. Hader’s awful and Wiig’s mediocre. And whoever casted Sigourney Weaver should have realized his or her mistake when her painfully unfunny comic performance showed up in the dailies and done something about it.

However, it’s got a wonder part for Blythe Danner. If the film had been more Danner and less everyone (except the alien), it would have been a lot better.

Jeffrey Tambor is pretty funny in an unfortunately tiny role.

Still, it’s not awful and is mildly entertaining. The jokes in the script are pretty funny, it’s just not a good script.

Paul even manages to bore in its obvious shortcomings.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Greg Mottola; written by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg; director of photography, Lawrence Sher; edited by Chris Dickens; music by David Arnold; production designer, Jefferson Sage; produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Nira Park; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Simon Pegg (Graeme Willy), Nick Frost (Clive Gollings), Seth Rogen (Paul), Kristen Wiig (Ruth Buggs), Jason Bateman (Special Agent Lorenzo Zoil), Bill Hader (Agent Haggard), Joe Lo Truglio (Agent O’Reilly), Jane Lynch (Pat Stevenson), Sigourney Weaver (the Big Guy), Blythe Danner (Tara Walton), Mia Stallard (Young Tara Walton), John Carroll Lynch (Moses Buggs), David Koechner (Gus), Jesse Plemons (Jake) and Jeffrey Tambor (Adam Shadowchild).


Adventureland (2009, Greg Mottola)

I hate Adventureland. I mean, it’s a rather good film, but I’m going to have to say nice things about Ryan Reynolds now and so I hate it. Reynolds has a small but significant role in the film and he’s fantastic, bringing humanity to what should be a common character. I cringed at his name in the credits then proceeded to love his performance. So I hate Adventureland.

Greg Mottola’s film isn’t revolutionary. It’s a coming of age story. But there’s a lot of nice nuance to it. It’s a post-college coming of age story, set in 1987, but nothing like a movie from 1987. Then there’s the whole undercurrent of anti-semiticism, which gets a specific scene, but not a lot of notice–the film’s primary three characters are Jewish (I’m just guessing with Jesse Eisenberg’s character, as it wouldn’t make much sense if he wasn’t) and they have this awkward relationship with the Catholics they work with. Mottola doesn’t establish it, he just later refers to it–it’s part of the ground situation, something everyone knows about and the viewer has to get caught up on immediately. It’s beautiful. Or Eisenberg being the youngest guy drinking at the bar. It just goes on and on.

But what Adventureland is all about, what makes it singular, is Kristen Stewart. I’ve been a fan since Speak–though I’ve never gotten around to seeing any of her films–and Adventureland is something of a showcase for her talent. Mottola seems to realize Eisenberg’s problems can’t carry an entire film, so he juxtaposes it with Stewart and her situation. Her situation is slightly more singular than Eisenberg’s and, even if it weren’t, it’s clear Stewart would be amazing in more pat scenes. Fingers crossed Stewart doesn’t let the paychecks of Twilight-like malarky sway her from doing good films.

So what about Eisenberg, the film’s ostensible lead? He’s great too. He’s nothing compared to Stewart, but he’s great. He’s got a great way of delivering Mottola’s dialogue–there’s always this thoughtful pause. It’s impossible to imagine the film without this cast.

Martin Starr’s solid as Eisenberg’s sort-of friend, Matt Bush hilarious as the childhood friend Eisenberg has outgrown (another one of Adventureland and Mottola’s lovely moves). Bill Hader has what would be the most traditional comedy role and he’s funny. It works.

Mottola’s direction is excellent. His strengths as a filmmaker more than make up for the film running about five minutes too long, maybe seven.

But I still hate Adventureland for making me say nice things about Ryan Reynolds.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Greg Mottola; director of photography, Terry Stacey; edited by Anne McCabe; music by Yo La Tengo; production designer, Stephen Beatrice; produced by Ted Hope, Anne Carey and Sidney Kimmel; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Jesse Eisenberg (James Brennan), Kristen Stewart (Em Lewin), Martin Starr (Joel Schiffman), Bill Hader (Bobby), Kristen Wiig (Paulette), Margarita Levieva (Lisa P.), Jack Gilpin (Mr. Brennan), Wendie Malick (Mrs. Brennan) and Ryan Reynolds (Mike Connell).


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