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“The Hangover” & “Bridesmaids:” A Look at Comparisons Between Modern Comedy

May 16, 2011

By John C.

Since the dawn of entertainment, there has been much debate as to what makes something funny.  Why do certain things make audiences laugh and others miss their mark?  The bigger question in Hollywood seems to be whether or not there is any one formula to effectively tickle the box office funny bone.

Super-producer Judd Apatow has clearly figured something out over the years, with numerous hits to his name including The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up.  His latest production, the refreshingly female-centric Bridesmaids, became another critical and commercial success over the weekend with comfortable second place earnings of approximately $26.3 million.

But one of the biggest comedic successes in recent memory was not under the production of Mr. Apatow.  Two years ago, director Todd Phillips’ The Hangover came out of practically nowhere and became one of the most successful R-rated comedy of all time.  The story of three guys (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and breakout star Zach Galifianakis) waking up in Las Vegas with no recollection of a wild bachelor party and the groom gonemissing, immediately became an instant classic.  Part 2 is set to open on May 26th.

Most interesting is that The Hangover and Bridesmaids have been the source of much predictable comparison, to both positive and negative effect.  Bridesmaids charts the story of Annie (Kristen Wiig) who’s chosen as the maid of honour at her best friend’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding, only to have their friendship threatened by an overachieving bridesmaid (Rose Byrne).  There are many talented comedic actresses currently working in Hollywood, and the star power that Wiig displays here is nothing short of exciting.  The motormouthed Melissa McCarthy is of course the breakout star.  With laughs this big, it really doesn’t matter if those bringing the funny are male or female.

But past the ensemble casts, big laughs and wedding-themed plots, Bridesmaids and The Hangover really don’t have much in common.  The Hangover takes place in a contained amount of time, unraveling like a mystery with every scene playing towards the natural resolution.  Like most Apatow productions, the pacing of Bridesmaids is a little more relaxed, with certain scenes feeling needless when in conjunction with the actual story.  But this is often fine as it allows for more emotional ups and downs in the script which can lead to better character development.

A closer comparison to Bridesmaids would be the excellent I Love You, Man.  That 2009 Paul Rudd and Jason Segal comedy explored the depths of platonic male friendship, and at its best pitted these interactions against those of the women in the script.  Most admirable about Bridesmaids is its often painfully honest and sometimes bittersweet look at female friendship, allowing us to laugh with and care for these characters.

In my opinion, the only thing holding back Bridesmaids was a needlessly disgusting scene of projectile vomiting at a dress fitting.  Gross-out scenes have been increasingly popular in the last few years, but the recent crop of comedies have been smart enough to not rely on this lowest common denominator of physical humour.  I understand the point of including this gag was to prove that girls can be just as gross as the guys, but it’s hard to think of a scene focused on explosive bodily functions that’s actually funny.

Still, we need to commend Bridesmaids for striking a satisfying balance between heartfelt scenes and genuine raunchiness, making it one of those rare comedies that appeals to men and women alike.  But it’s sad that we even have to be saying this, as for too long it has been a stereotype that a film with a mainly female cast will only appeal to women.  Just as The Hangover was embraced equally by both sexes, it should be more correctly said that Bridesmaids is one of the first mainstream films to successfully sidestep this cliché.

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