In the summer of 2007, many of us found ourselves sitting in chilled and darkened theaters, popcorn in hand, watching (what was to become) one of the worlds favorite comedians pop off the screen in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up and steal the show with just a few short scenes.
The audience and Apatow were in perfect accord: Kristen Wiig’s turn as Jill, against Alan Tudyk’s Jack, was the hilarious, dynamic and deceptively subtle work of an actress who needed her own movie. With that goal in mind, Apatow charged Wiig with the task of creating a vehicle for herself. Wiig, already a favorite on Saturday Night Live, was working on the germ of an idea for a movie with her writing partner, Groundings co-hort, and friend, Annie Mumolo, when Apatow approached her with the opportunity. The women pitched their concept to the director/producer and in (shockingly) short order, Bridesmaids was born.
Well, perhaps we ought to rephrase. Mumalo pitched the idea without a real sense that pitching was in fact what she was doing, and in (shockingly) short-order Bridesmaids was conceived (read: received a greenlight from the studio). The film will be born (released to audiences) this coming Friday. Let us assure you, this is a birthing room (midnight showing) you will want to be in.
We had the opportunity to interview Mumolo at the Los Angeles press event for the film, who told us the story of her first meeting with Apatow:
“It’s so funny because I had no idea at the time that I was ‘pitching a movie.’ Kristen called me because she was in New York and she said ‘can you just go in and tell him what it is’ and I was like, ‘sure.’ So I went in and he was editing “Knocked Up” at the time and I was like ‘Oh he’s actually…he’s…this guy’s like for real.’ So I told him the story and the next day we thought maybe we wanted to change our minds. So we thought we would tell him the other one and he was like, ‘Oh no, I already sold the other one to Universal so…’ It was very fast. That part of the process, that initial thing was the quickest part. That was 2006 and now its 2011.”
The “other idea” that Mumolo refers to is currently on “the back-burner,” should the ladies want to pursue it in the future. (We have the distinct sense that they will be asked to pull forward several of their back-burner and shelved ideas in the coming weeks.) Before we proceed with our investigation into the inception and development of the first truly must-see comedy of the year, let us pause for a moment to reflect back on a scene from the film that won Wiig and Mumolo the opportunity to create Bridesmaids.
Kristen Wiig as the ultimate catty co-worker in Knocked Up.
The women spent years working on the script, as Mumolo described,“Getting into the heads,” of each of the characters. “We had both been in both positions,” the writer/actress continued, “so we would sit in the heads of those people, and come from the heart.”
Apatow brought his Freaks and Geeks co-creator Paul Feig on-board to helm the film. The magic of a Feig/Apatow partnership seemed a perfect fit for Mumolo/Wiig’s script, in that Freaks and Geeks has a a quality of sincerity amidst the humor that that ladies were hoping to bring to life with their film. As Mumolo explains it:
“One of the most important things was to make sure that the relationships were coming from a very real place with the way that women really communicate with each other, and the different dynamics that come into play when you have a (very different) group of women with one common freind. We wanted to play with the real exchanges between women and the real emotions that come into play in friendships.”
Of course, being an uproariously funny comedy means that said sense of reality is heightened in the circumstances and reactions of the characters. But amidst the deliciously preposterous actions and events in the film, there is always a kernel of relatability and sense of (as Stephen Colbert says) “truthiness.” Mumolo used her own life, and the lives of her friends, as a jumping off point for the stories and characters:
“Everything was sort of a version of things I had experienced…but blown out. Some of the things were things I maybe wished I would have done at a given time but didn’t do. But I think that some of the relationship stuff was very real to me.”
Many viewers experience a similar feeling when watching the film: Kristen Wiig, in a sense, stands in as the outward expression of what we often want to do or say, but don’t. One of the most notable scenes in the film is when Wiig’s character (Annie) has a full-scale meltdown on a plane as the result of a combination of flying nerves and a (highly entertaining) mix of barbiturates and alcohol. The scene was one of the moments in the film that was inspired by an event in Mumolo’s real life.
Take a look at the beginning of Wiig’s airplane bananarama in the clip below:
“I did have an incident where I had to be drugged to get on a plane and my sister told stories about it at my wedding because I was with her, and it was kind of insane on the plane. And –Vegas — I did have experiences in Vegas. We had a whole Los Vegas sequence in the middle up until almost two weeks before we started shooting when we took that out and put in the airplane scene.”
How The Hangover ruined the Vegas sequence:
The primary reason for removing the Vegas sequence from the production schedule was a film that came out of nowhere to take the box office by storm in 2009. Apatow felt that The Hangover did Vegas just about as well as any film was going to do it, and leary of unwanted parallel drawing, decided to pull the sequence from the final script. Fortunately, the sequence that replaces is it even more viscerally satisfying and (as a happy accident) more organically in-line with the trajectory of our heroines’ story.
Unfortunately, the removal of the Vegas material did not waylay the likening to The Hangover. Bridesmaids has been called “The Hangover for girls” repeatedly, even before it has had a chance to open and demonstrate its unique brand of humor. The basic premise for the film (the outlandish antics that precede nuptials) begs a bit of a comparison to The Hangover, to which Mumolo responds:
“We started writing this movie in 2006, before we even knew anything about “The Hangover”…So when we were writing the movie we didn’t have that in mind at all, but we did want to write an ensemble movie with females. What happened was that a lot of Wedding-themed movies came out and then “The Hangover” came out and so we wanted to hone in on what was unique about us, and our story in the tone. But if people are comparing us to “The Hangover” I hope as many people go to our movie as “The Hangover,” and I can see why people are drawing that comparison.”
At its core, Bridesmaids is simply a universally enjoyable and hillarious film. By nature of the fact that it is (perhaps unwittingly) filling a void, however, it also turns the notions of the “chick flick,” and “Wedding movie” on their respective heads. Mumolo says that they did in part want to undo what they saw as a limited depiction of Bridal tales:
“This is the no frills, none of the fluffy, just the real gritty version that I know to be more true of what it’s like to be a Bridesmaid.”
At this point a demonstration of “what it is like to be an actor at a junket” was had when a hungry, shoeless, Kristen Wiig wandered in (in one of our favorite moments from the interview) and temporary pause was taken to discuss comfortable shoes and food — the essentials.
One of the (perhaps) unexpected results of the film is how it has opened the door to a far broader discussion of women in comedy. We brought up the fact that even with Tina Fey’s book Bossypants as a bestseller right now, and a plethora of outrageously funny female comedians, the question “are women funny?” still finds its way into the public discourse. “I know, isn’t it weird?” Mumalo responded.
This journalist was temepted to strangle a fellow reporter when he (with what he thought was a compliment) referred to the film as “boy humor with women.” One of the film’s strenghts is in fact that it is decidedly feminine humor, genuinely female humor, not some sanitized, two-dimensional notion of how women, think, feel and behave.
When we relayed the exchange with our well-meaning movie writer friend, as well as the details of a recent conversation with a female comedian, in which she broke down when and how women are (theoretically) allowed to be funny (i.e. if you’re attractive you can only be funny as a biach…and so forth) to Mumolo, the writer mused:
“I think I have been exposed to that way of thinking. For us, when we started writing this movie we definitely wanted to…I wouldn’t say we set out to prove anything, or anything like that at all. But we just wanted to — we know women that are so funny in our personal lives, and also performing-wise. We just thought ‘lets write something that really kind of gives them a chance to show their stuff,’ because we just kind of felt like we were dying to do that.”
Show their stuff they absolutely do. The cast of this film is filed with some of the world’s most skilled and hilarious improvisational comedians. Most of the ladies came up together via the Groundlings, and those that did not, took to the work like a nervous bride to a Vicoden in the shape of a unicorn (the unicorn shaped Vicoden is Wendi Mclendon-Covey’s joke, wish I could take credit).
Each of the women and men in the film brought something of themselves to their roles and improv was incorporated into the script which then birthed more improv. The filmmakers continued to tweek the dialogue and infuse the work with the actors’ spontaneous inspirations throughout the course of production. One of the most important things that Mumolo says she learned working with Apatow was, “Not to get too precious with the words,” and to never stop striving to, “improve the material.”
“We would constantly say ‘new choice do something new, new jokes.'” Mumolo relayed, “it was all sort of a fluid moving process.”
With the variety of takes and interpretations for each scene, there are likely at least two extra movies worth of DVD features, which we can look forward to seeing in the future. When asked which behind the scenes moment or outtake was her absolute favorite, however, Mumolo responded:
“It was actually during the ADR session when Jon Hamm and Kristen were doing…(laughing to herself) You know in the beginig when you can “hear” them but you don’t see them yet? So we were recording a bunch of different versions of what they would be saying to each other in bed and then we were like, ‘Jon — what if you sing?’ like what if you say, ‘I think I’m gonna sing! I’m gonna sing right now!’ So he started singing this song as he was climaxing. It was very graffic and ex rated. And that just cracked me up, it was so funny.”
Hamm will go quite far for his art as it turns out, even creating original R&B works, that illustrate …ultimate…completion. “I love John Hamm, talk about multitalented,” Mumolo continued. We couldn’t agree more, though it does seem that the genetic lottery went a bit into overdrive when it crafted this man.
As far as future projects are concerened. Mumolo is currently busy “taking meetings.” We hope, and believe, that those meetings will morph into offers once Bridesmaids opens this Friday. Be sure to look out for our official review.
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