By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist June 16, 2011 at 9:28AM
Did The 'Game-Changing' Comedy Really Change Anything?
As we've already discussed at length, "Bridesmaids" is not only one of the best films of the year so far, but also a big, giant hit. Already the third-biggest grosser in the Judd Apatow stable, it's had hugely impressive legs, dropping fractionally week-on-week and is heading to at least a $150 million domestic gross, and possibly even more. And, as is usual with hits, most of those involved have gotten big career boosts: Apatow is back on top after a string of under-performers, breakout star Melissa McCarthy has lined up two "Bridesmaids" reunions, one with writer Annie Mumolo, the other with director Paul Feig and star Jon Hamm, romantic lead Chris O'Dowd bagged a gig in the "Knocked Up" sequel/spin-off, and Ellie Kemper joined the cast of "21 Jump Street."
But something's a little off here. These announcements have all arrived in the five weeks since the movie opened, but not a peep has been heard from the film's lead, "Saturday Night Live" veteran Kristen Wiig, who not only starred, but also served as a co-writer and co-producer on the project. Not long after her scene-stealing turn in "Knocked Up," producer Apatow approached Wiig with the idea, Wiig in turn took it to her old friend, Mumolo, and the pair worked on the script together bicoastally over a series of years. It's a film that wouldn't exist without her, and yet she doesn't seem to be getting the boost, despite virtually every review, including the handful of negative ones, praising her performance to the skies. How come?
Wiig, who's also coming off a strong performance in the moderate hit "Paul," was in the running to join Sacha Baron Cohen in "The Dictator" before "Bridesmaids" landed, but lost out to Anna Faris. Earlier in the year, she told us that she hoped to be shooting dark comedy "Imogene," from "Cinema Verite" team Shari Spring Berman and Robert Pulcini this summer, but there's been no further news (though we're hoping this is the calm before the storm on that front). While she hadn't then yet begun her adaptation of Monica Drake's novel "Clown Girl," which she optioned a while back, and considering she's been on the "Bridesmaids" publicity train ever since, she probably hasn't gotten much further on it.
But there's been no news on a Wiig project, either old or new, since "Bridesmaids" which feels off: for the most part, when a Jonah Hill or a Seth Rogen or a Russell Brand have a hit, they seem to have offers coming out of their eyeballs. And virtually everyone else involved seems to have done well off the film immediately: the director, the producer, the co-writer, the surprise break-out stars (McCarthy and Hamm), even some of the supporting players, like Kemper and O'Dowd. But no Wiig.
Some might put it down to her long-running TV commitment, but that doesn't quite scan: while no cast shake-ups have been announced yet, it's widely expected that both Wiig and Jason Sudeikis will leave "Saturday Night Live" shortly, considering their blossoming movie careers. Even if Wiig does stay for one final season (or even a half-season, as Amy Poehler did), she still has three months remaining of her hiatus before she has to be back at SNL. And TV conflicts haven't stopped "Bridesmaids" co-star Melissa McCarthy, who stars in the hit "Mike & Molly," from lining up film roles.
It could simply be that she's recuperating: the exhausting press tour for "Bridesmaids" (and "Paul" before that), combined with the weekly SNL gig can't have been easy for her. And maybe a big-screen remake of "Cagney & Lacey" teaming Wiig and Anna Faris, or something, will be announced this evening, and we'll look like fussy pricks (but when is that not the case?). But really, we suspect that it comes to down to a lack of material. It seems ridiculous to say it about someone as talented as Wiig, but at 38, she's the wrong side of 30 for the tastes of most Hollywood executives ( Ellie Kemper is 31, but plays younger, hence her casting as Channing Tatum's love interest in "21 Jump Street"), and exists in the weird no man's land of female roles between 'girlfriend' and 'mom.'
Generally speaking, if actresses want a decent role, they have to generate it themselves -- which is what Wiig did for "Bridesmaids" and looks to continue to do, or else hope that an older male star like Baron Cohen or Simon Pegg (who's never carried a hit the size of Wiig's film, but has no problem getting work), is happy to have an age-appropriate, faintly three-dimensional love interest. But without a benefactor like Apatow -- who we hope continues to support his female cast as much as he has the likes of Seth Rogen and Jason Segel -- she may still struggle to get darker projects like "Imogene" and "Clown Girl" made, let alone something as brutal as Rogen's "Observe and Report" or as expensive as Danny McBride's "Your Highness." For all the big talk and chest-puffing op-eds the media ran on the idea of "Bridesmaids" being a game-changer, as far as female-driven comedies go, we're not yet convinced that it's succeeded in opening the doors that should have been opened long ago. At least not yet.
In fact, aside from Kemper and McCarthy, few of the film's female cast seem to have been able to capitalize on the film's success so immediately. With Maya Rudolph, it's understandable: she's currently pregnant with her third child with director Paul Thomas Anderson and she'll be appearing in the fall alongside Christina Applegate and Will Arnett in the hotly tipped parenting sitcom "Up All Night," so she doesn't have much room for a movie project even if the offers were coming in. But Wendi McLendon-Covey and Rose Byrne, as strong in the film as anyone else, don't have anything lined up, either, and it's a little confusing.
It's particularly baffling in the case of Byrne, considering she hasn't just had one big hit in the first half of this year, she's had three, with "Insidious" and "X-Men First Class" joining the Apatow comedy. While she was perhaps initially dismissed as just a pretty face after "Troy," she's proven herself to be a hugely talented and versatile actress, particularly showing a surprising flair for comedy after stealing the show with a hilarious turn in last year's "Get Him to the Greek." And yet, more or often than not, she's stuck in thankless girlfriend/wife roles, like those in "Knowing" or 'X-Men,' whereas at the very least she should be going up for the same kind of parts as Anne Hathaway, for instance.
Maybe we're being alarmist (probably so), but we know that we'd be dying to get any of these actresses cast in a project tout suite if we had the money and the power, and we can't understand why they don't have a line of suitors, when a charisma vacuum like, say, Garrett Hedlund is mentioned for every possible male lead going. Fingers crossed, they'll all get plenty of substantial roles without going back to the well for any "Bridesmaids" sequels.