MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs. Picks of the Week: New. Bridesmaids, Le Quattro Volte


Bridesmaids (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Paul Feig, 2011 (Universal)

Kristen Wiig is one funny lady, and Bridesmaids — in which she is both star and co-writer — is one funny movie.

 That’s hardly news. “Bridesmaids” is one of the best reviewed, best liked Hollywood comedies of the year. By current consensus, it’s also one of the funniest female buddy-buddy comedies ever. I agree. I concur. Funny it definitely is.

 But it’s not as if Bridesmaids has a lot of competition. Male buddy-buddy comedies (or “bromances“) — movies like I Love You, Man or The Hangover, or most of Bridesmaid producer Judd Apatow’s other movies — keep popping up all over the multiplexes and box-office charts, misbehaving wildly and scoring big, while female buddy-buddy comedies, which tend to be sappier and better behaved — and less funny — are fewer and rarer.

 So, why has this latest diversion from producer Judd Apatow been greeted with such rousing approval? Well, probably because this is one woman-centered comedy that refuses to act lady-like, that keeps mixing it up, comedically, with the guys — never backing away from a gross-out gag, a sex joke, a poop bit, or bare breasts, if they can get a laugh.

 Like the better “guy” comedies, it’s rude and smart and often foul-mouthed. But it also has that final vein of warmth and sensitivity that Apatow likes, the gentler touch that humanizes and justifies all the trash talk and toilet humor — for those who are offended by four letter words and bodily functions.

It’s also liked a lot because of Wiig, who here plays Annie, a meltdown-prone maid of honor, designated as M.O.H. for the upcoming wedding of her longtime friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph, wonderful), alongside four sometimes frantically diverse bridesmaids — played by Ellie Kemper (as demure introvert Becca), Wendi McLendon-Covey (as discontented housewife Rita), Rose Byrne (as “perfect” rich girl chum Helen) and — playing feisty Megan, the gal with the baddest mouth in the place, and most of the best lines — the transcendently hilarious Melissa McCarthy.

 Byrne’s nicey-nice, porcelain-pretty, well-connected Helen, is Annie’s special nemesis: a woman for whom everything goes right, just as everything seems to go wrong for Annie. Worse, Helen is a bridesmaid who’s now laying claim — loudly, publicly — to the bride‘s affections, proclaiming herself Lillian‘s “best friend.”

 Annie and Helen are natural combatants. Annie is a shaggy, slightly messy blonde; Helen has every hair and designer thread in place, plus a smile that would disarm a charging rhino. Annie has a tart tongue; pastries of all kinds would melt in Helen’s mouth, while somehow mysteriously eluding her waist line. Annie’s life is falling apart to such an extent that she has to move back in with her mom (played, in her last movie role, by the late Jill Clayburgh); Helen is not exactly filthy rich, because filth is something that never really enters her world. She’s immaculately, spotlessly rich. And seemingly nice.

The two duelling ladies first square off at a pre-wedding party, where they keep upstaging each other, in flamboyant onstage protestations of everlasting friendship. (“My friend!“” “No, my friend!“) It keeps getting worse, and funnier, right up the upbeat ending we secretly know will come, with songs courtesy of Wilson Phillips.

Caught in the middle, Maya Rudolph makes bride Lillian a seeming marvel of tolerance. We can understand why Annie is her best friend, see what the two shared together. (Annie was the wild card that Lillian kept hidden in her soul.) We know why these two Milwaukee gals love each other, despite Annie’s amazing capacity for foul-ups and self-destruction, and despite Lillian’s seemingly straighter, more sensible make-up. And we know why someone like Helen can come between them, and why Annie, embittered, would hate her guts on sight.

This three-cornered havoc is beautifully played by the trio, especially Wiig. As she hops and lurches from one catastrophe to another, Annie gives new meaning to the words “her own worst enemy.“ There’s an Annie-organized bridal diner that ends in mass diarrhea, a bachelor girl outing that climaxes in Annie drunkenly disrupting a whole plane ride. There’s the wedding shower debacle, the pre-wedding no-show crisis.

If all that isn’t enough, Annie also has man troubles. She haplessly plays erotic playmate  to Jon Hamm’s smirky would-be super-stud Ted, who calls her his “fuck-buddy” and his “Number Three.” (Hamm and Wiig, supply, at the beginning, some of the funniest intercourse scenes I’ve seen. Ever. Anywhere.) And Annie, predictably messes up her own good fortune, when an overpoweringly sweet and wryly funny Irish cop (Chris O’Dowd) falls for her and tries to pull her out of her wreckage.

Finally, in what seems the coup de bleepin’ grace, the Maid of Honor loses it completely at a super-rich Helen-organized party. Annie, convinced that Helen‘s present to Lillian (a trip to Paris) outshines hers (friendship mementos), erupts in a tantrum that ends in a wild attack on a huge (and apparently edible) man-size cookie on the patio, all before horrified, fascinated guests.

 We’re horrified, fascinated, and amused, too. Wiig, who makes Annie just dysfunctional enough to be scarily funny and just savvy enough to be believable movie romance material, plays Annie with a screwy smile, wary but inviting eyes, a flair for glib badinage and a herky-jerky mastery of comic mobility that hits its heights in that airplane fiasco and on one adorable Charlestonish-dance she does on the white line as O’Dowd’s nice guy cop tries to measure her possible drunkenness. After a tail-light violation. (Running gag.)

Am I spoiling some of these jokes? Nah, nothing could ruin them. The cast is too crackerjack, the human observation too clever and too compassionate.

 This is a movie that seemingly nails nearly every laugh it goes after, from the (relatively) tasteful to the utterly tasteless. Take the barf scene, which suggests Apatow input, where Wiig and her gifted collaborators (co-writer Annie Mumolo and director Paul Feig) have the bridal gang eat at a questionable Mexican restaurant (picked by Wiig) until most of them start barfing and pooping all over a posh dress salon. It’s a truly Apatovian, or Farrellyistic, moment. I’ll never forget the delicately pained expression on Maya Rudolph’s face as she crouches in the street, wedding gown spread out protectively, and just lets it happen.

 It sounds gross. It is. But it’s sweet too. And it makes you laugh.

 All these people, in fact, make you laugh, not just the bride and her bridesmaids, but nearly everyone else too. This is a show whose overall comedy I.Q. is very, very high — inspired foolery verging on genius. Wiig should be hired to make comedies forever, with or without poop. Apatow should produce them, and Feig direct a few. And recent Emmy-winner Melissa McCarthy — who gives beefy, wise-cracking Megan the best laughs-to-lines ratio I’ve seen all year — well, give her a great big hand, and another great big role.

 Megan is the odd gal in. Among her beauteous co-maids, she resembles a gym teacher who wandered into the ball with a lot of Cinerellas, spewing smart-assery. Actually she’s a high-security-clearance government employee, who, as she tells Annie, was picked on as a kid, and then took hold of her life (and a few stray air marshals) — which is what she wants Annie to do. This movie is especially good at moving from laughs to seriousness and back again, and the best characters at doing that are Annie and Megan.

After all this praise of the women in Bridesmaids, it may seem an oddity to finally get to the director: and to find Paul Feig, a genuine guy and a TV whiz, who’s directed a lot of “Offices.” But Feig does a knockout job. The dominant personality here is Wiig, but Feig looks like he had a lot of fun making this movie, and he shares it.

So does Wiig. I’ve never seen her on “Saturday Night Live,” so I guess I missed her best stuff. Until now, that is. Bridesmaids is her best stuff, must be, gotta be, and she shares it with a dynamite cast, with all of whom she’s very, very generous.

Listen, this lady is nobody’s Number Three.


Le Quattro Volte (Three and a Half Stars)

Italy/Germany/Switzerland: Michelangelo Frammartino, 2010 (Lorber)

Movies, more than any other art form, can precisely show and beautifully render the appearance and feel and flow of reality: the look of the world, the way time passes, the way humans and animals and other life forms act on our planet. (And also, more distantly, the look of other planets or even stars). Few fictional films have rendered the look and feel of the world more powerfully, more memorably, than Michelangelo Frammartino’s Italian film Le Quattro Volte, or “The Four Times.”

Frammartino’s film, set in a tiny village in Italy‘s Calabria mountain country, is like some pure, austere culmination of Italy’s great neo-realist film movement. Not a documentary, Le Quattro Volte manages to feel like one, to give us the illusion of unmediated or unaltered life. Not exactly a drama, it manages to carry us into the heart of all drama, life and death, and successively, into the souls not only of an old dying man who herds goats, but of a goat kid, of a majestic tree, and of the charcoal made from that tree’s burned remnants. (Souls? Yes.)

The title refers to the philosopher Pythagoras, who once lived in this approximate area, 2,500 years ago, and to his concept of the four stages of life: intellectual, animal, vegetable, and mineral. Those four stages correspond also to the central subjects of each of Le Quattro Volte’s four chapters: the old goatherd (intellectual), the goat kid (animal), the tree (vegetable) and the charcoal in the kiln (mineral).

Does a single soul pass among all these various forms? Maybe. More crucially, Frammartino invites us to view all life as important, as a worthy subject for his art and our closest attention.

SPOILER ALERT (Ignore, if you feel like it.)

The first chapter is almost unbearably poignant — and if it stood alone , that segment might be regarded as a neo-realist classic almost as moving as De Sica’s Umberto D or Olmi’s The Tree of Wooden Clogs, both of which it recalls. We watch the old goatherd (Giuseppe Fuda) and his dog leading his herd of goats, with their clamorous bells, into the unpopulated mountain pastures, and later lead them home, to the combination room and barn he keeps them in. We watch his one strong link with the outside world: his nightly trading of goats milk for ashes scraped from the local church floor, ashes which he dissolves in water and drinks as medicine or holy water. One night, he misses the trade of milk for ashes and dies the next day.

The second chapter shows a goat kid being born (an incredible sight), then shows the animal following the herd into the forest, becoming trapped in a trench and separated from them, then wandering, lost, in bad weather, until the kid reaches the majestic tree. The third shows us that tree towering toward the sky, then being cut down in a vast, merry and colorful town celebration. Finally, in the fourth chapter,  we watch the logs being burned in the kiln and turned into wood charcoal.

This is a film you don’t necessarily interpret but feel and absorb. In each section someone or something dies and is transformed. And though there are sure to be intolerant and dismissive viewers of Le Quattro Volte who say that “nothing happens” in this remarkable film, they are wrong.

What could be more momentous, more moving, more dramatic, than life and death? And transformation? (Transfiguration?) Frammartino’s story is the tale of all the world and we who live on it — and he tells it so beautifully, so lyrically, with such austerity and grace, that we are held rapt, spellbound by his images of life and death, of time and its stop. (Italian.)

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon