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Putting The Bride (And The Laughs) In 'Bridesmaids'

The cast of Paul Feig's Bridesmaids: Melissa McCarthy (from left), Ellie Kemper, Rose Byrne, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Maya Rudolph and co-writer Kristen Wiig. (Universal Pictures)

The second biggest movie in the country last weekend — the biggest if you don't count sequels to films based on theme-park rides — had all the ingredients of a popular comedy: debauchery, lifelong buddies and gratuitous flatulence. Yes, it was a Judd Apatow flick — he produced the film, which was directed by his longtime collaborator Paul Feig — only unlike most of the producer's male-populated coming-of-age comedies, all the starring roles in Bridesmaids were filled by women. And while audiences weren't sure if it was going to be a layer of pink paint on blue humor, it stood wonderfully on its own two high heels.

The bride in Bridesmaids is played by the veteran comedian Maya Rudolph, who appeared for nine seasons on Saturday Night Live before leaving the show in 2007. It was there that Rudolph met Kristen Wiig, the star and co-screenwriter of the movie, along with Annie Mumolo. The film revolves around the way the relationship between two best friends changes after Rudolph's Lillian tells Wiig's Annie that she's gotten engaged.

Speaking with All Things Considered's Michele Norris, both Rudolph and Feig said that the film was something they both immediately wanted to be a part of.

"Boy, when I read it, you know, I know Kristen's voice so well and I love her writing and I love her take on things. And she and Annie just wrote this really funny script that just had these great fleshed-out characters," Rudolph says. "I was like, 'I wanna be in this movie!' "

Feig says that desire wasn't a problem for the film's producers.

"It was a real no-brainer for us to have Maya in this because we knew the whole movie hinged on the friendship between Kristen and Maya's characters and so, you can obviously cast, there are great actresses, obviously, who can summon that up, but we wanted to make sure that there was that familiarity and that friendship between them that you don't need to write to. Because there's nothing worse than that turgid dialogue like, 'Oh Annie, I've known you for 20 years,' " Feig says. "So the chemistry that they have, because they are friends from SNL and they've known each other, just comes through so easily."

Feig adds that the film's opening scene, set in a diner where the two friends trade jokes and advice, was the result of letting Rudolph and Wiig improvise for hours.

"It's just so alive and it feels not like these movies sometimes can feel because they get very overwritten and you lose that spontaneity that happens in real life," he says.

"We talked about it for a long time in rehearsal and we really wanted to establish that this is a bit of a ritual, that these women get together and without explaining it ad nauseam, that they're really there for each other," Rudolph adds. "What I love about it is you really see what it's like when two good friends get together. You do a lot of laughing. You talk about the stuff that's driving you crazy and the guys or your job or whatever it is, but at some point you just end up laughing and being stupid."

The scene most frequently referenced in discussions of the movie involves food poisoning at a wedding dress shop — a virtuoso set piece of scatological humor that has become the focal point for both the celebrations and criticisms of the movie. But Feig says that pushing the envelope wasn't the point.

"The whole genesis of that scene was, you know, Judd and I really don't like to put anything in a movie that's just there for laughs. It all has to be in service of the story," he says. "And we had this part of the story where we had to show that one of Annie's problems is that she never admits that she's wrong. She won't back down. And she screwed up because she took people to a cheap restaurant because she couldn't afford it and tried to pass it off like it was cool. And the comedy of it is twofold. One is that in the face of undeniable evidence, she is refusing to admit that she screwed up. And so for us the comedy is how extreme can we make the evidence that she is pretending is not happening. And the other is just the comedy of women in a situation that is bad trying to pretend that nothing is wrong."

"There's that satisfying moment watching the movie with an audience when everything finally erupts into a very visual display of being sick," Rudolph says, imitating an audience's disgusted groan. "It's almost weirdly satisfying."

But Rudolph says that she was surprised when the more antagonistic reaction to that scene started rolling in.

"I really do come from a place where funny is funny and I don't think about my lady parts very often when making comedy. And I think one of the most fun things about being gross or something like that — it's the funnest way to get another comedian to laugh," Rudolph says. "What I felt about this movie was that it's just so funny and it's so good and there are so many great people in it that I was really excited for people to see it. Because I loved it. And this was a combination of people that have known each other for many years. I think Kristen and Annie really knew of great people. They had the knowledge that they could have this great group. And so I think they came from a place of, 'How can we make this as funny as possible.' I didn't see them setting out to change anything. But that's probably for the better."

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'I Don't Need Dental Work'
Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The number two movie last weekend had all the ingredients of a popular comedy: debauchery, lifelong buddies and gratuitous flatulence.

This is a Judd Apatow flick, this time, though, starring all women. It's called "Bridesmaids," and while audiences may have thought this was going to be blue humor coated with a layer of pink nail polish, it stands wonderfully on its own high heels.

The screenplay came from Kristen Wiig and writing partner Annie Mumolo. Wiig plays the overwhelmed maid of honor. Maya Rudolph plays the bride. And she joined me along with "Bridesmaids" director Paul Feig. I wanted to know what Rudolph first thought of that script.

Ms. MAYA RUDOLPH (Comedian): Boy, when I read it, you know, I know Kristen's voice so well, and I love her writing and I just, I love her take on things. And she and Annie just wrote this really funny script that just had these great, fleshed-out characters and...

NORRIS: Did you see yourself in it when you first read it? I mean, did you know...

Ms. RUDOLPH: Oh, yeah, I mean, every part, I was terribly excited. I was like: I want to be in this movie.

Mr. PAUL FEIG (Director): It was a real no-brainer for us to have Maya in this because, you know, we knew the whole movie hinged on the friendship between Kristen and Maya's characters.

And so, you know, you can obviously cast, you know, there are some great actresses, obviously, who can summon that up. But at the same time, we wanted to make sure that there was just that familiarity and that friendship between them that you don't need to write to because there's nothing worse than, like, a lot of turgid dialogue of, like, oh, Annie, I've known you for 20 years. You remember when we did...

NORRIS: We did get a lot of that in the toast, nonetheless.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FEIG: Yeah, exactly. We like to pull it out when it's like really inappropriate. But, you know, so that kind of - the chemistry that they have because they are friends from SNL, and they've known each other, just comes through so easily. And so that's why that first scene in the diner with them works so well. That was just, like, four or five hours of improv.

(Soundbite of film, "Bridesmaids")

Ms. RUDOLPH: (As Lillian) You're a total catch, and any guy would be psyched to be your man. Would you just make room for somebody who's nice to you, and...

KRISTEN WIIG (Actor): (As Annie) You know what? He's honest. He told me that we are what we are, and we're just having fun. And I like that.

Ms. RUDOLPH: (As Lillian) He also told you you need dental work.

Mr. FEIG: And we had a bit of a roadmap in the script, but then was like, throwing in talk about sex, talk about guys, talk about - you know, and they would just go and crack us up the whole time.

NORRIS: It's funny, when I watched that scene, I wondered if that was largely improvised.

Ms. RUDOLPH: Yeah. I mean, we talked about it for a long time in rehearsal, and we really wanted to establish that this is a bit of a ritual, that these women get together and, without explaining it ad nauseum, that they're really there for each other. And just to get a little bit of a slice of life of what these interesting dialogues might be.

But, you know, what I love about it is you really see what it's like when two good friends get together. You do a lot of laughing. You know, you talk about this stuff and the stuff that's driving you crazy and the guys or your job or whatever it is. But at some point, you just end up laughing and being stupid, and that's a sign of a good friendship.

Mr. FEIG: What I thought was so exciting about this is because it's just so alive. And it feels so not like these movies can sometimes feel because I think they get very overwritten and you lose that spontaneity that happens in real life with people. I think that's what people are connecting with in the film.

NORRIS: I have to ask you about one scene in particular in this film. It's an unforgettable scene. It's an incredibly gross scene, it is also incredibly funny. I don't want to give too much away, but it involves food poisoning, and at that point all digestive hell breaks loose.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RUDOLPH: That is accurate.

(Soundbite of film "Bridesmaids")

Ms. WIIG: (As Annie) You look - Megan, are you okay?

Ms. MELISSA MCCARTHY (Actor) (As Megan) My dress was probably just tight.

Ms. ROSE BYRNE: (As Helen) Oh my God, you got food poisoning from that restaurant, didn't you?

Ms. WIIG: (As Annie) No, I had the same thing that she had, and I feel fine. Oh my. OK.

Ms. ELLIE KEMPER: (As Becca) Why is this happening?

Ms. WIIG: (As Annie) Nothing's happening.

(Soundbite of flatulence)

Ms. WENDI MCLENDON-COVEY (Actor): (As Rita) You know, I don't really care which dress we get. It doesn't matter to me. I just need to get off this white carpet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FEIG: Yeah, I mean, for us - here's the thing. And, you know, we've obviously taken both heat and kudos for that scene. But it's easy to look at that scene and just say, oh, it's just - okay, so people are throwing up and going to the bathroom.

But that's really not what it's about. The whole genesis of that scene was -you know, Judd and I don't like to ever put anything in a movie that's just kind of there for laughs. It all has to be in service of the story.

And we had this important part of the story where we had to show, look, one of Annie's problems is she never admits when she's wrong. She won't back down. And, you know, and she screwed up because she took people to a cheap restaurant because she couldn't afford it and tried to pass it off like it was cool.

NORRIS: Right.

Mr. FEIG: And the comedy of it is twofold. One is that in the face of undeniable evidence, she is refusing to admit that she screwed up. And so, for us, the comedy was like, okay, how extreme can we make the evidence that she is pretending is not happening?

And the other is just the comedy of women in a situation that is bad, trying to pretend that nothing is wrong.

Ms. RUDOLPH: People have not stopped asking me about it. The most interesting question about is just, when you read that, did you think oh, no? And I thought, like, I've done a lot in my day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RUDOLPH: I'm not shy. There's that satisfying moment watching the movie with an audience when everything finally erupts into a very visual display of being sick and you hear the audience - I've heard it twice now - go ohh. It's almost weirdly satisfying.

NORRIS: Overall in the film was there something more at stake here, something larger, an effort to prove that women could successfully do blue comedy, that women could open wide on thousands of screens and draw hordes of men to theaters, to prove that women could reign supreme in a world and with a sort of genre of comedy that is so typically associated with guys?

Mr. FEIG: I really felt that way because just personally, I feel the comedies I'd watch - I don't see a ton of comedies, I'll have to admit, in the theaters. But the ones I see I always feel like even though I like them, I feel like women get relegated to kind of crappy roles a lot of times. I get really bummed out when it's - oh, they're the girlfriend who's a drag, or it's the, you know, the - any movie. Like, you know, like a big action movie, like, the guy is off trying to save the world. The woman is like: You are not spending enough time with the family. It's like: Oh, she'd rather him be at home than save the world, boo her.

Ms. RUDOLPH: It actually was a different experience for me in that I really do come from a place where funny is funny, and I don't think about my lady parts very often when making comedy.

And I think one of the most fun things about being gross or something like that is it's the funnest way to get another comedian to laugh. It's like the place you have to go. You have to go wrong to make a comedian laugh.

But I personally, I was surprised when we started getting the reactions we were getting because what I felt about this movie was that it's just so funny. And it's so good, and there are so many great people in it that I was actually really excited for people to see it because I loved it.

And this, you know, this was a combination of people that have known each other for many years. I think Kristen and Annie really knew of great people. You know, they had the knowledge that they could have this great group. And so I think they came from a place of: All right, how do we make this as funny as possible? I didn't see them setting out to change anything. But that's probably for the better.

NORRIS: It's been great to have you. Maya Rudolph plays Lillian in the film "Bridesmaids," and Paul Feig is the director. Best wishes to both of you.

Mr. FEIG: And to you, too.

Ms. RUDOLPH: And to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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