Comedy Sleeper

12.13.11

Could Judd Apatow and Kristen Wiig’s ‘Bridesmaids’ Nab an Oscar?

Awards forecasters say the raunchy comedy just might receive some unexpected Academy Awards love. Chris Lee talked to the movie’s producer Judd Apatow to find out how Bridesmaids reached the screen.

Bringing joy to both ends of the cultural spectrum—that is, to frat boys and feminists alike—the R-rated comedy Bridesmaids has arguably become 2011’s most universally beloved film. Thanks to its transgressive take on female-friendly raunch and jolts of explosive toilet humor, the $32.5 million movie clocked more than $288 million at the box office worldwide to become a monster summer hit. And now Bridesmaids is finding its way onto critics’ and film boards’ best-of year-end movie lists alongside more sobering dramatic fare such as War Horse, The Tree of Life, and Moneyball.

But can Bridesmaids pull the upset of all upsets? With buzz around Hollywood growing progressively louder for the film as the awards season makes its inexorable slog toward the Kodak Theater, could Bridesmaids land an Oscar nomination?

According to a growing number of movie pundits and Gurus of Gold, the movie is a likely contender for several Golden Globes, whose nominations are announced Dec. 15. It stands a solid chance of seeing some Oscar love too, particularly Bridesmaids’ writer-star Kristen Wiig and co-writer Annie Mumolo in the Best Original Screenplay category, which seems to be a wide open field this year. (The nominations come in January.)

Never mind that Academy voters historically have been reluctant to honor movies that provoke belly laughs instead of jerking tears. The two acknowledged frontrunners for Best Original Screenplay, the black-and-white silent feature The Artist and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, stand out, a refreshing change of pace, as funny films with dramatic moments, rather than vice versa.

“People seem to think it’s more difficult to make movies without jokes in them,” noted Bridesmaids producer Judd Apatow. “But that’s just not true.”

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Universal Pictures

To underscore how unlikely Bridesmaids’ rise to become part of this cultural conversation is, you have to trace the movie’s roots back to 2006. That year, Saturday Night Live regular Wiig was cast in a bit part as a paggro cable television executive in the movie Apatow was directing at the time, Knocked Up. Applying what he describes as his “usual M.O.,” the comedy kingpin, responsible for many of the most successful funny films of the past decade, asked Wiig if she had any movie ideas.

“This was before people know who Kristen was from SNL,” Apatow recalled. “She would just get giant laughs right off the bat. So I just said to her, ‘Let me know if you have any ideas for a screenplay for yourself.’ That’s what happened on Anchorman when I worked with Steve Carell. He had the idea for The 40 Year Old Virgin.”

“At some point after that shoot, Kristen said she and her partner, Annie, had this idea, which was Bridesmaids,” he continued. “But there was no script. Just an idea.”

That idea was originally titled Maid of Honor, until the production discovered a movie of the same name already existed. But the basic premise for Bridesmaids was there from the beginning. The film would follow a “wounded woman” (Wiig), someone with crushingly low self-esteem who starts spinning out of control just as her best friend puts her life in order by getting married. Adding insult to injury, each of the other bridesmaids are better off than she is for one reason or another, raising the stakes of the character’s explicit need for personal redemption.

Over the following years, writing commenced, with Wiig in New York for her day job and Mumolo grinding out the script in Los Angeles. The two would meet on weekends and conduct semi-regular “table reads” of drafts for Apatow to get his notes and suggestions. Every joke was tweaked and reworked multiple times to achieve maximum comic liftoff. “It was a long time and a lot of work,” said a source who has worked with Apatow on several projects, including Bridesmaids, but who requested anonymity. “You might write a million versions of every scene. There’s always a chance to elevate the material, to make everything even better.”

The producer’s longtime creative partner, Paul Feig—who created Freaks and Geeks, the Fox TV series that delivered Apatow initial renown as a comedic tastemaker—was brought on to direct Bridesmaids. The cast, meanwhile, was rounded out by a hodgepodge of TV and movie actresses, including Wiig’s former Saturday Night Live castmate Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne (TV’s Damages, X-Men: First Class), and the movie’s breakout star, Melissa McCarthy, from the CBS sitcom Mike & Molly.

About two thirds of the way through production, the producer made a suggestion that was greeted with considerable reluctance. He proposed to Mumolo and Wiig what remains Bridesmaids’ central talking point: a gut-busting sequence in which the maids of honor are brought low by food poisoning courtesy of Wiig’s character’s restaurant choice. From there, they are shown suffering through bouts of explosive diarrhea as well as vomiting in, on, and around a fancy-pants wedding dress shop.

“The reaction was, ‘Are you fucking kidding? This is not what happens to women. That’s not what kind of movie this is,’” remembered the source close to the production. “There was definite reluctance about it. But they took a leap of faith because of Judd and Paul. ‘These are funny guys and they know what they’re talking about.’ It wasn’t [Wiig and Mumolo’s] instinct to put that in the movie, though.”

Apatow, however, brushes off the notion that he strong-armed the writers into including the explosive pooping and insists none of it would have been included had the footage not been up to par. “It was important that there were some moments that would bring down the house,” he said. “We knew this would be a big swing, an all-or-nothing proposition.”

“It was only after the movie was completed that anyone said this had any significance. We didn’t think it was any different than something like The House Bunny or Baby Mama.”

“But there’s always a moment beforehand when we say, ‘Are we really going to do this?’” he continued. “There’s a set now and special-effects people who are trying to determine whether the sink is too high for Melissa to jump on. So there was a breath where we all said, ‘Let’s give it a shot. If it works, it works. And if it doesn’t, we’ll cut it out.’”

In addition to scoring with both audiences and critics, Bridesmaids’ short-term impact has been to get other woman-fronted comedies the green light from Hollywood’s studio system by putting to rest Christopher Hitchens’s “Why women aren’t funny” debate. “It’s ridiculous. Women are more than 50 percent of the population and they are forced to see movies made primarily by men, starring men, and about men,” Apatow said. “But that’s not why we made it. It was only after the movie was completed that anyone said this had any significance. We didn’t think it was any different than something like The House Bunny or Baby Mama. So we didn’t think we were breaking any new ground. We just thought it was a fun thing to do.”