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DAVE DAVIES, Host:

After six years on "Saturday Night Live," and many supporting film parts, Kristen Wiig has her first starring role, in "Bridesmaids," a romantic comedy she co-wrote. The film was produced by Judd Apatow and directed by Paul Feig, best known as the creator of TV's "Freaks and Geeks."

Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: Judd Apatow has his own Hollywood comedy factory these days, but the charge that comes up again and again is that it's a boy's club - or rather, a child-man's club, a place for nerds to write movies about nerds who act like juveniles before growing up and marrying thin, pretty women. Where, many of us have asked, is the female perspective?

DAVIES: super-coiffed and dressed in micro-miniskirts, with the aim of making her part Lucille Ball and part Jennifer Aniston.

Wig's talent - and it's considerable - is for a kind of neurotic deadpan, a mask of blandness that regularly slips to make way for crazed insecurity and anger and passive-aggression. And she has a good clown face for that - bland but rubbery enough to surprise you with its wide range of expression.

The idea of a female mask, of women having to keep up appearances, is actually the key to "Bridesmaids'" best moments.

EDELSTEIN: the aristocratic beauty Helen, played by Rose Byrne.

The movie peaks early - too early - at Lillian's engagement party, when Annie gives a modest little toast, and then Helen takes the mic and gives a toast that's disarmingly polished. And then deeply-threatened Annie jumps up and takes the mic back, and soon there are dueling mics. It's a compulsive competition that, of course, can't be acknowledged because that's not how ladies behave in public. Wiig's timing is brilliant, and Byrne, who's not as experienced a comedian, turns out to be every bit as pitch-perfect.

But then come more conventional gags. Apatow reportedly pressed for Mumolo and Wiig to add a gross-out set piece, so there's a scene in which the bridal party suffers food poisoning in an exclusive bridal shop and can't control their bodily functions. I laughed a lot - but I'm a sucker for scatological humor.

Then, Helen sabotages Annie by giving her anti-anxiety pills on a plane to Las Vegas and encouraging her to chase them with Scotch. After that, Annie accosts Helen and Lillian in first class.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BRIDESMAIDS")

MAYA RUDOLPH: (as Lillian) Hey, buddy.

KRISTEN WIIG: (as Annie) Hey.

RUDOLPH: (as Lillian) How you doing?

WIIG: (as Annie) I'm good. I feel, I'm so much more relaxed. Thank you, Helen. I just feel like I'm excited and I feel relaxed and I'm ready to party with the best of them. (Singing) And I'm going to go down to the river.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDOLPH: (as Lillian) Wow. It looks like somebody's really relaxing now.

ROSE BYRNE: (as Helen) Yeah, wow.

WIIG: (as Annie) What are you guys talking about up here?

BRYNE: (as Helen) We're going to a restaurant tonight. I know that (unintelligible) is coming.

WIIG: (as Annie) You do?

BRYNE: (as Helen) Yeah.

WIIG: (as Annie) Oh. Helen is the (unintelligible). Oh. Mmm.

EDELSTEIN: While Kristen Wiig does her slapstick thing, a lot of the movie's potentially more penetrating material is undeveloped, or maybe cut, since Apatow-produced movies tend to come in overlong. A subplot involving Wendie McLendon-Covey as a cynical mom and Ellie Kemper as a ninny newlywed gets short shrift, and the wonderful Melissa McCarthy gets mostly jokes exploiting her girth.

Jon Hamm does a broad comic turn as Wiig's conceited sex buddy that would have worked better if the writing weren't so coarse. Chris O'Dowd, best known for the Brit sitcom "The IT Crowd," shows up as an oddly Irish cop - this is Milwaukee - who falls for Annie, and his awkward rhythms are very appealing. But the turning point in their relationship was either cut or never written.

"Bridesmaids" is often hilarious and likely to be a hit with both women and men. But that might be because it's bifurcated: half formula chick flick, half raunchy comedy of humiliation. That exclusively female perspective some of us hoped for doesn't come through. It's not women and men vive la difference, more like split la difference.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.

Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews and new commemorative box-set of early recordings from the Impulse label.

This is FRESH AIR.

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