Partway through the gross-out comedy "Bridesmaids," several women don expensive wedding dresses and, thanks to a dubious lunch, lose control of their bowels. This scene may not sound like a giant leap for gender equality in the movies, but it is, and for this reason: It is viscerally, mortifyingly funny.
The self-abasement and physical abuse that comedy often requires has long been the domain of men, but something may be changing with "Bridesmaids" (and, perhaps, the upcoming "Bad Teacher," starring Cameron Diaz). We've had foul-mouthed female stand-ups, from Joan Rivers to Roseanne Barr, but unladylike behavior usually has its limits; audiences generally don't laugh when a woman falls on her face or takes the proverbial skillet to the head.
Nevertheless, the star and co-writer of "Bridesmaids," Kristen Wiig, puts herself and her female co-stars through the comedy wringer. Wiig plays the desperately single Annie, whose insecurities boil over as she helps plan the wedding of her friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph). The result is two hours of gonzo humiliation: drunkenness, partial nudity, injured breasts, a fondue fountain. Among the wonderfully game participants are Wendi McLendon-Covey as a sex-starved housewife, Rose Byrne as a too-perfect socialite and Melissa McCarthy (CBS' "Mike & Molly") in the bizarro role usually reserved for Zach Galifianakis.
The males in the movie are also fun: Jon Hamm tweaks his Don Draper persona as an inept lover, while the Irish comedian Chris O'Dowd is genuinely charming as a cop with a crush on Annie. "Bridesmaids" was produced by the usually bro-focused Judd Apatow, but it's all about the women, who lift themselves up by bringing themselves low.
Back story: Wierd worked for this bridesmaid
"The women I really love to portray are kind of extreme, fringe, always confident but, like, off," says McCarthy, 40, calling from the Ritz-Carlton in Manhattan while on the "Bridesmaids" promotional circuit.
So off, in fact, that McCarthy -- known mainly from her work on shows such as "Gilmore Girls," and, more recently, CBS' "Mike & Molly" -- was a little worried about reading for the part of Megan, the nuclear engineer in "Bridesmaids" who steals puppies, has no inside voice and thinks "Fight Club" would make a totally solid theme for a bridal shower.
"I went in and auditioned and thought, oh, I'm probably going to be too weird," she says. "But I had such a sense of her immediately. Then I thought, I'm going to do it how I want to, and most likely they're going to say, 'Thank you. That was super-weird. Please leave.' "
But "Bridesmaids" co-writer Annie Mumolo says McCarthy nailed it: "When you have the abilities that Melissa has, she can get as weird as it gets."