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Judd Apatow discovers women 

And scores with Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph in 'Bridesmaids.'

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Anyone who ever slagged Judd Apatow for stacking his comedies overwhelmingly in favor of dudehood (only in a universe with a man at its center does Seth Rogen get Katherine Heigl knocked up) may take heart that he listened. Either that, or sharing the producing credits with four other people, two of them women, lightened his touch on the comedienne-driven "Bridesmaids." Gone are the three gears for women (loons or nags or sexpots), replaced by a half-dozen excellent female roles. Comedies don't usually give this much latitude to women. Also, perhaps not coincidentally, comedies usually are nowhere near this funny.

Kristen Wiig stars as Annie, trudging through a life of quiet desperation in Milwaukee. She has no boyfriend but does have dreamy Jon Hamm making overconfident love to her and then shooing her to the stoop. She lost her bakery in the recession and splits an apartment with goony British siblings to keep from moving in with her mother (Jill Clayburgh). At least she has her best friend since forever, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), who — o! bittersweet joy! — finally gets engaged to her longtime boyfriend. As the maid of honor, Annie meets the rest of the bridal party: the Disney-honeymooning Becca (Ellie Kemper); the weary mother of three Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey); the sister of the groom, Megan, played by Melissa McCarthy, whose physicality and physique recall Chris Farley, only wittier; and Helen (Rose Byrne), who makes Annie's hackles rise. Helen also refers to Lillian as a best friend, and her charm, poise, wealth, taste and penchant for upstaging Annie seem positively effortless. Thus we set off on a journey in two parts. The first is Annie trying to hold her deteriorating life together, even as she flakily woos a gentle and good-humored cop named Rhodes (Chris O'Dowd). The second is a frenemy relationship burgeoning between the aggressively perfect Helen and the ever more marginalized Annie. The screenplay (by Wiig and Annie Mumalo, who both have those co-producer credits as well) navigates neatly between the hilarious and the poignant. "Bridesmaids" is the comedy for the thinking person who also wants to see women throw up into one another's hair, or to discuss the displeasure of having penises brandished too close to their faces.

But it's more than just bodily-functionalia that drives the story. If Wiig and Rudolph aren't actually donate-a-kidney friends in real life, they sure fake it well. This is not, in any serious way, a romantic comedy, but their camaraderie has that sort of easy spark. Wiig's oeuvre wouldn't suggest that she could pull off a semi-dramatic lead as deftly as she does, nor would director Paul Feig appear to be certain to transfer his TV chops from the likes of "Freaks and Geeks," "Nurse Jackie" and "Arrested Development" to features. Yet it all clicks. If anything "Bridesmaids" tends to err on the side of dawdling; it would have felt crisper if it were less patient. At more than two hours long, it indulges a few gags for a beat too long.

That's mostly a quibble. Pretty much whatever "Bridesmaids" tries, works. It gets more laughs in more ways than almost anything in recent memory. The fair sex just got its "Hangover."

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