In rewatching 2011’s Bridesmaids for its 10th anniversary today, I stumbled across an undeniable truth of the universe: this movie is still shockingly, unrelentingly, completely hilarious. The writing is sharp and observant, the performances play off each other in perfect unison, and the film as a whole is a momentous celebration of friendship and down-in-the-dumps life moments. Kristin Wiig’s character gets drunk on an airplane and later, everyone sings Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On.” There’s nary a false note to be found.
While we can’t legally advise you to skip work and rewatch the film on Peacock right at this very moment, we also can’t (ahem, won’t) pass judgment on anyone who chooses to do so. But before you do, you might be interested in moving beyond the movie making magic to learn more about how the film came to be.
“Our award is when people come up to us and say, ‘I’ve watched Bridesmaids 20 times,'” director Paul Feig tells in a reflective interview on how the film was made and what its legacy is today.
Speaking to Observer, Feig reveals how the achingly relatable and often absurd humor came about, how they discovered Melissa McCarthy, whether or not a sequel is in the works and what he thinks of some of the film’s best scenes a decade later.
Observer: The main cast is great, but you’ve filled these smaller roles with such funny talent before they really popped in the mainstream. Rebel Wilson, Matt Lucas, Ellie Kemper, Chris O’Dowd, Terry Crews. How do you go about recruiting names for this film?
Paul Feig: You see everybody, that’s number one. First of all, we have Allison Jones casting who’s the most brilliant, she’s the mother of modern comedy. Anybody you love, Allison Jones has found. But then we saw for months just every funny person in town and they start to sort themselves out. You just start to go, “Oh, they’re right.” Also, we’re going for very specific archetypes.
But then on top of it, I was working on The Office when we found Ellie Kemper for the role, so I knew her and I’d worked with Wendy [McLendon-Covey] before. I’d never worked with Melissa [McCarthy] before but ironically I’d worked with her husband and was a big fan of his and then turns out she was a friend of Kristen [Wiig] and Annie [Mumolo]. But we whittled it down over the months and then did a big read with mixing and matching people and it just became very apparent who was supposed to be in this film.
Bridesmaids is very much considered Melissa McCarthy’s breakout role. Was there a specific moment during production where you knew you were witnessing something special?
Honestly it was her audition. We had been having a bit of a hard time figuring out who to cast for that, we saw a lot of funny people, but they just weren’t quite right. And Kristen and Annie said we should bring in Melissa. It was right at the end of our audition process and she was so funny that I didn’t realize she was funny for about 15 seconds because she was doing it so different that I was like, “What is happening?” And then you go like, “That’s hilarious.”
From then on it was just like every day on the set that we would have, even before we started shooting we would do improv sessions with all the actors just to talk about what you’re going to do. One scene they’re all suggesting bachelorette party ideas and suddenly Melissa goes on this whole thing about how “We’re going to kidnap her and throw her in a dirty van and drive out to the desert and bury her up to her neck and leave her.” And you’re like, “Wow this is really funny.”
The worst thing you can do in comedy is to just shoot the script. Things just happen. It’s like life.
How much of Bridesmaids is improved like that and how much is straight from the script?
We worked very, very hard on that script, Kristen and Annie had been working on that script for a few years. So to us a script is a very, very tight blueprint that then within each scene we can have a little bit of fun with the individual lines and with the individual interactions within it. But we never stray from the structure of the scene because if you do that then you’re going to have a story that falls apart.
Within that, there’s fun we can have. I have lists of old jokes. I’d say, “You guys surprise me,” and they’ll do random stuff. I’m coming up with it, Annie Mumolo’s on set with me writing jokes and putting them on notepads and Post-It pads so by the time we finish a scene when we’re working that way we’ve got probably a hundred extra jokes. So when we get into the test screenings and start to try them out we can start to go, “Okay that joke didn’t work let’s put this one in.” So by the time you do nine or ten test screenings over the course of a few months you know that you have a movie that at least works for most people.
One usually thinks of comedy as one of the most organic art forms, but it very much is this mix of heavy preparation, amazing day-of insight and a little bit of market testing.
The worst thing you can do in comedy is to just shoot the script. You can have it all planned out and it can be the funniest thing you’ve ever read on page. But when you get in that moment, you don’t ever get this until you’re on camera and things are rolling and you’re interacting with the background and the other extras and the other actors. Things just happen. It’s like life.
We can plan out when we’re going to have an interaction, you and I, as much as we want but then in the moment whatever happens—you suddenly raise your eyebrow a certain way or you have a different take on something. Everything changes. And what’s great about a great comedy set: it becomes a very fertile ground where you’re like, “ooh that gave me an idea, try this, try this.” Whereas if you just go like, “let’s just stick to what we have, we wrote this let’s not deviate,” then you’re just cutting off this font of comedy talent from the performers you’re working with.
Bridesmaids came out in 2011, earned nearly $300 million and an Oscar nomination. Can comedies still reach that level of success in the drastically different film landscape of today?
Well they should be able to. Comedies are still sort of the bastard child of the awards world which is sad. The [Golden] Globes has their category, but they’ll still jam in movies that have one joke in them and they take us all down. Both Spy and Trainwreck lost to The Martian which is a great movie, but is it a comedy? But that’s just us bitter grapes.
If you get into comedy to win awards you’re just going to go crazy. The reason we do it is because our award is when people come up to us and say, “I’ve watched Bridesmaids 20 times.” I’ll take that over an Oscar for a movie that people watch once and never watch again because we want to be part of the fabric of your life. We want to be your comfort food, we want to be the thing that cheers you up when you’re in a bad mood, that you stumble upon and you go like, “Oh!” You want to be the movie that you have to watch, like the movie that you can’t turn off if you stumble across it and just have to sit through the whole thing. That’s what we want and if an award happens we’ll take it.
You can’t have another movie where she falls apart again. So look, with this team if we did anything it would be great because they’re all so awesome and creative. But do we need it?
Do you have a favorite moment from the film that you keep returning to all these years later?
There’s moments I love for the comedy of them. The airplane scene—I just think is Kristen is so brilliant in that scene and just every moment I just crack up. But there’s moments I look at, like I really love the cupcake making scene because I think that is the moment that makes you go, “Oh, she’s really talented and I feel terrible for her. She had this bakery and she lost it and now I want her to be that person again.”
That’s something that, even though it’s not funny, it makes you invest and allows you to put up with some of the real things that she’s going to drag us through. Because the character does drag you through a lot of stuff and she misbehaves. If you didn’t love that character by the time she destroys somebody else’s engagement party, her shower, that’s a testament. If you’re still like, “ah you poor thing,” even when she’s destroying food.
If she’s just an asshole the whole way through, you’d be like “Alright, I can’t deal with this person anymore.”
In September, you said you had spoken with Kristin about a potential sequel. Is that a real possibility or is that just wishful thinking?
It’s probably wishful thinking but I don’t know. Honestly, it’s really 100% up to Kristen. That’s her baby, she birthed it. Should it have a sequel? I don’t know. I’m not a big fan of sequels because I think why a movie is great is because it’s the story of a person having this big arc and repairing themselves in certain ways. So, she repaired herself and so you can’t have another movie where she falls apart again. So look, with this team if we did anything it would be great because they’re all so awesome and creative. But do we need it? Everybody thinks you need it but then if it comes out and it’s not what you wanted, then you’re always bummed out that it wasn’t right.
10 years later, what do you believe Bridesmaid‘s legacy is?
I think it just launched this super group of hilarious people to the world and showed the industry that movies starring women can make money. And it doesn’t even matter that it was good; by Hollywood’s definition, something’s only valid if it makes money. And had we done Bridesmaids and got these amazing reviews and it was beloved but it didn’t make any money or lost money, it would not have made any difference. But the fact that it made money and people showed up and people not only showed up to the movie theaters but were buying the DVDs and watching it over and over again, that’s important. That helps move the needle for them to go, “Oh maybe we can do more of these and we can have more women in starring roles,” which is ridiculous that it had to take something like that but whatever helps crack the wall we’re all for.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
Bridesmaids is available to stream for free on Peacock.