Wiig's On Top

As "Bridesmaids" breaks records, oddball character actress Kristen Wiig emerges as perhaps the most unlikely breakout box office star in "SNL" history.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    AP
    Kristen Wiig found her niche in "Bridesmaids."

    The biggest wedding news in entertainment, thankfully, has nothing to do with Kim Kardashian.

    "Bridesmaids," an unexpected early-summer hit, now stands the most successful R-rated comedy starring women in Hollywood history, besting "Sex and the City." The at-times achingly hilarious flick also became the highest-grossing film associated with Judd Apatow, the funny-movie machine previously responsible for primarily guy-focused fodder like "Knocked Up" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

    But we're seeing the numbers – “Bridesmaids” passed the $150 million mark over the holiday weekend – as reason to celebrate perhaps the newest and perhaps most unlikely box office stars generated by "Saturday Night Live": Kristen Wiig.

    Don't get us wrong: we arrived in the theater a big fan of the versatile Wiig, whose oddball characters (such as the freakishly mischievous schoolgirl Gilly and attention-obsessed prevaricator Penelope), have been the most consistent element of “SNL” during her six seasons on the show. And she's stood out as a strong comic character actress in relatively minor roles on HBO's "Bored to Death" and in such films as "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story."

    With "Bridesmaids," she's entered territory trodden by Will Ferrell, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, Adam Sandler, Mike Myers and few others, by becoming an "SNL" player who’s bankable at the box office. But as Chevy Chase can tell her, movie stardom is fickle.

    The “Bridesmaids” star is poised to emerge as one of comedy’s leading ladies – but let’s hope she’s learned lessons from “SNL” stars past.

    As Wiig knows from her co-staring stint in "MacGruber," an unfortunate misfire that not even MacGyver could have stopped, it’s probably best to avoid the “SNL” spinoff movies. ("SNL" law of movie physics: for every "Wayne's World," we get "It's Pat,” “A Night at the Roxbury” and “ Superstar”).

    She’ll also do well to keep following the easier-said-than-done formula employed by multi-platform star Tina Fey: pick good movie projects (“Date Night,” “Baby Mama”), line up strong co-stars (Steve Carell, Amy Poehler) and, whenever you can, write own material (“Mean Girls”).

    Wiig co-wrote the "Bridesmaids" script, which tempers the raucous comedy by imbuing her character with a sweet-and-sad vulnerability – and an uncontrollable envy that drives much of the hilarity.  She pushes her comedy to outlandish limits in the funniest sequence aboard an airplane since, well, "Airplane," and in the too-disgusting-to-describe food poisoning/bridal boutique scene, an instant gross-out classic.

    Wiig – and the movie – benefit from a strong cast that includes "SNL" alum Maya Rudolph and Melissa McCarthy, a comic force of nature who comes close to stealing the film. Wiig, showing her ensemble experience, wisely isn’t afraid to let her co-stars grab their share of laughs.

    There’s already the inevitable talk of a “Bridesmaids” sequel, which would be fine (hey, we’re still chortling over "The Hangover Part II”). But we suspect that Wiig, who recently told Time magazine she’s retiring Gilly and Penelope, is smart enough to push on to new roles that showcase her talents beyond a five-minute sketch. Like Penelope, she’s going to have to keep one-upping herself. We’re expecting great things – just as long we never have to sit through “Gilly: The Movie.”

     

    Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.