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By Michael Calleri

Anyone who sees "Bridesmaids" and calls it "The Hangover" for women hasn't seen the latter -- or, if they have, has completely misunderstood what that mega-hit is about.

"The Hangover" is the ultimate bad-things-happen-to-ordinary-guys movie. It's about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's off-kilter, edgy and completely over the top.

"Bridesmaids" is about a woman named Annie, whose life is a mess. She has a low-paying job in a jewelry store, lives with two weird roommates and has occasional sex with a total cad.

The most substantive element in her life is her long-term friendship with Lillian, who's going to get married and asks Annie to be her maid of honor. They've been best pals since childhood.

The movie is about how Annie's low self-esteem takes over every fiber of her being, thus causing her to make a mess of a potential relationship with a friendly state trooper, as well as screwing up her responsibilities as maid of honor. She also loses her job and has to move back in with her mother.

There are serious undertones threaded within the allegedly comic story. I write alleged because "Bridesmaids" does not derive its humor from characters or situations as in "The Hangover." Rather, "Bridesmaids" draws its humor from bad words, not bad intentions.

Its attempt for the biggest audience laughter comes from a food poisoning sequence in which vomiting and diarrhea are supposed to make you bend over in hysterics. OK, diarrhea can be funny on film, as it was with Danny Glover as Uncle Russell in "Death At A Funeral." That was comedy that came from an unexpected place. In "Bridesmaids," it's comedy that is too familiar. Seen it once -- hilarious. Seeing it a second time -- not as funny.

As co-written by Kristin Wiig (who also plays Annie) and a woman named Annie Mumolo (who may be the real-life inspiration for the character), the movie offers some intermittent laughter, but most of the time, the jokes are cruel, vulgar and beaten into the ground.

The story meanders, and the film clocks in at a deadly two hours and five minutes, far too long for a comedy that, when you strip away the superficial notion of female bonding, is actually more serious than it should be.

It's wildly schizophrenic. Annie comes across more as a head case than as someone who should be entrusted with an important task like being maid of honor. The cop with whom she might find happiness seems to be a character in an entirely different movie. The other bridesmaids are a gaggle of cliches, including the overweight, far too butch number, as well as the prissy, prim and proper prom queen stereotype. The cast seems to be willing to try anything, but their efforts smack of desperation.

Director Paul Feig shows that he's unfamiliar with scene transitions. The film is incredibly choppy, as if parts of scenes were eliminated as the editing went on. Feig has no idea how to blend the serious material with the insane stuff. Additionally, the movie looks as if it was shot with the cheapest cameras and film stock possible.

Wiig is merely reworking one of the oddball characters she plays on "Saturday Night Live." Maya Rudolph is Lillian and she is an utterly uninteresting screen presence. The human mannequin Jon Hamm is the heel who only sees Annie as a sex toy. Irish actor Chris O'Dowd, as the trooper, creates the only character with any depth. Melissa McCarthy is the plump gal pal who has the raunchiest failed jokes. She's too strident. She punches every word too hard. It's the Zach Galifianakis part. McCarthy doesn't have Zach's mellow nuttiness.

On a sad note, the late Jill Clayburgh is seen in her last role as Annie's mom, and it's too bad it's such an inconsequential role. It is truly ironic that Clayburgh broke new ground with her still vitally important "An Unmarried Woman" from 1978, a movie that says much more about female empowerment and sisterhood than does "Bridesmaids," which thinks getting women together is reason enough to proclaim unity; why give them brains?

The people behind "Bridesmaids" have misinterpreted "The Hangover." They seem to think that being raunchy is the key to successful comedy. Is this really equality for women, or is it merely wallowing in the mud the way some men do?

Not all mud-wallowing is successful.

Will Ferrell plays against type in "Everything Must Go," a superb little independent feature based on the Raymond Carver short story "Why Don't You Dance?"

Ferrell is very good as Nick, an alcoholic who first loses his job and then returns home to discover that his wife has left him, but not before she has changed the locks on the house and moved everything Nick treasures onto the front lawn.

Rather than deal with the situation with something resembling outrage, Nick simply sits in his easy chair and lives in the front of his home under the guise of having a garage sale.

He will engage in dialogue with a curious kid (Christopher Jordan Wallace), find grounds for discussion with a neighbor (Rebecca Hall), and reconnect with a former girlfriend (Laura Dern).

The movie is simplicity taken to the best creative heights. Precisely written and beautifully directed by Dan Rush, "Everything Must Go" is about the possibilities for renewing one's life, even during a situation that is truly unsettling.

The film could have collapsed if Ferrell's acting were not as solid as it is. His performance as a man in deep despair is wonderfully subtle. Nick's emotions are shattered. He drinks beer after beer after beer, but in his depressive drunkenness, Ferrell is utterly believable. He is never shrill, and he never makes us uncomfortable as we watch him playing a man who's damaged goods.

Dern's character tells Nick that he always had a good heart. Now he has to build on that asset. "Everything Must Go" succeeds as well as it does because the audience is rooting for Nick, understanding that he has a chance to rise out of his despondency with a genuine sense of dignity.

"Everything Must Go" is a nice surprise, an adult drama that is well-acted by all, and made with style and compassion. Give it a chance.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com May 17, 2011