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'Bridesmaids' (PG-13)

Proving girls can get just as down and dirty as boys, the wedding comedy Bridesmaids contains some uproarious moments of gross-out humor, such as a scene in a fancy bridal shop with pristine white carpeting in which four women erupt in spectacular bouts of food poisoning.

Bridesmaids throws down the raunch as copiously as The Hangover, but the movie also has an underlying current of serious melancholy — a portrait of a woman in her late 30s whose life has stalled, and she can’t to get it started again. Directed by Paul Feig, a veteran of sharp TV shows such as Arrested Development, The Office and Nurse Jackie, and written by Annie Mumolo and Saturday Night Live’s Kristen Wiig (who also stars), Bridesmaids is the sort of movie in which you know exactly how everything is going to turn out by the end, but the characterizations are strong enough to overcome the formulaic template.

Feig, once again working with his Freaks and Geeks co-creator Judd Apatow (who produced), never allows Bridesmaids to tip over too deeply into the self-pity party that has paralyzed Annie (Wiig). Left penniless after her bakery goes under, she allows herself to be used for sex by a wealthy but boorish playboy (Jon Hamm) and is relegated to working the counter at a jewelry store for a measly paycheck. Annie’s life is a mess that seems too daunting to fix. So she doesn’t even try. Her only source of happiness is her life-long best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph), although that relationship, too, is strained when Lillian says she’s getting married and asks Annie to be her maid of honor.

The bulk of Bridesmaids concerns itself with the preparations for the wedding, during which Annie must compete with the incredibly wealthy Helen (Rose Byrne), who, through passive-aggressive tactics, is trying to take over as Lillian’s BFF. But the harder Annie tries to do right by her friend, the more disastrous the results, such as her bizarre behavior during a flight to Las Vegas for a bachelorette party that causes the plane to be grounded.

Feig lets the airplane sequence run on much longer than most any other director would have allowed. Although the added screen time makes scene funnier, it also weighs down the pace of the picture. At 126 minutes, Bridesmaids is too long for the simple story it tells, another example of Apatow’s signature tendency to allow his movies to overstay their welcome. The film needs time, though, to juggle properly its multitude of characters, such as a sweet-natured cop (Chris O’Dowd) who falls for Annie (a development that bewilders the insecure woman) and the rest of Lillian’s bridal party, including the standout Megan (Melissa McCarthy), an overweight, confident dynamo who turns out to be the smartest of the bunch.

But Bridesmaids ultimately belongs to Wiig, who keeps you laughing even as Annie’s emotional meltdown reaches cataclysmic proportions. Whether she’s trying to talk a couple out of buying a wedding ring or humiliating herself in a bout of rage at Lillian’s bridal shower, Wiig finds the empathetic humor in a woman who has bottled up her profound unhappiness and vulnerability until they no longer can be contained. By the time she is forced to move back home with her mother (the late Jill Clayburgh, in her final role), Annie seems to have ruined what few good things she had going for her. But even the inevitable last-minute happy ending is handled with wit and smarts. Bridesmaids is often hilarious and towers over such garbage as Bride Wars, but the heroine’s earnest pain sticks with you. The movie is a goof, but a meaty one.

Cast: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Chris O’Dowd, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Jill Clayburgh, Matt Lucas, Jon Hamm.

Director: Paul Feig.

Screenwriters: Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig.

Producers: Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel, Clayton Townsend.

A Universal Pictures studios release. Running time: 126 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, coarse humor. Opens Friday May 13 at area theaters.