Poor Annie.  She’s lost her storefront sweet shop (the unfortunately-named Cake Baby) to a doomed economy, and her 3AM booty call isn’t much for spooning after the sweat is dry. As if to dump salt in the wound, her BFF, Lillian, announces she is getting married.  Annie (Kristen Wiig) reacts to the news with feigned excitement.  All is not lost, though: Annie will be the bridesmaid, because that’s what besties are born to do.  The job of planning the wedding, however, goes to Lillian’s fiancé’s boss’s wife, Helen (Rose Byrne)—filthy rich, obscenely gifted at organization, and growing a mite too chummy with the bride as far as the luckless Annie is concerned.

Annie’s trials will be great, no doubt, but not as great as those around to watch her implode.  Among the witnesses: Lillian’s cousin, Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), whose multitudinous young sons have apparently turned masturbation into a competitive sport (“I broke a sheet in half!”); the meek and naïve Becca (Ellie Kemper); and Lillian’s future sister-in-law, Megan (Melissa McCarthy), a squatish brute of a woman born with an unfortunate knack for telling the truth and a sex addiction so profound, it should be etched on a medic alert bracelet.

So begins the tone of Bridesmaids, an uproariously funny film that has the courage to be sadistic and heartfelt at the same time.  It’s not giving away too much to say that Annie will all but ruin the wedding, and test the tenuous bonds of friendship in the process.  When she suggests a small bachelorette party at a mountain retreat, Helen, ready to play the one-up game, usurps control and convinces the bridesmaids that Vegas is the way to go.  This leads to an explosively funny extended sequence aboard the plane, where Annie, fueled by anti-anxiety meds and booze, annihilates the perfect plan, and Megan violates all codes of human decency by accosting a passenger who may or may not be an Air Marshall.  All bad enough, yes, if you disregard Annie’s previous suggestion that the girls lunch at a Brazilian steakhouse before a fitting of expensive gowns, a decision that haunts the women through a disgusting bout of food poisoning.

As her rivalry with Helen grows, Annie’s grasp on the increasingly-distracted Lillian loosens, until Annie finally loses her brain and alienates not only the women in her life, but the only critical male in the film, a likeable Irish cop (Chris O’Dowd) who appreciates himself far too much to join Annie’s pity party.

All of this sounds possibly depressing and not the least bit funny; but Bridesmaids is a razor-smart and often poignant comedy about the truth and value of friendship.  Annie is the only selfish lout in the room, and her character would have been insufferable if Kristen Wiig, a gifted actress, didn’t inspire our sympathy.  Yes, she ruins everything in her path, but damn it all if we don’t care for her by the end of the film.  Byrne does a nice job here as Helen, a woman more insecure than her supercilious nature might suggest.  Maya Rudolph couldn’t project anything but warmth and deep love if she tried.  She navigates Lillian from a one-note character to a woman trying desperately to juggle the stress of an unhinged best friend and her own deep-seated fears about her impending married life.  And McCarthy gives one of the year’s best performances, a precarious balancing act between broad comedy and a certain pathos that comes as Megan reveals long-standing personal pain; her comic timing is impeccable, but her moment of revelation borders on heartbreaking.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Annie’s roommates, the British twins Brynn and Gil, played with creepy precision by Rebel Wilson and Matt Lucas.  They could inspire their own film some day, and should.  How Brynn responds to Annie’s suggestion that she put a bag of frozen peas on her infected back tattoo inspired the biggest laugh in the theater.