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Best Friend of the Bride: Bridesmaids

by Rob on May 14, 2011

When I first saw the ad for Bridesmaids at a subway stop, my first reaction was delight at seeing fantastic funny women like Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Melissa McCarthy in a movie together, particularly the less well-known McCarthy, who keeps getting roles and deserves it. On the other hand, however, Hollywood’s track record for comedies about weddings starring women is extremely poor. I suddenly had Bride Wars flashbacks, and almost instantly wrote this film off, as well. Its trailers didn’t help either. It seemed to be nothing but a dumb, grossout comedy that would most likely reduce its women to harridanish stereotypes. Then, a Twitter friend of mine, @queenkandis, linked to a article that explained how the fate of intelligent comedies that center on women in Hollywood revolves around the box-office success of Bridesmaids, and my curiosity was instantly piqued, because the article described exactly what the trailers made the film out to not be. I then hopped on over to Rotten Tomatoes and discovered that it had a 91% rating out of 64 reviews (it has since dropped a single point), and I was sold.

And I am so glad I ignored those initial misgivings, not to mention the promos, and gave the film a chance, because it was one of the most genuinely, sidesplittingly hilarious times at the movies I have had in a very long time. The entire cast is wonderful, particularly Wiig, who gives a performance that is both brilliantly funny and incredibly heartbreaking, with neither aspect canceling out the other. Even having been prepared by some of the review snippets I glanced through, I still didn’t quite expect to find a protagonist (particularly a female one) this multifaceted in a Paul Feig-directed, Judd Apatow-produced film. Bridesmaids is ostensibly the story of two squabbling bridesmaids, one a lifelong best friend of the bride, the other a newer friend, vying for the bride’s attention and affection, but that isn’t what it’s really about. Written by Wiig herself and Annie Mumolo (who appears in a brief but very funny cameo), Bridesmaids is about Annie (Wiig), a woman who has been stuck in a rut and drifting ever since losing her business to the bad economy, and whose every insecurity about her seeming failure of a life has been exacerbated not only by the news that her best friend, Lillian (Rudolph), is getting married but by the justified though perhaps paranoid fear that a new, seemingly perfect woman, Helen (Rose Byrne), who comes to represent all that Annie feels is lacking in herself, is trying to steal her best friend from her. In other words, while her battle against Helen is the focal point of the story, it springs entirely from her own character.

And that is the first thing that makes Bridesmaids extremely unique among its genre. It eventually reaches exaggeratedly comedic heights, as most film comedies do, but at its core is a realistic character study of a woman who feels that she is losing control of her life, largely due to her own low self-esteem and belief that she has failed to live up to our society’s conception of a successful woman–financially secure, married. They say that great comedy comes from pain, and Bridesmaids truly understands that. Watching Annie’s plight grow increasingly dire, we laugh, often uproariously, because the screenplay consistently finds impressively inventive and extremely clever ways to find humor in the situation, but we also can’t help but empathize with her. At the same time, the film never paints Annie as guiltless in what happens to her. Although from Annie’s perspective, Helen is an evil witch trying to ruin her life, the film wisely never makes Helen outwardly malicious. At worst, her behavior can be qualified as passive aggressive and childish, but we are also shown her side of the story and come to understand her motivations by the end. Furthermore, the film consistently comes to show us how Annie herself is to blame for a great deal of what happens simply by dint of her reactions and her self-pity. Her arc ultimately becomes about acknowledging her own culpability in how she arrived at her current state and learning to solve her own life, rather than waiting for an external force to make it all better for her.

That isn’t to say that she doesn’t meet a man, because she does–a sweet, Irish cop named Rhodes played by Chris O’Dowd–but interestingly, she has a great deal of trouble accepting his kindness because of her own hangups, which we come to realize actually spring from the same place as her issues with Helen, which is rather remarkable writing, particularly for a Hollywood comedy. I would also be remiss in not pointing out how truly unusual it is to see an argument between women on screen that doesn’t revolve around jealousy about a man but instead about a friend of theirs. In fact, other than the wonderful O’Dowd and a small but significant role for Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm, who plays a jerk who uses Annie for sex (though, again, the fact that she allows herself to be used is a large part of the problem), men hardly factor into the film at all. Lillian’s fiancee is basically a non-entity. He appears at the engagement party and at the wedding, and I can’t recall if he even has a single line. But this also isn’t a simple “chick flick.” There is no overly sappy, gooey romance, nor traditional girl power moments. Actually, the two times that women sing along to classic pop songs, as women often do in these sorts of films, the scenes are played for laughs. More importantly, the women talk to one another as real people talk to one another in the real world. At times, they discuss men and relationships, but not exclusively. There is an easy-going, naturalistic rhythm to the conversations in the film that would seem to be more at home in an indie. The people even all look real. The cast isn’t covered with make-up and concealer. We see their freckles, their wrinkles, their minor, physical flaws, another strike the film makes against the typical synthetic Hollywood affair.

With all of that said, Bridesmaids is far from a perfect film. It contains a number of plot threads that disappear over its course, as well as quite a large amount of underused characters, including the majority of the bridesmaids themselves, such as the hilarious Wendi McLendon-Covey from Reno 911!, who has some great moments but is off-screen for far too much of it. At times, it also tries too hard to attract a male audience with the grossout humor on prominent display in the trailers. There is one extended sequence that centers on rather disgusting bathroom humor (all I’ll say is “food poisoning”) that is not only unnecessary but doesn’t seem to fit easily into the rest of the film. It feels as if it was inorganically grafted there as recompense for the “poor” guys dragged there kicking and screaming by their girlfriends. On the plus side, however, while the sequence doesn’t feel quite right, the plot does eventually justify it, so while I might have wished for the filmmakers to have gone in another direction and gotten to the same destination from an alternate point or event, it doesn’t ruin the story. And neither does a weird “sight gag” involving an infected tattoo, whose inclusion I’m still scratching my head about. It might have been nice had they simply had the conviction to rely on the smart comedy upon which most of the rest of the film is based to appeal to the menfolk, instead of at times sinking to lowest common denominator yuks (pun intended), but again it’s so borderline miraculous that a Judd Apatow-produced film gets so much right in a female-dominated film (or that he even made a female-dominated film) that complaining about that almost seems like quibbling. If a bit of grossness (and it really is only a bit) is the price that must be paid for such an overwhelmingly excellent film, I can live with that.

And I hope that most of you reading this can too, because it would be a shame to allow Bridesmaids to slip through the cracks. Again, it might not be perfect, but it does represent a major step forwards for Hollywood comedies about people of the female persuasion, and if you would like to see more and perhaps even better films in the near future that are devoid of the male gaze and are about complex women older than 29 who aren’t reduced to conventional societal stereotypes, supporting this film is crucial. Bridesmaids is also just damn funny and often refreshingly honest, which alone makes it a rarity. See this one in the theatres. Really.

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