SXSW Film: Bridesmaids Revisited
While in Austin for SXSW, Kjerstin and I saw the highly anticipated (and highly publicized—there were posters all over town) Bridesmaids, a new potential blockbuster comedy from Judd Apatow, directed by Paul Feig and written by Kristin Wiig and Annie Mumolo. As the title suggests, it's about a woman (Wiig) whose best friend (Maya Rudolph) asks her to be the Maid of Honor at her upcoming wedding—Melissa McCarthy, Ellie Kemper, Wendi McLendon-Covey, and Rose Byrne round out the cast as the titular bridesmaids. Bridal party formalities, bachelorette party wackiness, and bouts of barfing ensue. (We should note: We attended a "work in progress" screening, but Feig, who was in attendance along with Wiig, assured the audience that what we saw was basically a finished product.)
Maybe it was the hour-plus wait in line, the midnight showtime, or the beers we snuck in to the theater, but Kjerstin and I left this movie with distinctly different opinions.
This represents our conflicting opinions, not our actual tattoos. Graphic by Jiro Bevis.
In true point/counterpoint style, Kjerstin and I will each respond separately to a few agreed-upon statements. Let the good times roll!
This movie is about women.
KW: Let's start with the obvious: This movie passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. Female friendship is the driving force here, and the relationships between the women (with a few minor exceptions, but I can handle a stereotype or two with my womance) are funny and realistic. Annie and Lillian act goofy with each other, get in petty arguments, make up, and shoot the shit—just like you probably do with your friends and I do with mine too. And hey, when's the last time you saw a group of women getting drunk and having fun together in a movie without any men in the picture? When's the last time you saw a group of women puking in a bridal store in a movie? While the depiction of women is far from perfect (and unfortunately includes lazy fat jokes at the expense of my beloved Melissa McCarthy) I think Bridesmaids is moving things in the right direction, ladywise.
Oh, and one more thing! I liked the way that the single woman (Annie) is portrayed. Her awkwardness with her on/off lover (played by a hilariously sleazy John Hamm), her weird roommates, her devotion to her best friend, her difficulty finding a job, her insecurities—I found them believable and relatable in a way that I rarely have in a movie like this (read: a big-budget movie about a wedding). Also, it was nice to see a 35+-year-old single woman in a movie that was about someone else getting married and wasn't supposed to depress us.
KJ: I think I have to bust out the quality vs. quantity argument here. While this film is garnering comparisons to The Hangover and not, say, The Brothers Karamazov, it's like the six leading (mostly white) women were given a bucket of character and when they had to divvy it up, each had barely enough personality to fill a single high-heeled shoe.
That's why we're left with unoriginal, re-hashed characters from these bridesmaids: the naïve prude, the lustful lush, the unrefined fat woman, the beautiful rich bitch. One of the only consistent things our leading lady Annie was shown to excel at and get pleasure from was baking. (Do some women find empowerment through baking? Yes. Do I think they could have picked an occupation/hobby/talent other than baking for this mainstream, "breakthrough" movie about women? Yes again.) The movie is supposed to be about the friendship between Annie and Lillian (female friendship being perhaps the only redeeming quality of SATC2?), but I did not believe these women cared about each other...which makes me think this movie doesn't care about women either. Just 'cause you pass the Bechdel Test doesn't mean you get a gold star.
This movie is about weddings.
KW: I'm no wedding movie completist (unless watching the Father of the Bride remake a zillion times counts), but this is the only movie I can recall that deals with weddings from the perspective of a bridal party member. As someone who has attended many weddings but has never been married myself, I could relate. The cost of the dress, the pressure to impress people who you normally wouldn't care about, the stress involved, the bachelorette party awkwardness—it was refreshing to see that stuff on screen. Bridesmaids is not particularly subversive, but I liked that it at least touched on some of the class issues that weddings bring up. Also, I appreciated that Lillian, our bride, never turned into a stereotypical "Bridezilla" character.
KJ: Bridesmaids certainly isn't the first, and won't be the last movie centered around a wedding. Where I think the originality is really lacking though, is when the "I don't need a man, take your institutional monogamy and shove it" attitude of Our Hero falters. I think Annie is supposed to embody some sort of underdog everywoman (less pretty and wealthy, more unlucky and awkward) who doesn't get married, yet *spoiler alert!* she still finds support in a heterosexual relationship at the end of the movie. Sisters really didn't do it for themselves here.
The wedding plot did give us a little class critique, since Annie couldn't afford any of the high-class hijinks that come with a well-to-do wedding, but that all sort of flies out the window at when you remember that she lost her job earlier in the movie for being a terrible, indifferent employee (and kind of racist). I did think it was funny that Tim Heidecker played the groom and never said a word, though.
This movie is for a mainstream audience.
KW: So yeah, early reviews of Bridesmaids are already calling it The Hangover But with Boobs, which is annoying. Still, while I didn't particularly like The Hangover, I am pleased that this movie is being marketed to the mainstream. As we know, a big problem for women in comedy is that movies about women are often labeled "niche" (because we're only half of the population—so niche!) and are only advertised in places like Lifetime and the Oxygen network. If a movie like this—with an ensemble cast of women, that deals with women's issues and women's friendships—is marketed well and makes money, it could mean great things to come.
KJ: Fred Toppel at Screen Junkies said what I was thinking first: "I like Kristin Wiig a lot. I think her physicality is phenomenal and her attitude is sweet. She doesn't seem to make jokes at anyone's expense. She just enjoys being silly. Bridesmaids doesn't feel like her, and she wrote it herself!"
I'm not familiar with all the politics that go into the Making of a Mainstream Movie, and because I want to believe Kristin Wiig is a good a screenwriter as she is a Suze Orman, the optimist inside me is hoping that where the lazy humor and unoriginal plot were inserted, there were demands for x many fat jokes, y many racist jokes, and z many times Annie inexplicably ran in the opposite direction of opportunity. I hate that THIS is the movie women are supposed to throw their money behind at the box office in order for more women-in-mainstream movies to be made. Makes me want to go spend all day on the Reel Grrls Vimeo channel.
I Do./I Don't.
KW: Bridesmaids is a funny movie about women. Beyond the fact that I think it could mean great things for the movie industry and for women working in a sea of bromances, it's entertaining and fun (especially if you have the stomach for a mainstream, big-budget movie that includes barfing, diarrhea, and a wedding). It features John Hamm making oral sex jokes. Melissa McCarthy is in it. Wilson Phillips plays a role. It was written by two women. Do I take thee, Bridesmaids to be my entertaining summer blockbuster with positive repercussions for women in film? I do!
KJ: I didn't like this movie. Even the things I did like were ultimately disappointing—John Hamm, whose character was more consistent and whose lines were disproportionately better written and funnier than Wiig's (although they numbered only a fraction of hers); the small slices of sketch comedy that shone through—making it all the more apparent that Wiig, Rudolph, McCarthy, et. al. are really talented comic actresses who were robbed in this movie. And Wilson Phillips' "Hold On"?—it's been done. Do I take thee, Bridesmaids, to be my beacon for funny women in film? No, I don't.
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