Why Women (Well, A Lot of Us) Loved "Bridesmaids"
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Bridesmaids shouldn’t have had to inspire a feminist e-mail campaign. It shouldn’t have been an activist choice to go see a silly movie featuring an over-exposed SNL comedian. And it shouldn’t have mattered so much that the movie performed well at the box office. But because Hollywood remainds deeply sexist in myriad ways ( see this piece from Roseanne Barr for confirmation), all those things were true.
And Bridesmaids itself, a work of film whose centerpiece comedic moment, suggested by Hollywood bromance king Judd Apatow, is an infamous scene involving graphic food poisoning at a bridal salon--shouldn’t have been a revelation. It shouldn’t have made me, and many of the women I’ve spoken with, feel such a strange sensation as we watched, such an intense feeling of gratitude for the writers and director.
But all these things were true, too. For the first time since I watched Juno (and that movie’s problematic treatment of abortion ruined the experience in some ways for me) I had the feeling that the screenwriters of a mainstream comedy were talking to me, “woman to woman.” And I detest Judd Apatow's films and often find Kristen Wiig's SNL acting irritating. This movie was not, as advertised, “The Hangover” with boobs. It was instead a laugh-fest with a heart, and even as it exaggerated everything for comic effect, its characters were believable.
I certainly do not believe that men and women are intrinsically different, nor do I think that there exists some sort of a universal experience of womanhood that we can all relate to at the snap of our fingers.
No, rather I think that women, as they’re projected onscreen by a sexist industry, are not usualy real people. So when they do seem real, many of us will see ourselves in them (newsflash: this is the experience that white men have when they watch most movies). We’re so used to watching seductresses or shrews, adorable heroines who are “met-cute” by the right guy at the wrong time, sassy best friends or any of a host of stereotypes that we’re bowled over by a central female character who has an arc, and who has baggage, and who has an off-color sense of humor. This, in part, explains the wildly positive reaction to Bridesmaids.
And surprise! By ignoring cliches, the movie actually works better--you don’t have to be well-versed in feminist theory to be dying for more than the same-old from Hollywood.
“Chick-flicks” or “rom-coms,” are usually overpopulated by women who move about in airy houses or apartments with floor-to-ceiling windows, impeccably dressed with smooth faces, save dimples, and whose “humanizing trait” is almost always frenetic perfectionism with a dash of clumsiness thrown in for good measure. As Tad Friend’s widely-circulated piece in the New Yorker on women in comedy notes (and a video from Nerve.com documents), this clumsiness is actually a “rule:”
"'To make a woman adorable,' one female successful screenwriter says, 'you have to defeat her at the beginning... It's as simple as making the girl cry, fifteen minutes into the movie.' Relatability is based on vulnerability, which creates likeability. With male characters, smoking pot, getting drunk, and lying around watching porn is likeable; with females, the same conduct is hateful. So funny women must not only be gorgeous; they must fall down and then sob, knowing it's all their fault."
And by gesturing at relatability with the shortcut of clumsiness, producers fail to create characters who resemble us at all. Thus, your typical heroines do not possess flaws like deep-seated insecurity, big mouths, aggression of the passive or plain variety, laziness, or a regular employment of substance abuse beyond a cocktail or two.