Why Treat Hollywood Flick 'Bridesmaids' Like a Feminist Triumph? It's Just Not That Good
Bridesmaids is apparently a big deal. If we don’t all go see it, there will never be another movie made about women again. Or something like that.
There’s a Facebook site called “Why Bridesmaids Matters” and a whole campaign to get women, and the people who like them, to go see it. The rhetoric gets pretty frantic:
“I encourage each and every one of you to see ‘Bridesmaids’ this weekend, not just because it’s hilarious, but because we MUST show Hollywood that women DO want movies that are not vapid romcoms or something about shopping … A lot is riding on this movie. So please bring your girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, and neighbors out in droves.”
Rebecca Traister of Salon explains what all the fulminating is about:
“What’s motivating this campaign is simple: Hollywood studios do not make comedies for or about women anymore. Yes, they used to. As recently as a few decades ago, when comedy stars like Lily Tomlin, Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn stalked through theaters alongside supporting players like Teri Garr, Carol Kane and Madeline Kahn, bringing us movies that were sometimes sublime and sometimes disposable, but which had women at their heart. Think ‘Private Benjamin,’ ’9 to 5,’ ‘Outrageous Fortune,’ ‘Down and Out in Beverly Hills’…”
Yeah, it’s come to this. People looking back on the rotten films of the 1980s as some kind of golden age of comedy and female stars. Jesus! Bette Midler movies! Has everyone forgotten the misery of Bette Midler movies?
Anyway, these campaigners can all relax. It looks like the movie’s doing well. Most reviewers are gibbering with ecstasy over the film. Here’s Dana Stevens of Slate working herself up into an embarrassing frenzy:
“Hallelujah and praise the Lord for Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids (Universal), a movie we’ve been awaiting for what feels like forever. At long last, we have a smart comedy with dumb jokes—a giddy feminist manifesto that responds to the perennially circulated head-scratcher ‘Can women really be funny?’ with a whoopee-cushion fart.”
Doesn’t make you want to rush out and see the movie, does it? Professional film reviewing has gotten so inherently repulsive, it’s lucky nobody reads it anymore.
So, is Bridesmaids a “giddy feminist manifesto”? No. No, it is not. It’s a perfectly ordinary movie, funny in spots, about a bunch of women caught up in the throes of a wedding, and the maid of honor (Kristen Wiig) who’s having a colossal midlife meltdown with grotesque consequences for all.
What everyone’s flipping about is the physical comedy stuff, because apparently this is the first comedy to show us that women can be crass and venal and crude and stupid and live inside earthly bodies. The very, very first comedy ever. If you don’t count the entire silent slapstick comedy tradition, I mean, which had female stars like Mabel Norman and Marie Dressler.
Or the screwball comedy genre featuring pratfalling, comically competitive women stars like Carole Lombard, Rosalind Russell, Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, and Irene Dunne.
Forget Mae West, who was so raw she helped get the Production Code of Censorship enforced in 1934.
Definitely ignore The Women in 1939, which skewered the witless, brawling, sex-obsessed reality behind the facade of the upper-class “lady.”
And don’t even get started about 1959′s Some Like It Hot, in which two cross-dressing men trying to hide out in an all-female band overdo the ladylike behavior to the point that the other band members are cautioned to watch their language and stop telling dirty jokes around “the new girls.”
Of course, Bridesmaids can really go for the excretory functions in a way those old movies couldn’t, so I guess you could say this film breaks new ground in showing women crapping. Absolutely. And they do it in bridesmaid dresses, which makes it immeasurably crappier.
Apparently it was producer Judd Apatow who insisted on adding the crapping-and-vomiting-bridesmaids scene in order to draw male viewers. If you’re of the male persuasion, now you know how your demographic is targeted.
Apatow commisioned the Bridesmaids project in the first place, after his success with Knocked Up, telling supporting actor Kristen Wiig to go write a comedy. She did, with former Groundlings pal Annie Mumolo, and that how we got here. It’s a loosely structured comedy built around the plight of Annie (Kristen Wiig) whose life is in a dizzying downward spiral. Her bakery business went bust, she’s broke and sharing an apartment with a bizarre, boundary-free British brother-and-sister duo (Matt Lucas and Rebel Wilson), and her love life is a sad series of booty calls with a sleazy cad (John Hamm). At this dubious time she’s asked by her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) to serve as maid of honor at her fancy wedding.
A series of disasters ensues. The engagement party toast degenerates into a one-upping contest with the richest, thinnest, best-looking bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne), who easily outmatches Annie with the weepiest tribute. Then the lunch before the bridesmaid dresses shopping trip, which results in food poisoning and the aforementioned vomiting-crapping scene. Then the bachelorette party trip to Las Vegas featuring Annie’s valium-and-whiskey-induced confrontation with federal air marshals. Then the full-out flailing, kicking, screaming bridal shower breakdown…
It’s kind of a long movie, or it seems long, at least, even with the funny parts. Lotta fat in this film, and an editor asleep at the controls. There must be four separate musical interludes, those terrible sequences when a vaguely thematically-appropriate pop song is played over a montage or a moody driving scene or something equally fucking unnecessary. Seriously, this drippy tradition has been going on long enough, ever since the Simon & Garfunkel warblings in The Graduate in 1967 alerted Hollywood brass to the profit-potential of soundtrack sales. Nobody does anything interesting with these interludes, anyway—they’re cinematic boilerplate. Honorable exceptions: Tarantino, the Coen brothers. They can carry on as usual. Everyone else, stop.
The actors are good overall, especially Melissa McCarthy in a fearless turn as Meagan, the fat odd duck whose supreme self-confidence makes her recognizable as one of those people you meet now and then, generally on public transportation, who stun you into silence with their sense of command over the strange world they live in. McCarthy gets it all right: the fixed, flat, eye-to-eye stare, the weird accessories, the expectation of interest and even admiration as the Odd Duck tells you how she once shot a man just to watch him die, or made the Guinness Book of World Records for knitting a thousand-foot scarf, or some such true-life anecdote.
It’s really the idea of this film as a feminist triumph that’s tough to take. There are women in leading roles, sure. The central relationship is supposedly the friendship between the two female leads, though Maya Rudolph disappears for a big chunk of the film, and much care is taken to have the usual great-guy hanging around patiently waiting for the frazzled heroine to realize she’s already got the perfect mate right there. No worries that she’ll have to go on in a horrifying state of singledom.
I realize things are bad in Hollywood as far as film roles for women, but let’s not lose all sense of proportion. It’s a movie about women going berserk over a wedding. Easy non-feminist laughs are built right in there, and milked for all they’re worth. No amount of sad female faces during lugubrious pop song interludes can make this more meaningful than it is. Sometimes crap is just crap, even when female.
Funny in spots, though.