I just got home after an excruciating two hours at the movies. There will likely be little structural coherency to this post, but I can guarantee one thing: a scathing analysis of the new lady comedy Bridesmaids. There are two things I will not be discussing: 1. Judd Apatow’s role as a producer, and 2. the feminism of Bridemaids. Here’s why…
It’s impossible to gauge Apatow’s involvement in the film, except for brief snippets from interviews with Kristen Wiig and others that tend to shed very little light on the development and production process. There’s already enough hate about Apatow on the internet, and I’d prefer to give the benefit of the doubt to Wiig and her writing partner, Annie Mumolo. For the purposes of this blog, and out of respect to the credited writers, I will assume that Wiig and Mumolo are responsible for the majority of the creative work.
Regarding my second point, Bridesmaids never claimed to be a feminist film. It was not marketed as such, unlike Diablo Cody’s ill-fated foray into horror, Jennifer’s Body (2009), nor was it directed solely at the 18 to 24, empowered ladies demographic (Is this even a thing? How do I make it one?) It seems unfair to dismiss Bridesmaids on the grounds that it is not a so-called feminist film, since none of its creators identify it this way.
So what are my gripes with Bridemaids? They are indeed numerous, but I will attempt to lay them out in a thoughtful, non-accusatory manner. I do like a challenge.
At first glance, a film whose major speaking roles are mostly assigned to women would be an ideal forum for developing deep female characters with actualized desires and resonant dialogue. Bridesmaids uses its phenomenal framework of female characters to a different effect. As the film unfolds, a single pressing question is answered most effectively: How many hoary female archetypes can we cram into a single film? The answer is, if we’re being generous, at least six. But if we start to question the film’s depictions of motherhood and marriage, we can easily pull out another four or five. I can waste time explaining why these trite lady archetypes are bad, but I assume most readers of this blog are already familiar with the limitations of the virgin/whore dichotomy. Let’s move on.
New package, same shit. A comedy that is never explicitly marketed as the dreaded RomCom–meaning that you can drag your boyfriend to Bridesmaids, but it’s cool, he’ll laugh at the poop jokes–ends in a marriage and a romantic union. Bland Lillian, the vacuous bride who embodies our own hopes and desires, gets married and sad-sack Annie shacks up with the nice policeman. But right before Lil’s wedding, during a sweet bonding sesh with no lesbian undertones (I know! In an Apatow-branded film no less!), Annie says, “You need to blaze the trail for me.” Annie is referring to the fact that Lillian is getting married first, and that she will exemplify the married life that Annie not-so-secretly desires.
In the relationship comedy, even one that is ostensibly about the bonds between women, all roads lead to men. Were I to perform the Bechdel Test on Bridesmaids, I would disqualify the film purely based on its female characters’ incessant chatter about weddings. Sure, they may not be talking explicitly about men (although there’s lots of that too!), but in this film, any discussion of a heterosexual marriage by women friends is just the window-dressing for a conversation about landing the right man.
Incessant chatter is indeed the best phrase to characterize Bridesmaids. The women talk and talk and talk, but nothing ever happens. Problems are whined about, but rarely resolved. Feelings are shared (ad nauseam), but decisions are never made. Women are insecure, sad, lonely, frustrated, and all they do is talk.
I recently finished reading Syd Field’s Screenplay, which many consider to be the bible of screenwriting. Field repeatedly stresses that dialogue, at least in a Hollywood-style film, should ALWAYS move the plot along. After fidgeting through innumerable scenes of stilted, overwrought dialogue, I can say with absolute certainty that only about 30% of the dialogue in Bridesmaids served this essential purpose. If I wanted to hear ladies talk about their feelings, I’d have a Period Party with my lunar girlfriends. It’s cool, bitches who cycle together stay together.
We already know these ladies can talk, but what do they discuss? At least aside from their many, many feelings? Well, they do irrational things to each other, and then they apologize. And even after the one lady accepts the other’s apology, the other lady is still compelled to apologize again. So these women behave in crazy, nutso, Courtney Love-esque ways, and then they talk about how they screwed up. Annie trashes Lillian’s bridal shower because she’s jealous of another bridesmaid (the Type A Bitch, for reference purposes), but in their final heart-to-heart, she apologizes profusely. Hell, by that point in the movie, we can’t even remember all the stuff she’s apologizing for.
As my ever-lovely viewing partner astutely noted, this technique serves to infantilize grown-ass women. Women can be women in private, when they’re commiserating about their sad lives or apologizing for non-issues, but in public, women are tantrum-throwing little girls. They behave badly, they realize their mistakes, and their understanding female friends don’t hold a grudge. I honestly can’t think of anything more tedious or frustrating to watch. Oh wait, yes, I can think of one thing, and one thing only: Sammi and Ron-Ron’s epic break-up on Jersey Shore.
So that’s the crux of the issue with Bridesmaids. I coerced myself into seeing this lady movie, despite its shameless pandering to my age group and gender, and I left feeling like I’d seen a bad episode of Jersey Shore. You know the kind. The episode where everyone talks circles around each other, and the jokes aren’t even good. J WOWW’s comebacks lack their usual zing, and The Situation’s abs deflate under his bedazzled Ed Hardy t-shirt. Snooks sprawls on the couch and moans into the duck phone about her guy problems, and you leave wondering why the hell you just wasted precious minutes of your life. Minutes you could have spent writing the sort of lady movie you really want to see. Stay tuned.