Film Review: Bridesmaids (2011)


Bear with me.

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.

One.

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.

Two.

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.

Three.

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.

Four.

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.

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14 Responses to Film Review: Bridesmaids (2011)

  1. Kat says:

    I thought it was pretty funny (except for the trashing of the bridal shower and the barf/poop humour, which I already hate anyway) but your poster of all the female characters as stereotypes is dead on. As far as I can tell the main thing the movie achieves for women is to prove that they can be as immature, gross and insensitive as the men in a typical Apatow movie. And I wouldn’t call that progress.

    However, Kristin Wiig’s impression of a penis is totally hilarious. And I thought her friendship with Maya Rudolph was actually pretty well-portrayed at the beginning of the movie – before all the wedding shit.

    • telerevision says:

      I agree with your thoughts on the friendship between Annie and Lillian, but frankly I didn’t think the women were gross/insensitive enough.

      They spent so much time talking, rather than doing ANYTHING remotely interesting (talking heads is a death sentence for a predominantly visual medium like narrative film) that I was bored out of my mind. The lack of physical comedy, gross-out comedy (aside from that one scene in the bridal shop), and witty repartee WHILE doing something else just made me feel like it was another addition to the “women can’t do slapstick” school of comedy.

      I mean, honestly, there was nothing offensive about this movie, and comedy is most effective when it’s doing something new–which often takes the guise of “offensive,” since people tend to react poorly to the unfamiliar. My biggest problem with this movie was that it was just another bland, derivative comedy. I didn’t expect it to be a “feminist film,” but based on all the completely unwarranted hype and praise that it’s been receiving, I did expect it to be something distinctive, and perhaps a little different. Like I said: same shit, new packaging.

      The fact that so many women and men enjoyed this film just makes me think that the comedy was too safe. I’ll take the crime-scene-period jokes of No Strings Attached over this lady lovefest any day.

      • Kat says:

        1) I hate period jokes, so I guess I will cancel my plans to see No Strings Attached!

        1b) I think that’s the difference between us – I am really not a fan of any kind of gross-out humour. Not because I think it’s offensive, but because it’s so easy to reach for the inevitable fart/poop/burp joke.

        2) Which is maybe why I’m not as disappointed with Bridesmaids as you were. For one, I do like movies where women talk to each other and lack of action wasn’t a huge problem (though – I did want to see them go to Vegas and do crazy shit!) for me.

        This is unrelated, but I don’t understand how people can say that women can’t do slapstick. Have they ever seen Bringing Up Baby? I mean, come on.

  2. Kat says:

    Oops, and I want to add: there was one element that I thought was pretty different, for a mainstream comedy. The male love interest is the one who totally has his shit together and encourages the fucked up female screw-up to go after her dreams. It’s kind of (very kind of) a subversion of the Manic Pixie thing (but not really) or the female muse to male artist thing. And I like seeing female characters like Wiig’s whose lives are out of control and who feel like failures. This is what Tina Fey hath bequeathed us.

    • telerevision says:

      I think we should chalk this up to a matter of different strokes, different folks, etc. since I hate seeing flaky female characters who don’t have their shit together. Like anything, it reaches women audiences in different ways.

      Also, it’s not that I’m morally opposed to movies where women talk about things. This couldn’t be further from the truth! I just think that a) comedies are not the place for heavy dialogue, especially faux emotional scenes between apologetic women; b) dialogue needs to serve a narrative purpose–it should forward the plot or reveal PERTINENT information about characters; c) again, film is a highly visual medium, so quality, relevant dialogue really needs to be portrayed in a visual arresting manner–this is why I like dramas where women talk (shout-out to the Mildred Pierce mini-series here!) I watch comedies primarily because characters DO funny things, not because they reiterate tired jokes about penises and women being crazy.

      Anyway, I’m glad we can talk about this!

  3. Steven O. says:

    “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”

    I think, stylistically speaking, it’s a bit daft of you to complain that the film, which claims to have no feminist stance, exploits negative female stereotypes, when you yourself, who I suppose should be held to a higher level of standards in your criticism, manage to slip in a rather glib and unfortunate generalization about men being drooling fucks who laugh at poop jokes. Perhaps your argument will be that this was the intention of the studio, which you’re simply restating for comic effect. I would argue that in doing so, you’re in fact perpetrating the same offense — you’re still using a cheap shit joke to get laughs.

    Also I’m a bit confused as to why you’re bothered by the fact that these women are talking about men. I fully understand and support the idea that a woman’s life should not revolve around men, or around obtaining a man. However. The fucking film is called Bridesmaids. If you’re looking for a film where the roads don’t lead to landing the right man, you probably shouldn’t be watching a film called BRIDESMAIDS.

    • telerevision says:

      With my comment that you posted above, I wasn’t implying that I personally espouse this view. After reading the twitter posts/comments/etc from the creative people behind Bridesmaids that were desperately encouraging men to see this movie, this is the message that I was getting. Meaning that in my opinion, Apatow and Co. justify this film as something that will appeal to male and female audiences by including a food poisoning scene that recalls similarly gross-out comedy scenes from Apatow’s own films, which are predominantly marketed to men. I don’t think I’m using a cheap joke to any great comic effect. I just think it’s important that we note how the same film is marketed differently to men and women, and perhaps the way in which I made this point was too glib for your liking. Hell, I (and Tina Fey, incidentally!) think more men should sit through talky lady films. It’s good for them.

      Your final point is totally fair. How could I have possibly expected deep relationships between close female friends that don’t necessarily revolve around the men in their life in a film called Bridesmaids? Surely I was setting myself up for disappointment.

      • Steven O. says:

        I should note that I’m not attempting to defend the inherent quality of the film here — I’m guessing if I saw it, I wouldn’t enjoy it. But that’s the thing — it doesn’t sound like you were going to enjoy it either. In this era it’s really simple to figure out what the filmmakers intentions were in producing and marketing the film before you even step foot in the theater. They fucking throw it at your face. You were not expecting something of quality. You shouldn’t have been. So I don’t get why you took the time to rail against it under the guise of it being something that it never promised to be — a film of substance and quality. You can’t gauge this thing as you might a proper film. It’s like you did the following:

        “Alright. I’m on this website. They’re selling vacuums. I’m going to order a vacuum.”

        “Alright, I ordered a vacuum.”

        “Maybe, instead of a vacuum, some nice person at the post office will decide to send me a pony instead.”

        “WTF THIS IS A VACUUM WHERE’S MY FUCKING PONY THIS IS BULLSHIT.”

        I just don’t see why you’re bothering to review this negatively when it delivered exactly what it promised.

        I’m assuming your second point is sarcasm. Either way though. I don’t know what you were expecting. Kristen Wiig was in fucking MacGruber. Did you watch that shit? It was horrible.

      • telerevision says:

        To be honest, I’ve only seen two other Apatow-produced films, but I do feel like I have a decent sense of what he’s about. So you’re right, maybe I should have known better.

        But when you’re a twenty-something woman and there are just so few options for movies that are really created specifically for your demographic, you do feel some pressure to see the rare films that are. I saw the fairly average Jennifer’s Body for the same reason, and yeah, it bugs the hell out of me that I do this.

        But these are Hollywood productions, and the only way to make your presence known is by opening your wallet. So I continue to attend these mediocre movies in the hopes that something better will be made to target a younger female audience.

        I wasn’t expecting much out of Bridesmaids, but with such a stellar cast of hilarious ladies, I was hoping for something a little different than the standard relationship-based comedy. I didn’t think I’d love the film, but I didn’t think I’d be assaulted by utter mediocrity either.

  4. marnie says:

    For a guy, Steve O. does make some good points.

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