Bridesmaids Proves Schizophrenic, Mixing Raunch and Rom-Com

Bridesmaids, which opens this weekend, is a high-profile test case. Directed by Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks creator), it's the first female-fronted comedy produced by Hollywood kingpin Judd Apatow, who has weathered criticism in the past for his brand's dude-centric point of view. It's also built around the talents of co-writer/lead actress Kristen Wiig, an SNL regular carrying a full-length film for the first time.

This combination of gambles is rare enough in contemporary studio film that a wide variety of blogger-pundits--from feminist, fanboy, and industry perspectives--have positioned the film as a referendum on the viability of women in Hollywood comedy. It's important to make a distinction between creative merit and commercial: Bridesmaids won't settle the inane Christopher Hitchens-stoked "Are women funny?" debate once and for all, but its box-office performance could have major implications on the sort of lady-oriented films that get made going forward.


Those high stakes manifest themselves on screen in a kind of multiple

personality disorder, epitomized in a first scene that first foregrounds

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raunch, then slips in psychology. We meet Annie (Wiig) in the midst of a

booty call with hot asshole bachelor Ted (Jon Hamm). They cycle through

a variety of sexual positions in a glib, high-energy montage that

quickly establishes the film's R-rated bona fides (Ted's command that

Annie "cup my balls!" is maybe the film's fifth line).

Cut to the next morning: Annie sneaks out of bed to touch up her makeup

before Ted wakes up, a fear and self-loathing tell that solicits knowing

smirks over easy LOLs. From there, Bridesmaids continues to vacillate

be-tween two, contradictory types of raw matter--one, the kind of

raucous, visual, and vacuous comedy that plays well in a trailer; the

other, a more nuanced approach forgoing immediate spectacle and

punchline for character detail that pays dividends as the film rolls

along.

Or, in more cynical terms: The former tosses meat to the

tradi-tional male comedy audience, while the other wins over ladies who

look to rom-coms for self-identification.  

Bridesmaids Proves Schizophrenic, Mixing Raunch and Rom-Com

Bridesmaids' core relationship is between Annie and her best friend

Lillian (Maya Rudolph), whose recent engagement--and new friendship with

Helen (Rose Byrne)--sends underemployed, chronically single Annie into a

tailspin. As socially awkward, underachieving Annie attempts to prove

her worth as a friend to Lillian by day, by night she inadvertently

charms traffic cop Rhodes (Chris O'Dowd). A Model Boyfriend type,

Rhodes, with his practical perfection and unwavering attention, begins

to disrupt Annie's default practice of finding excuses to give up when

realities fail to match fantasies. (Another example of Bridesmaids'

split personality: It's a film that thematically advocates for

clear-eyed, delusion-free personal responsibility while narratively

hinging on the realization of a fairy-tale wedding.)


At its best, Bridesmaids reconciles its two minds, merging

high-concept, skit-length-and-paced comedy with naturalistic

conversation. It's funniest when the humor is based in language, with

Wiig exercising her talent for passive-aggressive one-upping in

heightened situations. Lurking inside the uneven finished project is a

film that continually draws attention to movie cliches by literalizing

them.

The standard third-act tough-love talk devolves into an absurd

inspirational anecdote and physical aggression. Montages of therapy

baking and wound-licking are set to carefully chosen songs sung by Fiona

Apple and Courtney Love, female performers whose prodigious talents for

introspection and histories of self-sabotage neatly match Annie's

struggle to see herself accurately and make changes accordingly.

Bridesmaids Proves Schizophrenic, Mixing Raunch and Rom-Com

But many of the chaotic set pieces cataloging Annie's self-destruction

have a kind of dumb crassness that works against Bridesmaids' often

smart, highly class-conscious deconstruction of female friendship and

competition. Comedy of humiliation is one thing; a fat lady shitting in a

sink is another.


Bridesmaids' need to be all things to all quadrants places an unfair

burden on a film that, when not bend-ing over backward to prove that

girls can play on the same conventional comic field as boys,

successfully dis-mantles both romantic and bromantic comedy formulas.

This supposed great experiment in femme-com bears the distinct scars of

having been "fixed"--out of fear or financial imperative--by and for

dudes.

-- Karina Longworth


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