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
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
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' 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
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.
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
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having been "fixed"--out of fear or financial imperative--by and for
-- Karina Longworth