Anna (Kristen Wiig), is a miserable thirty-something woman who despite her wit, ingenuity and plain likeableness can’t seem to get anywhere in life. Her lifelong best bud Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is getting hitched and has chosen Anna to be Maid of Honour. The celebrations turn from joyous to sour after Anna meets Lillian’s friend Helen (Rose Byrne), a model best friend and her competition as BFF. The girls compete to disastrous effect and all the while, Anna is losing her grip on her relationships with those surrounding her.
Writing this review I feel I am under some nameless obligation to address the question that this film has raised in every water-cooler synopsis I’ve heard so far:
Is Bridesmaids indicative of a new genre of fem-centric gross-out movies? Is this the dawn of woman’s equality in the hallowed land of fart noises, projectile vomit and horrific accidents that send Aunty Mable’s pet parakeet to birdy heaven?
It’s a valid question. On the face of it, all the hallmarks appear present and accounted for. Food poisoning, embarrassing drunken monologues, set pieces in which enormous cookies are punched in and motoring laws systematically abused. But what else? There’s a bimbo, this time a male with ridiculous ideas about his own sexual prowess. There’s bonding over sex talk, seedy escapades at sweaty diners, awkward public speeches and a promising Vegas chapter. Boxes are being ticked here, but what does that mean?
It seems that between the (very literally speaking) shits and giggles, this film has hit upon some odd sort of gender appropriation. It can easily be said that Bridesmaids is a kind of ‘bromance’ film in which the ‘dudes’ are now hot women in pumps. It’s not a stretch to then begin to wonder whether these women are being funny simply by behaving like men. And then to ask – is this truly a new kind of female humour?
I hesitate. A little echo of my bachelor education in 1970s performance art is sounding out, demanding that female comedic empowerment can only be proven by the presence of menstrual humour or the objectification of a hoard of Chippendales dancers, who will run naked and in slow motion, crotch to camera. On the other hand, Bridesmaids lays waste to any inkling that jokes about shitting yourself in public or making out with a friend of the same gender can only be funny when performed by men. Funny is simply funny. This of course I must swiftly accompany with the reminder that toilet humour is only one very limited and repetitive type of funny. Gosh, covered.
Despite all this gross-out humour, none of the women of Bridesmaids seem ruffled from their general glamour and attractiveness. There are a few abject moments but on the whole it’s heels and ringlets all round. A male friend recently showed me the self-explanatorily-named cakefarts.com in which an almost identical mix of sexy women and bizarre abjectification is employed to a to an end confusingly halfway between pornography and blockbuster humour. I can only wonder whether producer Judd Apatow has seen this too.
What Bridesmaids does is to re-enforce what it is women appreciate in an onscreen alter-ego (for, be sure, director Paul Fieg will have banked on female audiences wanting a lead who feels familiar, who is flying their flag). What struck me particularly about this film was how strongly it picked up on the fact that women like their leads to be misunderstood. Wounded but right. Ostracised but justified. As Annie’s life fell apart around her and she suffered the derision of her friends and lovers, the audience knew it wasn’t really her fault. This makes that ‘I told you so’ redemptive scene all the sweeter. And by god, that’s an unhealthy thing to want to watch, especially as it really does make up the meat of the plot here. The last time I watched somebody lose their house, partner, job, car and prospects all in one film was at the beginning of Stripes. How different it is for a film to use that disaster as a plot instead of a premise. A plot about losing the plot isn’t much of a plot at all, I’m afraid.
Whilst undeniably funny and containing a kind of rainbow of comedic techniques Bridesmaids isn’t well written at all. It’s strong points are its set pieces, in lavishly decorated interiors, where the female bridal party goes about the arbitrary business of organising the innumerable wedding ‘events’, such as the shower, engagement party and hen’s night. The comedic skills of Matt Lucas (formerly the only gay in the village) and Australia’s Rebel Wilson (Fat Pizza, The Wedge) are totally squandered on weak roles, especially given that American audiences will have limited knowledge of their best work. Perhaps they are tasteless shout-outs to British and Australian audiences? Appearances by other men are few, bar the IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd appearing as a delightfully tolerant police officer and Anna’s emergent love interest. Even the wedding scenes tend to crop out the groom. Can the perfect female comedy contain so few men?
Where Bridesmaids does land on the mark, and electrically so, is the way in which it displays how difficult it can be to maintain strong friendships over long periods and through hard times. The female friendship is a unique beast of innumerable variations and fluctuations, which, like all relationships, must be tended and nurtured. Often this means identifying what kind of company you like to keep, what you need to talk through, how comfortable you are together, and trying not to let your friend’s bad attitude or bad luck rub off on you. All these little nuances are covered but never named, and in that way really encourage a bigger empathetic stretch for audiences.
Whilst Bridesmaids is probably going to be the first of a spate of ladette films I can’t help but notice the trajectory of ‘for women’ cinema. The romantic comedy, the indulgent shopping film and the date movie (arguably ‘for women’) have all in some way failed to deliver on the promise of real humour by real women. The characters have been too rich, too beautiful, too dull, too idiotic, too worry-free or some such inaccuracy to be good humourists. In truth, the best female comic actors are working in TV, your Leslie Knopes, Elaine Benness’s, Liz Lemons and Lucille Bluths. I’m not sure Bridesmaids hit the bullseye, but it’s certainly nearer the mark than anything Carrie Bradshaw couldn’t help but wonder about.