Friday, May 24, 2024

You Haven’t Seen What?!: ‘Bridesmaids’

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People assume other people have seen everything they have. It’s human nature. Take, for instance, the times when you’re with your friends and someone admits to not seeing a movie, that everyone else has seen. “You haven’t seen that?” Someone will cry out. Or worse yet, maybe even rag on the person for living under a rock.

Life is weird, dark, twisty, happy, and funny. There are innumerable reasons why someone would not have seen Titanic or the latest Marvel movie. The reasons can be anything from a family tragedy or they just didn’t feel like it. More than likely you just never got around to it. It happens.

We all have gaps. One critic I know of hasn’t seen Goonies while another person I know has never seen Casablanca. While the two are not comparable, they are both, great movies and well worth the time. The point is everybody has “gaps.” Movies they just missed. So, this column will be me filling in my “gaps.”

Movies I haven’t seen but should have but didn’t for some reason or another. If I know the reason I’ll try and explain it to you in the article but, here’s the thing. Oftentimes there is no real reason. Sometimes you just don’t see the movie. But I’ll try my best to explain myself and review the movie. But more importantly this is about me filling in the gaps and helping me broaden my understanding of movies and, in some cases, pop culture.

I have no easy or logical defense for not seeing Bridesmaid until now. None. I loved Gilmore Girls and Freaks and Geeks with a sort of reckless adoration that requires me to read every interview with the actors and or creators while I’m watching the show. So when it comes to my ignoring the seminal groundbreaking 2011 gross out comedy; I’ve got nothing.

Maybe it had a little bit to do with some internal misogyny? It’s possible. 2011 me is far different from 2018 me. I was still living in the Bronx at the time and seeing everything I could. Kori and I were long distance friends. I had the time, the money, but I don’t know why I never even attempted to see this movie.

Whatever the reason was it must surely have been a stupid one. Bridesmaids is hilarious. My younger self loved Judd Apatow but current me has soured on him slightly. I love Apatow the producer much more than Apatow the director. Seeing Bridesmaids today makes me realize how much better Paul Feig is than Apatow, even though the latter is more beloved and acclaimed.

Unlike Apatow comedies, Bridesmaids never feels bloated. I’m not saying it couldn’t be shorter but I have a rule that if I love a move enough length is not a problem. With Bridesmaids I didn’t have a problem.

From the opening scene I was struck by how revolutionary Bridesmaids was. Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Ted (Jon Hamm) are having sex in a way that most movies, let alone comedies, don’t portray sex. It’s messy, uncomfortable, and at times hilarious. More than that though we see Annie enjoying sex. Feig cuts to Ted a few times, but from the beginning it’s clear, Annie’s perspective is the one we’re meant to identify with.

Reams of articles have been written about how sex in movies oftentimes discount the women involved in the actual sex. The male gaze being so ubiquitous that a shocking amount of times the camera doesn’t even show the woman’s face unless pain is involved. A 2006 documentary by Kirby Dick called This Film Is Not Yet Rated interviewed several filmmakers and found the films that did show women enjoying sex were given a harsher rating.

From the opening credits Bridesmaids pokes the male gaze right in its eyeball. It helps that the script was written by Wiig and Annie Mumolo. But we’ve seen movies like Bridesmaids before. The 2008 Katherine Heigl vehicle 27 Dresses was written and directed by women. Bride Wars, which came out in 2009, was directed by a man but two out of three of its writers were women.

The difference between those movies and Bridesmaids is simple. While it may be a gross out comedy, Wiig and Mumolo don’t hate their characters. What’s more, neither does Feig. Annie is a train wreck but she’s our train wreck and Bridesmaids loves her for it.

Annie is a lovable loser of sorts. Well, she sees herself as that, though nobody else does. She had her own bakery but it has since gone out of business. She shares an apartment with an odd pair of siblings Brynn (Rebel Wilson) and Gil (Matt Lucas) though she could live with her mom Judy (Jill Clayburgh) if she ever got over herself. Ted isn’t nice to Annie but he’s handsome and well off and Annie can’t help but keep going back to him; if only just for the sex.

The only thing keeping Annie sane is her lifelong friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph). So when Lillian announces she’s getting married Annie is only too happy. Lillian’s engagement causes Annie to take a look at her life and she finds herself not liking where she is. But it’s not until Annie goes to a party held by Lillian’s fiance to announce the wedding the she begins to spiral.

Helen Harris III (Rose Byrne) is a character who in any other movie would be the unrepentant heel. Someone we want to fail so our hero could succeed. But here too Bridesmaids shows itself to be more compassionate than its predecessors. When Annie meets Helen, the wife of Lillian’s fiance’s boss, she is taken aback by how seemingly perfect she is.

Annie is barely keeping it together, but Helen looks as if a hair is never even thinking of being out of place. Her distaste for Helen initially is rooted in the differences of classes. Annie has owned a business, gone bankrupt lost everything and is now forced to work her way back to the middle. Helen it seems was raised rich, married rich, and has everything Annie doesn’t.

It is not until Helen gives a toast that things begins to go awry. As is everything Helen does, the toast is grandiose and perfect. Annie now feels threatened; not in a territorial sense, but in a very deeply human sense. Lillian is the one good thing she has in her life and Helen is a threat to it. Jealousy is an ugly emotion and Bridesmaids leans into the ugliness without losing sight of how desperate Annie is and how much of the chaos is of her own doing.

Bridesmaids never judges Annie. It merely sits back and observes her as she spins out of control like the Tasmanian Devil. Helen seems to be only egging Annie on. Recognizing her tendency for self destruction, she seems to go out of her way to antagonize Annie. But Wiig and Mumolo leave little hints that Helen is neither as devious as we and Annie believe she is, nor is her life as happy and perfect as we and Annie assume it must be.

The reveal that Helen is as lonely and desperate as Annie is one of things that sets Bridesmaids apart. Helen is a stepmother who is hated by her stepchildren, a wife who is ignored and belittled by her husband, and in Lillian has finally found someone who actually wants to talk to her. To Helen, Annie is a threat to her newfound happiness.

Even better, both are forced to realize how petty and insensitive they’ve been when they both realize they’ve been ignoring the one person they care so much for, Lillian. So dead set have the two been in one upping each other they’ve ignored the toll it’s taken on the actual bride whose life is about to change as well and could really use a friend if they weren’t so busy fighting each other.

Bridesmaids cleverly packs its scenes with supporting characters to round out the cast. Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey) the seen it all and surly mother of two. Becca (Ellie Kemper) the newly married, naive and innocent, and perpetually eager to do something, anything, out of the ordinary. But the standout is Megan (Melissa McCarthy) the crass, loudmouth, brutally honest and possibly unhinged sister of the groom.

If Wiig’s Annie is the Tasmanian Devil, then McCarthy’s Megan is a human cyclone. The two are startling similar and if Annie wasn’t so busy with her head up her own ass she might see it. In fact, Megan even confronts Annie toward the end, all but demanding to know why she’s never called her. Megan tells Annie she can’t help her if she doesn’t ask.

McLendon-Covey and Kemper are given little to do but what little they have is choice. As the only two married women but on opposite sides of the maturity spectrum, the two form a tight and fast bond. Megan is left to be the outlier, a Greek chorus and fellow agent of chaos. She would actually be a great friend if Annie would only notice.

All of this only goes to show why Bridesmaids was so galvanizing for women at the time. They had rarely, if ever, had an all woman ensemble that was as vulgar and disgusting, as the men do. Sure there had been movies such as Mystic Pizza and Steel Magnolias. But never before had an all woman ensemble cast battled vomit and diarrhea at the same time in an upscale boutique. A scene I might add that has Maya Rudolph doing one the most sublime physical acts of comedy as she slowly gives in to the diarrhea while crossing the street.

Bridesmaids consists of characters who would largely be relegated to the “wacky friend” role in another movie. Feig, Wiig, and Mumolo go above and beyond by making these women actually somewhat human if not a little crazy, but no more than any of us. They show a remarkable restraint by never actually having the women go to Vegas. Vegas is canceled due to a confluence of events that in any other movie would have felt forced but in Bridesmaids feels plausible.

There’s a subplot involving Annie falling for a cop, Officer Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd). To Wiig and Mumolo’s credit it never really feels like a subplot. Annie being Annie, of course eventually sabotages it. But Bridesmaids doesn’t have Rhodes take Annie back after she apologizes. Instead he’s allowed to be angry. Of course, he will eventually take her back, this is a comedy after all.

The script even goes so far as to acknowledge Maya Rudolph, and thereby Lillian’s biracial existence. Lillian’s mom is white but her dad is black. Rudolph herself is often cast as white or passing white, and rarely acknowledged as anything but. It’s never overtly mentioned it’s just something that’s taken as normal and never played for laughs.

Bridesmaids works not because of any real cinematic flair that Paul Feig has. It works because, like Wiig and Mumolo, Feig loves these ladies, flaws and all. These volatile, ill mannered, foul mouthed, and deeply human characters. The comedy comes not from us laughing at them but from recognizing ourselves within each of them.

Amidst all of this, Bridesmaids even finds time to smuggle in a message that was as profound in 2011, just three years after the 2008 market crash, as it is now: Annie’s bankruptcy. Her emotional turmoil stems largely from her failure as a businesswoman. Her drive and lust for baking all but snuffed out by the memory of her failure. Annie confides all of this to Rhodes and he nods, “Just because you don’t make money at something doesn’t mean you’re not any good at it.”

In 2011 we were slowly coming out of a recession and people needed to hear that. In 2018 we have what’s called a gig economy and people desperately need to be told that as well. Youtube channels are now a viable way of making money, as is writing online books, and some people even make money writing movie reviews. But others, like myself, do not. We live in a time where success, as it always has, is defined by how much you love what makes you money.

Annie will eventually try again, which is all you can do really. Just try again. That Hollywood had such a success with Bridesmaids, but never really tried again is baffling. More evidence for the argument about how Hollywood, a town that exists to make money, is startling bad at making money.

Bridesmaids was made for some thirty million dollars and made over one hundred and sixty million dollars. You would think studios—craven, greedy, and lazy as studios are want to be—would fall over themselves trying to have their own Bridesmaids. Yet, here we are.

Seeing Bridesmaid today, I can tell you it is still hilarious and still far and away the best of it’s kind. Sadly, we have somehow not been inundated with a slew of all women raunchy gross out comedies. Oh sure we’ve had the Pitch Perfect trilogy, Rough Night, and Girls Trip. But two of those movies came out last year. An average of one all women studio comedy per year, six years later, hardly counts as a revolution.

I just saw Bridesmaids and I don’t know why for the life of me it took so long. There should twenty movies like Bridesmaids. Hell, there are at least seven Police Academy movies. Even if we lived in some parallel universe where Bridesmaids spawned a dozen or so other clones, it would still stand out.

Bridesmaids is a movie that is so great you don’t even realize how great it is as you watch it. You may not even realize it after you watch it either. It’s not until you do something stupid, or you fall down, and you remember that time you laughed at Bridesmaids and it reminds you you’re not nearly as dumb or clumsy as you may think. Bridesmaids is great because it’s about people in a way few comedies are.

Images Courtesy of Universal Pictures

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