Much has been made of the unexpected box office success of Bridesmaids this past summer. As if the prospect of a chick flick being funny (i.e., even the boys are left laughing after paying for their ticket) is so far outside the realm of possibility that Hollywood itself would never dare such a dream. The genuine shock and outsize attention this event garnered was almost as hilarious as the movie itself.
The response by critics and pundits following the movie’s release speaks louder about an (aggressively silent) argument too few people it seems considered noteworthy enough to actually fight over. The fight in question being that women had finally proven they too are capable of tickling an audience’s funny bone. While television has been showcasing funny women in lead roles from its inception the silver screen has proven a far less hospitable environment for ladies who make us laugh. Which is why Bridesmaids is a particularly satisfying, and long overdue, reminder that comedies headlined by women can be smart, funny and commercially viable.
In Bridesmaids Kristin Wiig (Saturday Night Live) plays Annie, a 30-something woman whose bad luck and uncertainty seems to grow exponentially with age and in direct opposition to the growth and stability of those around her. Her bakery business has just failed, her love life is reduced to shame inducing one-night stands with an obnoxious, callous cad (played with fiendish fun by Mad Men’s
Jon Hamm and her weird English landlord (Little Britain’s Matt Lucas) has just told her to move out. To complete the circle of humiliation Annie has just learned that Lillian (SNL vet Maya Rudolph), her best friend since childhood, is about to settle down and get married.
Chosen as maid of honor Annie is tasked with arranging all of the pre-wedding festivities. An unexpected rival arises in the form of Helen (Rose Byrne, Damages, X-Men: First Class), a rich, beautiful and fiercely competitive bridesmaid who is determined to both plan all the activities her way and, more importantly, to be crowned Lillian’s new best friend. The rest of the bridal party is filled by a motley crew of old friends (Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper) and a hilariously tough soon to be sister-in-law (the truly fantastic and painfully funny Melissa McCarthy).
Disastrous dress fittings, receptions and pre-wedding shenanigans ensue. Detailing the specific high jinks that develop would not only diminish the individual jokes within the sequences but, also, the narrative trajectory of the film. What distinguishes Bridesmaids as a comedy, and makes it especially effective, is how Wiig and co-writer Annie Mumolo manage to derive humor less from outright gags than from the labored extension of uncomfortable scenarios. The entire cast meets this challenge with undaunting style and ferocious aplomb that makes for gut-busting hilarity that somehow manages to maintain depth and nuance.
Neurotic women stumbling through their 20s and 30s while looking for love and rewarding careers is a trope of nearly all romantic comedies. What distinguishes Bridesmaids is not merely the successful marriage between a chick flick and a gross-out buddy comedy but, rather, the subtle and assured tweaks to convention accomplished by the screenwriters and director Paul Feig (Freaks & Geeks). While played for full comedic effect Annie’s romantic and personal vulnerabilities are never patronized or dismissed as hollow indulgences.
Mainstream comedy (of either variety) is designed for simplicity – of story, consumption and enjoyment – because jokes are its commercial imperative. Stereotypes are faithfully employed because the broadest strokes of a pen will often cover the greatest territory with minimal effort. Story development, emotional nuance and character complexity simply require too much real estate in a script that must save its space for branded deliverables. Bridesmaids, though, defies this wisdom and balances its comedy with a genuine and engaging story.
Success should follow Bridesmaids out of the multiplex and into the home video market with the film’s recent release on DVD. Stuffed like an over wrapped gift basket one might take to a wedding reception the DVD version is filled with a host of entertaining extras that add both context and hilarity to the original release. Bonus features include extended unrated and alternate scenes, deleted scenes, a gag reel, feature commentary with cast and crew and a behind the scenes featurette.
It is important not to over analyze
or elevate the film to some grand plinth in the cultural landscape. Its box office success is not a reflection of some nascent revolution in gender equality but, rather and most critically, a result of the laughs it rightfully earns from the audience. You hardly need a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology to fully enjoy this exceedingly bright and downright hilarious film.