May 14, 2011 12 Comments
Hi! Welcome to this new day, one wherein Hollywood and comedians insist they always thought women were funny. A reviewer on my NPR station said, “I don’t understand what the big deal about Bridesmaids is. Apatow has always made women the smartest characters in his movies. This time, women are gross. So?” A writer acquaintance who once said “I just don’t write comedy for women,” said with great and serious gusto “Bridesmaids is important for comedy.”
The monsieur I went to see the movie with was wowed. “It’s so much more than a girl’s comedy,” he said, a huge compliment. And I hunched over. I thought of Lindy West. I squinted, trying to think if I would have said the same thing after The Hangover, commending it on being more than a boy’s comedy. You know the answer.
We are all excited about this movie. I was hoping for this great coming of women in comedy when I saw the trailer, and my fingers are still crossed for the continuation of whatever trend Apatow is building as he also produces Lena Dunham’s HBO show Girls. I will admit, I got cautious when I saw all the emails and tweets about it being a social responsibility to see this movie. I worried it was a great viral PR scheme…that Apatow had approached women’s comedy as an act of ego, to play all us feminists and prove us wrong about our criticisms of him. I like the happy idea that he had a great veil-lifting, and realized the flatness of his female characters, and instantly went out to correct the imbalance that he was part of, and a bit of a mascot for. But I doubt that. It’s too perfect. Instead, it seems like another time to type out the cliche’ that I use in almost every post about Hollywood: how nice it must be to have cake and eat it too. It just seems weird that it is a social responsibility to pay money to prove that a female audience exists (already known). Or to show that women would like more from their onscreen representations (already known). It wasn’t women’s social responsibility to carry this movie, it was dudes’. Hollywood needs proof that men will show up for a movie where a woman shits her wedding dress.
Interestingly, the previews at my theater before the show did not promise a continuation of this trend. Instead, there was an all guy remake of 9 to 5, and a male Freaky Friday about marriage and bachelorhood.
But I sound sour, and Bridesmaids did not leave me sour. It left me….relevant. I felt seen. I felt existed. Doesn’t that sound crazy? That one dumb movie could do that? But, watching Wiig work through jealousy and general life-shittiness was wonderful. The way she talked to herself in her car, the way she had a private world (the cupcake!), the fact that a woman was called an “asshole” and it fit, were all minor revelations of what real people do, including that half of the population, us. We had a movie soaking in the truth that women are as fucked up as men! Life According to Jim for everyone!
Speaking of that diarrhea scene, I immediately thought of Subashini‘s fantastic take on Awkward Women, which aligns with the pre-Bridesmaids rules for Apatow’s women:
Awkwardness indicates a lack of ordering and policing, but for a woman to relax and slip up means bleeding all over the place, even after the invention of the tampon. To relax and slip up can also mean an unwanted penis inside you, or perhaps a wanted penis, but then again, with undesirable consequences if one is not careful. There is that pesky thing that women have: The Womb. Sex, even when it’s fun, can quickly become unfun with the weight of pregnancy. The potential for a girl or a woman to become a mother is always there, underlying even meaningless sexual intercourse. And mothers are always policing social norms, are they not? The father lays down the rule, but the mother implements the rules. Women just can’t laugh or be awkward. They stand rigid and unbending and unsmiling, like an army of governesses from hell.
Here we have several leaking, unpregnant, unadorable, unrigid, challenges. As Subashini goes onto to say, the awkward woman is usually insane, a chaotic threat to world order (hello Nighty Night!). So, the fact that our women in Bridesmaids shit and puke over every surface they can find in the interestingly pure and patriarchal setting of a bridal shop, is divine. I said in a recent post that when we see a woman running in a wedding dress, it’s exciting because we see a woman fighting the system. Here, it changes. When we see a woman shitting in the street in a wedding dress, my fingers are crossed we see a woman shitting on said system.
I will still argue that Bridesmaids is weak sauce compared to the likes of Pulling and all the other amazing three-dimensional representations of women that have been in no way celebrated the way this Hollywood approved version of things has been. Nevertheless, Bridesmaids does stand as a great case for more. The angle of the jokes whispered how much comedy has been lost by not including women’s real perspectives. Examples:
- The joke of Helen’s full out gown at the engagement party. I have never seen a visual gown joke in a dude-normative comedy. It did so much work so fast, and was visually compelling, as well as instantly funny.
- A mother of 3 boys says “everything is covered in semen. Once, I cracked a blanket in half.” See, it still the same stuff we’re always laughing about, semen, but this time, it’s about the lady’s encounter with it. It’s a joke that’s hilarious to everybody, and an observation that has been missing because mom’s never get to talk, usually. How have we not heard that before? It’s a grand, filthy all-inclusive joke. And, it catches men in the self consciousness of their bodily humors in a rare way (I think of it as the male equivalent to the period blood stain in Superbad).
- Moms! Wiig’s mother is not a cartoon, but she is unhelpful and wacky like parents are. I still think the best mother I’ve ever seen is Louie CK’s mom on Louie, but this mom was another beacon of the fact that I was welcome here. I recognized that woman. Same with Maya Rudolph’s dad. It’s always a sign of life when even the minor characters has full plates of dimension, even if it is short work.
- Melissa McCarthy stole the show for me. And while the audience actually squealed “Ewww” when she showed her leg to her love interest, her character was a direct challenge to that “Eww.” Yes, they have her run first into the restaurant, and she has the hassle of other cheap jokes, but her character is an amazing foil to Wiig’s. She is successful, and with an unabashed sexual appetite, and an unabashed sense of self. When she says “I know you couldn’t guess now, but it was hard for me in high school,” she means it. She in no way considers herself a victim or another person’s joke. She is winning. She is a model of self-love, and the appropriate agent to point out Wiig’s sadsackery. And kudos to the costumers for giving her that pearl necklace (and dear lord, why does that feel filthy to type? It really was made of pearls, and a necklace!). Initially, I thought the necklace was off-base, suggesting a properness that didn’t fit, but as her character gets established, it tidily proves that her success has been there all along.
- Irish guy from the IT Crowd. Nicely done.
- Thank you JESUS for a cast of women with bodies.
- Jealousy, class, money, and the tensions of friendship! Such rich stuff! So immediately connective!
- That the ultimate “perfect wedding” is still super tacky (lasers! waterfalls! Tim Heidecker!), because weddings are unavoidably so, in one way or another.