Bridesmaids: Better Late Than Never

Bridesmaids poster

Ever since I first saw the trailer for Bridesmaids, it hasn’t just been a priority for me to see it–it’s been a mission.  And if the criticism surrounding it is any indication, I’m not the only one.  The “first” raunchy female comedy, supposedly the game-changer for women of comedy and women in general, the film that promises to finally wipe out the old adage that women “just aren’t funny”: is it my social responsibility to pay money to see it?  Well, that all depends on whether or not the film actually lives up to its own hype.

To call it the first raunchy female comedy may not be accurate, as any of us who are (un)fortunate enough to have seen the mishmash of weirdly juvenile nonsensical scenes known as The Sweetest Thing can attest (I still love you, Christina Applegate).  But to call it the first commercially successful one?  Absolutely.  And I’m both happy and relieved to say that, for the most part, Bridesmaids was successful with this bitchy viewer, too–and my expectations were astronomical.

I say “for the most part” because, like most commercially successful movies, Bridesmaids has its faults, its tropes, cliches, and stereotypical bullshit.  As always, the mark of any woman getting her life together is whether or not she has a steady man, a man who happens to be… an Irish cop? (Is it 1936?  Is James Cagney going to pop out with a gun?)  Still, the lead’s relationship with said cop is so well-written and well-played that I had to forgive the film even that.  And at least getting the man isn’t the endgame.

What is the endgame of Bridesmaids is the lead patching things up with her (female) best friend.  The film focuses on Annie (Kristen Wiig), a good-hearted if anxious woman in her 30s whose life is falling apart like it’s its job, all while her best friend since childhood, Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is planning her own fabulous wedding.  Annie is forced to take on the duties of Maid of Honor all while being unemployed, repeatedly rejected by her casual, caustic tool of a lover (Jon Hamm), and booted from her apartment by the worst roommates in the entire world.  At Lillian’s engagement party, Annie is introduced to Lillian’s fiancee’s boss’ wife, the impossibly rich, beautiful, and together Helen (Rose Byrne), and quickly realizes that Helen is, well, trying to woo Lillian away from her.  And the rivalry of a lifetime begins.

As much as Bridesmaids derives its comedy from women tearing each other down, the movie is much more focused on women holding each other up, caring really intensely about each other, and relying on each other.  While the competition between women is something too often sourced for laughs, female friendship is rarely even shown in mainstream comedies let alone the source of the comedy itself.  Female friendship is on a freaking pedestal in this movie, and rightfully so.  At least in my experience, women are completely ridiculous and possessive when it comes to our relationships with one another, definitely more so than in our romantic relationships.  And when our best friend starts spending a little too much time with another woman, even starts changing as a result, we all just want to stomp our feet and whine, “But she’s MY friend!”  I so empathized with Annie’s situation that about a quarter into the movie, I turned to my friend (who’d already seen it), and whispered, “Please tell me Helen dies before the end of this.”

This is due, in no small part, to the thoroughly real performances given by not just Wiig, Rudolph, and Byrne, but by the entire female ensemble.  Wiig turns out to be a really strong dramatic actor too, which I should have expected, since she obviously takes her comedy very seriously.  She treats the collapse of Annie’s personal and professional life alternately with ferocious desperation and a quiet hopelessness.  What’s hilarious on the surface is really quite sad.

Still, the supporting cast ensures that Bridesmaids doesn’t linger too long in the serious.  Even before the film was released, people would not stop talking about Melissa McCarthy’s performance.  From the trailer, I was worried that her character would fall victim to the overweight, “unattractive” woman stereotype so thoroughly entrenched in comedy, whose grotesque behavior inspires an appalled brand of laughter.  That aspect is certainly there, but McCarthy’s Megan surprised me with both her confidence and her sweetness.  The scene after Annie’s been forced to move back in with her mother, where Megan shows up at the house to give her a dose of tough love, is a true testament to the care taken with the script and by McCarthy herself.

For me, though, the unsung heroes of the film, were the other two bridesmaids, Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), bitter mother of three boys, and innocent newlywed Becca (Ellie Kemper), who are utterly perfect in the little time that they’re used.  Their moment of drunken bonding is the best part of the entire plane scene, probably for how unexpected it is.

And that’s why Bridesmaids succeeded with me overall: its comedy took me completely by surprise.  Even though I had prior knowledge of the food poisoning scene, the way it was done literally had me in tears (McCarthy’s repeated “Don’t look at me!” was probably where I broke).  Even though they totally stole the Wilson Phillips homage from Harold and Kumar go to White Castle, I was still happy to be there, because women finally have a comedy that proves what we’ve known all along, that we can be funny.

It’s about goddamn time.

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