Usually, at the end of a romantic comedy, I end up tutting loudly, rolling my eyes, and engaging in a healthy dose of pseudo-feminist ranting in the cinema foyer. Not so with Bridesmaids. As the credits rolled, I found myself wanting to applaud, wanting to high-five someone, wanting, in fact, to grab the other women in the cinema and shake them, shouting: “How cool was that?”
Director Paul Reid (Freaks and Geeks) together with writer, co-producer and star Kristen Wiig has created a miraculous movie, a brilliant, female-centred comedy that is honest, raunchy and very, very funny.
Wiig (Saturday Night Live, Knocked Up) stars as hapless 30-something Annie, a woman perpetually broke and unlucky in love. Her menial job barely covers her rent, and the closest thing she has to a boyfriend is a soul-destroying friends-with-benefits arrangement with handsome egomaniac Ted (played with smarmy perfection by Jon Hamm).
When her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolf) gets engaged, Annie has to navigate the bizarre and expensive rituals involved in being Maid of Honour, while controlling a motley crue of bridesmaids including perky newlywed Becca (The Office’s Ellie Camper), jaded housewife Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and larger-than-life Megan (Melissa McCarthy, on scene-stealing good form). She must also face up to wealthy socialite Helen (Rose Byrne) who will stop at nothing to usurp her position as Maid of Honour, and as Lillian’s best friend.
The characters look, talk and act like real women, thanks to a sparkling screenplay by Wiig and fellow SNL-er Annie Mumolo. Annie and Lillian’s conversations are the kind you might hear while eavesdropping on any two 30-something women in a coffee shop, peppered with expletives, raunchy humour – “He keeps putting it in my face.” “Yeah, they do that, don’t they?” – and intimate confessions.
The humour stems not only from the snappy dialogue but from the willingness of the bridal party to get down and dirty with the slapstick comedy. The food poisoning scene is particularly cringe-worthy. Credit is due to the fearless actresses, but also to slapstick-loving producer Judd Apatow, who first suggested that Wiig and Mumolo write the script.
Apatow is best known for “bro-centric” comedies such as Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. He came under fire for his portrayal of women from Knocked Up actress Katherine Heigl, who isn’t exactly making great strides in feminist cinema on her own resume. However, his work on Bridesmaids suggest hidden layers to the talented producer.
Although the film seems to be romantic comedy, with a sweet subplot involving Annie and Police Officer Rhodes (The I.T Crowd’s Chris O’ Dowd), romantic love is actually of secondary importance to the heart of the film. Annie is not competing for a man, as heroines in this genre so often are. She is fighting for her friendship with Lillian, and battling her own insecurities in a search for self-worth. How many romantic comedies place self-worth and female friendship above the love of a good man? It’s positively revolutionary.
There is so much to love about this film in terms of what isn’t there; there are no catfights. There are no laments about dieting or body worries. There are no conversations about drinking Cosmos, wearing Manolos or coveting handbags that cost more than my student loan. What there is, is an honest account of female friendships and how, as ignoble as it may be, sometimes the successes of those we love can throw our own perceived failures into sharper relief, as we try to keep up.
It is tempting to hope that Bridesmaids heralds the dawn of a new age of female-centred cinema, but there is probably some way to go. As Wiig herself says in response to gender criticism of the film, “A poster with six women on it shouldn’t be groundbreaking.” As much as I want to applaud the film for what it states about women, a true tribute would be to simply applaud it for what it is: a pitch-perfect comedy that had me laughing until the credits rolled.