There’s a lot at play with the new female-driven comedy Bridesmaids, directed by Paul Feig. The chaos of marriage and weddings, and the fluctuating dynamic of long sustained friendship is all laid bare, while a balance is constantly maintained between frivolous humor and genuine emotion. More importantly, it could be argued that the film becomes seminal in its representation of gender in mainstream cinema.
Bridesmaids features Saturday Night Live alum Kristin Wiig as star and co-writer, elevated from her usual niche supporting roles to a legitimate leading presence. She plays Annie, chosen as maid of honor for her best friend Lillian’s wedding. However, she finds herself completely unable to handle the expense of the celebration, simultaneously coping with the financial burden of her failed business. Additionally, she is beset with pangs of anxiety about her friend growing apart from her, learning that she doesn’t know any of Lillian’s new friends and that she is progressively becoming irrelevant in Lillian’s life. For Wiig’s part, she attacks every scene she’s involved in, becoming both manic and relatable, grounding the all female update of what is being referred to as the Judd Apatow formula. Personally, even though Judd Apatow’s name is plastered all over the film for marketing purposes, I think it’s best to side-step his individual role (as one of the film’s producers) altogether. Instead, I would say that Bridesmaids joins a current trend in the rom-com film genre that attempts to achieve an overall tone of immaturity in order to mete out genuine human pathos throughout the course of the film.
At first, the reception of the film worried me, because it’s critical response leant to the idea that the crude, bawdy humor of the bromance was being transplanted into its female counterpart without any retention of feminine sensibility. Thankfully, that proved not to be the case, and the insecurity of Wiig’s character is both unique in a gender specific way and at times heart-wrenching. Her close friendship with Lillian, played by fellow SNL alum Maya Rudolph, has become vulnerable to the ebb of time, the presence of new friends, and the inevitable and foreboding changes of marriage. The conflict is universal in its broad sense; after all, things tend to fall apart and we grow distant from those we had loved dearly, it’s part of life. However, the way in which the movie unfolds accentuates a confrontation between Wiig’s character and an ingrained sense of propriety during the process, an aspect that would feel inauthentic with a male protagonist.
Interestingly, Wiig subverts the expectations of how she should behave, but is unable to shake the stigma of desiring marriage herself in order to attain the sense of identity she was unable to achieve through her unsuccessful business as a baker. The movie does attempt to reaffirm her role as a baker, but is unable to fully shake the genre maxim of a male-female union being the culmination of a woman’s travails in life. Instead, it becomes more important that Annie resolves her estrangement from quirky Canadian love interest Officer Rhodes. As she bakes him an ‘I’m Sorry Cake’, her life passion and sole means of identifying herself beyond any male affiliation merely becomes a device for their reconciliation.
It should also be said that while the film is important in what it represents, in terms of narrative filmmaking it feels incomplete. For one thing, the conflict of Wiig’s rival Helen, also competing for the role ‘maid of honor’, is one-dimensional, focused in a perpetual mode of passive aggressiveness, financial disparity, and an increasingly tedious sense of one-upmanship. The same could be said of any of the external pressures exacting themselves on Wiig, all stock narrative tropes that just so happen to generate honest empathy. More importantly, while Wiig and Rudolph feel like distinct characters, the same cannot be said for the entire cast.
What I find most frustrating about the film is that the writing goes down avenues with its supporting characters that it is unable to follow up on. For instance, there is an absolutely bizarre admission about one of the supporting character’s sex life that punches a gaping hole in her demure and overly sincere demeanor. However, we never really hear from that character again, simply because we don’t have time. Instead, she becomes a prop for the rest of the film, making room for the much more interesting and complex interplay between the two leads. This is indicative of a film attempting to do too much, and it would have been better served to limit its scope, establishing a smaller core group (for instance, the wolf pack in The Hangover series).
All things considered though, all feminist squabbles and narrative gaps brushed aside, the film needs to be funny above all else. In this area, Bridesmaids is fearless. Throughout the course of the film, it has a character ingloriously defecating in the bathroom sink of a ritzy wedding boutique while other bridesmaids vie for the privilege to vomit in an adjacent toilet. It also has Wiig delightfully rampaging at her usurped bridal shower, stabbing a fork in a replica Eiffel Tower and pulverizing a giant cookie with the bride and groom’s name on it, ranting about the cookie’s impracticality. The film is hilarious, it is worth watching, and in many aspects, it is an unmatched success. However, it may be a while longer before we can watch an all-female cast this talented without wondering what the film could have been if it was not also shouldering the burden of precedent.
Bridesmaids premieres throughout Europe and other parts of the world in June and July.
Jacob Mertens is a Film International ‘In the Field’ writer.