Monday, May 16th, 2011

'Bridesmaids': Am I Doing Being A Woman Wrong?

Everywhere I went last week, women were talking about Bridesmaids. When they would see it, how many and varied were the ways in which they adored Maya Rudolph, how Kristen Wiig really was amazing in those two minutes of Knocked Up she appeared in, etc. Perhaps that only says something about the circles I travel in, although now we know that people spent about $25 million this weekend to see it. But much as talk of weddings, and all the things one Must Do and Must Have at one, often makes me feel as thought I was born in a pod sent here from the planet I Don't Know How To Be A Lady, so too did all the hoopla about this movie. I know there's a burgeoning cultural sub-discussion about the place of women in comedy and in Hollywood—I’ve run up against it before. But it was unclear to me how, exactly, we all had such faith in a movie whose poster contained the words "Produced by Judd Apatow" (shudder) and which used the phrase "Chick Flicks Don't Have to Suck" as a cornerstone of its marketing.

I hoped, of course, that this was only me being my usual contrarian self, and that my feelings of alienation from the sisterhood would disappear upon seeing the film itself. But they didn't.

Bridesmaids is, as undoubtedly many of you know for yourselves by now, not the worst way you could have spent two hours of your weekend. It's quite funny, in fact, and not always in the manner the trailer might have led you to expect. Specifically, for all those who feared it would be full of jokes of the "food-poisoning-induced diarrhea" variety, that's not the case. There's plenty of Wiigian deadpan on offer, with that uniquely skittish flatness she delivers so beautifully. Her impersonation of a penis in search of fellatio is amazing, and I particularly enjoyed some drunken escapades on a plane that, despite being cast at a fairly broad level of comedy, Wiig manages to make subtle with her habit of underplaying the joke. Almost in a Peter Sarsgaard-esque way, if I may be granted a potentially bizarre analogy. Maya Rudolph, as the bride Lillian, looks fantastic basically the entire movie, even if she hasn't much to do. There's a bonus Jon Hamm appearance during which he questionably tries to channel his charming surfer-dude personal demeanor through the Draperian asshole type. But who cares about the success of that, Jon Hamm is hot.

But that's about all the good things I can say about it. And as I checked over my notes afterwards, I noticed that none of the things I enjoyed about the movie were really related to the movie's appeals to "women." Which is funny, of course, because in the last week there was a lot of meta-critical chatter that posited this movie as a kind of referendum on the modern Chick Flick Condition. I first became suspicious when men's reviews of this film were filled with nice guy-isms that smacked of the modern fear, particular though not exclusive to male liberal arts graduates, of being seen as sexist. Roger Ebert: "It definitively proves that women are the equal of men in vulgarity, sexual frankness, lust, vulnerability, overdrinking and insecurity." (Well, I guess we don’t need the ERA anymore!) From no less a women's magazine wannabe than the Wall Street Journal: "If this is only a chick flick, then call me a chick." (We’re always looking for fresh blood!)

It wasn't only men who praised the movie to the heavens. At Salon, Rebecca Traister went so far as to term attendance a "social responsibility," while Mary Elizabeth Williams called the film "your first black president of female driven comedies." (Eek.) In other words, the sisterhood is calling, and your solidarity is required by way of your wallet. Imagine my surprise when I arrived on these hyperbolic recommendations—from writers I respect!—to discover a movie whose "female"-ness is derived almost exclusively from the sheer number of speaking roles assigned to women. Who talk almost exclusively to each other, bless them.

That said, even when applying the new gold standard of the Lady Film, the Bechdel test—it's now been endorsed by the New Yorker, after all—the results are mixed. I'm not sure if we can really count conversations about weddings in this movie as not being "about men"—although it's true that the province of the wedding is presented to us as women's territory. But movies like Bridesmaids presume that much of the angst that women who are not the bride feel on these occasions has to do with not being married (or at least in a stable relationship) themselves. In the logic of this kind of film, no one has any problem with the idea that an expensive dress, lasers and Wilson Phillips, are the appropriate accessories to a celebration of the person with whom one plans to spend a life. Instead, the fear and anxiety in Bridesmaids springs almost solely from losing a member of your personal sisterhood to the land of men. I don't mean to suggest that that isn't a real fear, sometimes, nor even that it shouldn't play a role in movies like this. It's that you miss things, crucial things—funny things!—when you make it your exclusive lens.

Take, for example, the whole matter of dresses—bride’s and bridesmaids’—a topic much debated and joked about among women of this film’s ostensible target demographic. These dresses are frequently ugly; they are expensive; and boy, would most women I know like to crucify the person who came up with the idea that the only way to look good in wedding pictures is for the bridesmaids’ dresses to match. Placed in that context, the scene in which the dresses are being chosen is an egregious missed opportunity. The movie doesn’t even go for the weakest of jabs at that whole ridiculous tradition. We're expected to laugh instead at the spectacle of Maya Rudolph shitting in the street, a scene that was apparently the brainchild of Apatow himself.

The problem with that intervention isn’t just that it was made by a guy who, prior to this film, seemed afraid to admit that women might shit at all. (Such are the scraps you learn to accept from the big boys’ table, I suppose.) It’s that it also keeps the central relationship, and the tension the story seeks to introduce into it, from making much sense. After the plane escapade, when Wiig's Annie gets the group grounded on their way to Vegas for a bachelorette weekend, Lillian tells her that she’s relieving her of wedding duties because it's not her thing. In context this makes no sense. Annie has only, in terms of errors, picked a bad restaurant and accepted two alleged anxiety-reducing pills from Rose, her rival. I can see where the writing might have gone with this—it's true, for example, that if someone asked me to be her Maid of Honor there would be moments when I would fear that my eyes would never quit rolling. I might balk at the idea of having to plan both a shower and a bachelorette party, for example. But Annie is never presented to us as That Sort of Girl. She has no objection to the proceedings that could be even vaguely categorized as feminist. Instead, hazily, it's suggested that her problem with Lillian’s wedding is simply that everyone else's life seems to be moving forward just as hers descends into disaster: she has no job and has had to move back in with her mother. And, mainly, she has no man. Jon Hamm is commitment phobic and bad in bed to boot, and Annie herself can't commit to the cute (if bland) police officer she charms out of giving her a ticket. And so we’re back to the same old thing: any ambivalence Annie feels towards the wedding is just a cipher for her fear that she will never, herself, have a guy to call her own. (It's worth noting that this romance is the only thread of Annie's disheveled life that the film resolves.)

Do I blame Wiig, and her co-writer Annie Mumolo, for all of this? Not precisely. They were making a Hollywood comedy, they were doing so at the behest of, and supervised by, Judd Apatow, and expecting “subtlety” and “depth” to emerge from such a process might be too much to ask for. It's telling, after all, that women's "votes" for this film were characterized as dollars, which in this bafflingly Gilded Age of the market economy apparently is the new measure of quality. Of course, I do understand that films need to make money, and I also understand that there are agreed-upon (if arbitrary) methods for doing so that are largely beyond creative control. I further understand that this is a team effort, and that the team undoubtedly includes studio suits who, in Tina Fey's soon-to-be immortal formulation, believe that "the definition of 'crazy' in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore." I blame the frame more than I blame any of the individual people holding it up. But then if the problem is really the Apatowian-industrial-complex, and its control over architecture of this whole film, well: maybe it’s time to come to terms with the fact that this kind of movie can’t be quasi-feminist, or perhaps more aptly, even a victory for women qua “women.”

And it’s not just a matter of the film making it All About the Men. Take the strange case of Melissa McCarthy's character, Megan. Chatter on my various social media feeds suggests that in some people's view she stole the movie. Manohla Dargis bizarrely called her character almost "radical." But I was mostly appalled by how she'd been written, myself. Almost every joke was designed to rest on her presumed hideousness, and her ribald but unmistakably "butch" sexuality was grounded primarily in her body type and an aversion to makeup. ("I never bloat," she says at a bridesmaids' lunch, which is funny because she is big, Y/Y?) But if her failure to apologize for her size seems momentarily refreshing, one’s satisfaction is instantly deflated by the fact that all the other characters in the movie find her so distasteful. The dominant feeling she seems to elicit from her fellow bridesmaids is one of horror. Even when Megan has a heartfelt talk with Annie towards the end of the film, Wiig seemed to struggle to shed a nose wrinkle.

It's not so much that the character was unrecognizable—I've known women like Megan. It's that none of the humanity we see in her came from the script—it was all in McCarthy's performance. Which is lovely as it provides a good showcase for McCarthy's talent, but I wonder what she, in her heart of hearts, feels about being consigned to roles like this because of her body type. Sure, comedies often feature a buffoon character along these lines. In some sense she was playing the Jonah Hill/Zach Galifianakis role. What I object to is less that these roles exist than that they are assigned from the get-go to the kinds of women (fat, butch, maybe African-American if “sass” is required) that society feels extremely comfortable laughing at. Which is to say: why can't the buffoon be skinny? Even pretty in a conventional way? Even more to the point, why must her looks be made the essence of her buffoonery?

The answer might have to do with studio/Apatowian tweaking, with their article of faith being that fat women are unattractive and unattractive women will not put butts in seats unless they are ridiculed. But running along here is a sort of ickier undercurrent of the whole concept of "sisterhood"—namely that it's so often built on the backs of women of the "wrong sort"—in this case “too fat/unattractive.” The content of that wrongness varies from context to context, of course. But the "rising tide" theory of social advancement is only great until you're the one being used as a stepping stone. And I'm not going to get into all the pages and pages of theory that feminist writers have wasted on this because no one cares, certainly not readers of some movie review, in any case. Nevertheless, here's my qualm: I'm never going to feel comfortable with the term "feminist" or frankly even "female-driven" being applied to a comedy, albeit written by women, albeit starring excellent, funny women performers, albeit designed to appeal to the gross-out comedy crowd, that makes fun of fat women for being so plainly gross and disgusting.

Yes yes yes, I heard you, Judd Apatow, Paul Feig, every dissenting male commenter on an article about women and comedy, ever: nothing should be sacred in comedy. The problem is exactly that, though. Your view of what is and isn't sacred is remarkably rigid. (Also, boring.) Pretty, thin ladies being amazing? Sacred. Fat women being ugly? Sacred. Women who you don't want to sleep with being anything other than objects of ridicule? Well, that’s going too far! You are all, the lot of you, positively catholic about such things. I'm sure you believe yourselves to be nice guys, "letting" the women have a movie like this one—but I, for one, don't thank you for it.

Michelle Dean's writing has appeared, among other places, at Bitch, The American Prospect and The Rumpus. She sometimes blogs here.

Credit all photos: Suzanne Hanover/Universal Studios.

101 Comments / Post A Comment

Nabonwe (#12,500)

I like you. I like this article. I think it is mostly right.

I do want to add one small note in defense of Bridesmaids, which is that I didn't think that Kristen Wiig's character centered around not having a man. I think the movie – kind of subtly and touchingly for a gross-out comedy – made it clear that the failure of her business was at the root of all of her sadness.

Imagining what that would be like – and seeing Kristen Wiig not as someone who was a fuckup because she just hadn't gotten around to starting her life yet (like the dudes in Knocked Up) but as someone who had, at one point, lived the good life of a stereotypical rom-com heroine and then lost it made her character seem surprisingly rich and compelling to me. I felt like part of the reason she couldn't get behind all of the marriage hoo-ha was not because she was jealous (or poor) but because she was disillusioned, and weddings are all about dreams and illusions. I don't think they resolved that tension very well (or at all) but it's the aspect of the movie that has stayed with me over the past few days.

Complete agree about the treatment of the Melissa McCarthy character though.

keanesian (#1,116)

I guess my issue is this: Couldn't you say the same thing about fat male comedians who use their weight for humor purposes?

MichelleDean (#7,041)

@keanesian Sure, though I think there's a wrinkle there about women being judged by their looks more harshly than men. But still, assuming they are equivalent, does that make it any less of an objectionable phenomenon? No.

keanesian (#1,116)

@MichelleDean Is the alternative that comedians can't comment on their own looks? Because that sounds depressing.

MichelleDean (#7,041)

@keanesian I don't know that I'd count this as comedians commenting on their own looks, I guess. I'd count this as Hollywood commenting on their looks. Also, and this is maybe just me: I find the joking about one's own looks kind of, well, depressing itself.

keanesian (#1,116)

@MichelleDean I guess I could see that. But if you followed those rules you'd lose a lot of joke fodder. Like most of Zach Galifianakis, Chris Farley and Chris Rock's stuff, for instance.

Leon (#6,596)

@MichelleDean I think a lot of your points about people being typecast are valid, and I don't mean to dismiss or even address them as they appear in the article – but as for finding joking about ones own looks depressing…
….I'm a big dude, and you can pry my self-deprecating jokes about it out of my cold dead hands (unless I've put it down so I can have a sandwich).

saythatscool (#101)

And what's up with all this "killing" going on in these war movies? Why can't these soldiers just decide who wins with a nice game of chess or Jenga?

And why do these romantic comedies always have to have so much screwing? Why can't they express their feelings through the art of Navajo sand painting?

And why do these horror snuff movies have to be so mean to people? I think they need to be nicer to their victims when they kill someone.

naughtysneaky (#11,902)

@keanesian I agree. The analogy equating McCarthy's character with Zach Galifianakis' part in The Hangover is fairly accurate. The same themes of weight and undesirability underlie a lot of his performances, whether they've been written for him or if he's written them himself. It's unfortunate that in both instances the overweight actor is typecast as the oddball, but I think it's pretty even across genders. I don't want to say anything is "good enough," but I was happy to see an overweight woman cast in a big-budget movie at all. I can't remember the last time someone built like McCarthy was given as big a role as she had.

As for the article's other gripes, I'm not sure I totally agree. As other commenters have said, I'm not sure Annie's crisis boils down to simply being about men. I actually appreciated that her character had other issues (like her failed business, being fired, potentially losing a friend, etc.). And I think the movie did a decent job of skewering the absurdity of modern weddings via Helen's character. As far as the ritual of marriage goes, it seemed to be making the point that fairytale scenarios are ultimately improbable and silly to pursue. Plan all you want, but you'll usually get a reality check in one way or another.

I enjoyed Bridesmaids a lot, but I think it may have helped that I consciously avoided reviews before going to see it. (Some of the quotes up there really are atrocious.) I do feel like Apatow & Co. are "letting" women have this movie, but as far as women getting more of a space in comedy, I'll take what I can get– sad as that is.

MichelleDean (#7,041)

@Leon Saint-Jean I am not the joke police. Just stating my own qualms with it is all.

Saralyn@twitter (#12,501)

I agree that there are troubling aspects of 'Bridesmaids' (especially Megan) and that it doesn't really go far enough to challenge the ridiculous contemporary wedding culture (although I think the sheer excess of Helen, the shower, and the ceremony are cast as absurd and somewhat questioned), but I feel like the importance of "having a man" isn't as strong as you make it out to be. I didn't read Annie's "fear and anxiety" as over losing Lillian "to the land of men" or of not ever getting married herself, but as just a fear of losing the primary relationship in her life. They've been friends since childhood, Annie doesn't have many other friends, and marriage/moving is a big life change that will almost definitely change Annie & Lillian's relationship. Hell, my best friend moved to Seattle to live with her (female) fiance and I felt a bit like Annie!

And, yes, Annie's life does seem to be backsliding and this contributes to her panic over the changing relationship, but is that that weird/distasteful? Being in a shitty place in life /does/ make it more difficult when the people around you aren't, so, while it definitely isn't flattering to Annie's character, it's not that off-base.

C_Webb (#855)

I think this critique is valid, heartfelt, and persuasive. What I don't get is the expectation that Big Hollywood would give us ANYTHING believable, so why would women be an exception? I don't go to Hollywood for real women (or real men, either); I got to Nicole Holofcener (sp?), etc. I thought the issue with this film was not so much whether the characters would seem like believable people, but whether an all-female cast could rake in bucks with the big boys. I wish I could hold Hollywood to a higher criteria, but … #wishitwereotherwise

iantenna (#5,160)

it's unfortunate, but telling, that "the gilmore girls", a show for which i have a list of complaints about a mile long, would end up being the most "progressive" thing melissa mccarthy ever did; at least in terms of their treatment, or lack thereof, of her body type.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@iantenna Yeah, everybody complains about every attempt to write the Great American Novel.

iantenna (#5,160)

@dntsqzthchrmn depending on how i read this you're being overly generous or obtuse.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@iantenna It could be that it was both a floor wax AND a dessert topping, but Some People Liked Gilmore Girls.

iantenna (#5,160)

@dntsqzthchrmn myself included. but that doesn't mean i can't bitch about it relentlessly, does it?

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)


bestestuary (#8,955)

I didn't see Megan as a Zach Galifinakis/Jonah Hill "oaf"-type character at all. To me, she was accurately portrayed as the engineer/programmer/math nerd she was — full of drive, smarts, and slightly-crazy-sounding ideas, and not particularly concerned with how she comes off to others.

jferg (#12,564)

@bestestuary The problem I have with that is that in order to be the "smart" or "kooky" one in a movie, a woman HAS to be either ugly, fat, ugly and fat, ugly fat and weird, or any combination. She CANNOT be super smart and have no problem with people seeing her as that AND be attractive.

Flaneur (#998)

@jferg But the other side of that is that when a conventionally beautiful woman is cast as smart or kooky, you can't hear her smarts and kookiness over the chorus of "yeah, right!" ringing through the land. That, or it's just ignored as irrelevant. I refer you to Natalie Portman as an astrophysicist in "Thor" (which I haven't seen).

bestestuary (#8,955)

@jferg I'm not sure I agree with you re: smarts and attractiveness being mutually exclusive in female roles. What about Emma Watson in the Harry Potter flicks, Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez in Avatar, Angelina Jolie in pretty much every role she plays, Rachel McAdams in Sherlock Holmes, Jodie Foster in Contact, etc.?

iplaudius (#1,066)

@bestestuary Everything you say, and thank you for bringing up Emma Watson. I’m male and absolutely cannot/do not want to identify with the Harry Potter character. For me, it’s all about Hermione — and, specifically, Emma Watson’s interpretation of that character. She happens to grow into physical beauty, but it never becomes an "essentializing" characteristic. It is all about her intelligence, her ethics, and her empathy.

Emdashes (#4,271)

@bestestuary You're right, she did get smart-nerd status, but only after she was "outed" as smart in the improbable bonding-with-puppies-underfoot scene. Until she revealed herself to have the land's highest possible security clearance and, we presume, a snazzy income, I would have thought she was a nobody with a nothing job who, because she's the sister, was a mandatory bridesmaid but nobody's friend.

This is 100 percent because we were indeed invited to laugh at her clueless gaffes; in retrospect, after we know that she's a high-level spy or whatever, how can that same person be the woman who flings herself onto the bridal salon's white sofa in her shoes? In real life, people have power from a variety of sources, not just thinness and beauty, and if Megan were real, she'd a) command respect and b) make damn sure she commanded respect if she didn't. I didn't buy how her basic character definition changed entirely just because it was convenient for someone to talk to Annie about snapping out of her (not unreasonable) solipsism at that moment.

GailPink (#9,712)

Really enjoyed this piece!

MadrasSoup (#167)

Your introductory formulation about “doing being a woman wrong”/not knowing how to be a lady is troubling. It seems born out of a conflation of Jezebel's writers and readers, the mainstream media, and your immediate social and intellectual realm with the broader category of "women" without any real qualifiers. Sure, you briefly acknowledge that by "women" you mean the circles of women you travel in (IRL and online), but you also use the amount of money the film made as evidence that your “n” is enough. From there you feel comfortable extrapolating more broadly about What Women Want and How Different Michelle’s Wants Are. But is it not possible that among the people who shelled out money opening weekend, there were women who went and walked away with the same level of skepticism and ambivalence as you?

I just don’t see what it ultimately serves to offer up the contrarian back-story. Your point about Melissa McCarthy is particularly astute and well taken – why the preamble about how other ladies are gonna get so mad at you for making it?

MichelleDean (#7,041)

I did not pick the header.

It is of course possible other women feel differently, as I missed the last iteration of our monthly mindmeld. However, I did expect that I'd be accused of "backlashing," because somehow there's a tension in the idea that this film is "about women" – insofar as it is when we want people to go see it, but when someone says, "Hey, I don't feel the same way about this," suddenly she's the one making claims about What Women Want.

cherrispryte (#444)

Ah. Based on all the good reivews, I was going to go see this on Tuesday, but I get the feeling from your reivew that my fat feminist self would just wind up getting pissed off. Thanks for saving me $13.00!

saythatscool (#101)

@cherrispryte I don't think Michelle has accurately or fairly portrayed the Melissa McCarthy character at all. She's hilarious in it and the one "bloat" joke is the only (half)joke made about her weight.
Melissa reminds me of Totie Feld or Nell Carter. And it made me realize how much I miss fat women in comedy. This is a positive comedy for people who feel the same.
Michelle isn't nitpicking a movie here even. She's just deliberately misportraying it to make some silly point about Apatow vs feminism.

MichelleDean (#7,041)

@cherrispryte I would say that my issues with the movie though did not mean I didn't enjoy it. If I only watched movies that aligned with my personal politics I'd have nothing left to watch. And as saythatscool points out, there were other readings of the character. I don't agree that it's the only fat joke – the sandwich at the end, etc.

saythatscool (#101)

@MichelleDean Ok fair enough but I think the sandwich was for Jon to eat, not Melissa. "Does bear want a bite of his big bear sandwich?" When you see her head go down, it's because she's fellating him, not eating the sammie.

cherrispryte (#444)

@MichelleDean Agreed about having nothing left to watch, but there are some things I take more seriously than others. BECAUSE I AM A HUMOURLESS FEMINIST.

MichelleDean (#7,041)

@saythatscool Yeeeah it's more the presence of food in the sex I see as the fat joke. Also, things like her saying, "I know you wouldn't think it to look at me now, but it was not easy in high school," etc. I mean, it's fine to disagree here, plenty do.

Saralyn@twitter (#12,501)

@saythatscool And, really, a lot of the jokes that revolve around her sexuality have to do with her weight. Like when she lifts her leg and talks about the heat from her undercarriage. It'd probably be funny with a thinner lady, but I highly doubt it would have elicited the same response from the audience as it did when I saw it.

saythatscool (#101)

@Saralyn@twitter Oh now I get it. Fat women shouldn't make jokes about fucking in movies. Thanks for clearing that up for me.

melis (#1,854)

STC is right – Melissa McCarthy is damn funny in this movie, and while her appearance/physicality is definitely a part of the humor, it's by no means of the 'fat women are gross' variety, and it doesn't come across as mean-spirited. Her character is bizarre and good-hearted and really likeable, and she ends the movie by having crazy sex with someone who finds her desirable.

cherrispryte (#444)

@melis Hmmmm. Perhaps I shall see it, then.

melis (#1,854)

@cherrispryte I think you should! I mean obviously it's possible for people to see this movie in a lot of different ways (see upthread, etc) but I guess what made the difference for me is I felt like ultimately the writers/other actors/audience is on her side. She gets to deliver a pretty stirring 'voice of reason' monologue to Annie, she gets a bunch of free dogs, she gets the guy (I'd add a spoilers tag but at this point I think I'm beyond that) – there's a lot going on with her character! And I personally find her freaking adorable.

sharilyn (#4,599)

Feels a bit like looking a gift horse in the mouth to sh*t all over this female-talent-heavy and very funny movie! I laughed my fool feminist head off! Sure, not perfectly feminist, but we HAVE to stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. And this movie is actually good!

Horror Chick (#1,677)

Great observations, reasoning & analysis. My one (minor) gripe is that "feminist" is becoming a Rorschach test – it means something different to everyone. Is objecting to the shower/bachelorette/bridal narcissism parade ever a feminist activity? Does one really have anything to do with the other anymore? The patriarchal meaning of these traditions that revolved around the "passing off" of a woman etc have all but melted away. Now they're just helpings of capitalist pudding topped with egoist brulée. And the hotness/ugliness rules, as @keanesian pointed out, transcend gender – can we really call that a feminist issue either?

cherrispryte (#444)

@Horror Chick I think objecting to the industrial wedding complex is most certainly a feminist activity, but I am more extreme than most on that topic, and as you point out, feminism means something different to everyone at this point. (Which is a good thing!)

I think both you and @keanesian are wrong about appearance not being a gender-specific issue. Women's bodies are treated differently than men's (public property and all), and it is FAR more societally unacceptable for a woman to be fat than a man – that, to me, makes it a feminist issue.

@cherrispryte Thank you for that it has always been a bone of contention with me that all my fat beer drinking school mates thought they were fine the way they were but women had to be '11's or they were fair game for badmouthing. I have said how I feel below, but you pretty much made a clear point which can't be argued with IMHO. Thanks again.

caw_caw (#5,641)

So glad you wrote this. I went to see this film this weekend. I had my reservations but ultimately, I wanted to support a comedic film by women about a subject that almost every woman I know has some experience with. The other choices at the theater were Priest, Thor 3-D, Rio, Fast Five and Something Borrowed. Not exactly an intellectual moshpit. That is the reality of what we are talking about when we talk about the modern multiplex. Miserable choices. So everything you're saying about this film is true. But you're looking at it as if there was some feminist-empowered alternative and as far as I can see, that doesn't exist in 95% of America.

I knew the movie was going to be filtered through the Apatow-raunch machine. That didn't make me happy. And sure enough, we get Maya Rudolph shitting in the middle of the street in a bridal gown. Ugh.

And I knew that this movie was going to be framed a certain way, because no matter how smart, capable and funny women prove themselves to be, Hollywood only wants to see them in a certain kind of role. Look at "Baby Mama," "Date Night," "Knocked Up." All stories about women and their various relationship plights. Look at the female characters in The Hangover: ditzy stripper or screaming bitch.

A difficult fact to accept is This Keeps Happening To Our Most Accomplished and Talented ladies. So if this is the treatment they get, if this is the demeaning machine they have to get on to get anywhere, imagine what Hollywood is like for the less exalted.

But I refuse to believe that things can't change. I think things are changing already. 30 Rock is proof of that. And Parks and Rec. It's a small thing, but I think giving my money to smart women who know how to do it better if they get a chance is a way to maybe hasten that change along a little faster. And lacking any other options, that is what I did with my $10.

preservingdisorder (#12,503)

For a variety of reasons, Bridesmaids had the unenviable and impossible task of carrying water for a variety of feminist/political issues and is criticized here for failing to take on the issues the writer considers important. On several occasions, she says it's funny, which I thought was the point of comedies.

But yet…

Why didn't the movie tackle the sociology of bridesmaids' dresses? First, because the film was too damn long to begin with. Second, any movie made with the intent of checking off a long list of paradigms to subvert and privileges to navel-gaze over will inevitably become a terrible unfunny polemic!

That being said, I think the film is a B/B- at best. Annie was unsympathetic because she was endlessly self-pitying and extraordinarily mean. The other bridesmaids got just enough lines to give a brief biographical sketch, but nothing more. The men were one-dimensional.

The larger societal issues grafted on to this mass market light comedy by some commentators set it up for failure. The fact that it wasn't very good didn't help, but the truth is that it never had a chance to be all things to all people.

MichelleDean (#7,041)

@preservingdisorder To be clear, though I think you understand this but it's coming up again and again below-thread: this whole question of "is the movie feminist or lady-positive" isn't my frame. It was one that came up again and again in reviews. I'm responding to that, but I'm not necessarily sure, as you say, that a mass market light comedy is going to advance anything.

Don't know about your idea that a thoughtful comedy will automatically be an unfunny polemic, though.

preservingdisorder (#12,503)

@MichelleDean I don't think that a thoughtful comedy would automatically be an unfunny polemic. However, a comedy that bears the weight of expectations on all manner of political/cultural issues and tries to fill that role will fall flat on its face, and not in a pratfall kind of way either.

Think about Megan:

- You need an overweight character so they're not "invisible";

- BUT they can't be too sexual (because some people will think it's gross);

- BUT they can't be an nonsexual dope a la Chris Farley;

- BUT they can't be too weird or different from everyone else, lest they be "ridiculed."

So what are we left with – a radiant, overweight beauty queen who is the envy of everybody else in the film and doesn't do physical or sexual comedy? That's not funny, that's just pandering.

All told, I think I share some of your frustrations with the way Bridesmaids has been saddled with political/cultural baggage, but I don't agree that it's some sort of revanchist salvo in the ongoing Fat Wars.

MichelleDean (#7,041)

@preservingdisorder I guess I would just cut out the "can't be too sexual because some people think it's gross" and go for gold on that front. Also think weird/different is a bit relative here. I would not have had trouble with her weirdness/difference if the other characters hadn't clearly been disgusted with it; if they'd found her charming and awesome I might have found it easier to assume the movie wanted us to do the same. But it was like McCarthy managed to elicit in the audiences a feeling about Megan that Megan could not elicit in her (fictional) peers. That's where I'm seeing the disconnect. Like, the audience isn't afraid of the weirdness, but the authors of the film are?

I don't know that I'd go so far as revanchist salvo either. I think maybe the problem is that the line is still too delicate here to be handled as broadly as it was in the comedy. I mean cut the fat jokes and I don't think the movie loses much at all; they sort of came in as sour asides. And after hearing all the counterpoints to my reading of Megan in the comments here, the fat jokes seem to me even less necessary to the "funny" of the character than before.

preservingdisorder (#12,503)

@MichelleDean I wish 1) I had a DVD in front of me to review and 2) my memory of a movie I watched yesterday afternoon was more complete, but I don't recall a ton of disgust on the part of the other bridesmaids, if only because they had so few lines and none of the bridesmaids seemed to have much respect for one another anyway. What I do recall is the audience guffawing when she was hitting on the man she sat next to on the airplane.

An uncharitable view of the audience reaction would hold that they see the sexuality of an overweight character as hilarious simply because the character is overweight. On the other hand, I would bet that there would be similar guffaws if Wiig had used the same hamhanded lines/moves and that Megan's method of seduction is tied in to her "nerdy but confident" persona as explored later on.

Critics can quibble to their hearts' content about reaction shots etc., but I have to strongly disagree that weight is "still too delicate here to be handled as broadly as it was in the comedy."

First of all, it's not "still too delicate," since overweight people have been around as long as everyone else has. If we have to wait for some mass-enlightenment to wash over the nation for overweight actors to be funny in ways that acknowledge their body type, you might as well tell overweight actors that they can't do comedy at all, ever.

Second, I reject the notion that touchy issues or injustices need to be resolved (to whose satisfaction?) before people get to laugh about them. Mel Brooks made the racially biting Blazing Saddles in 1974, and you *still* can't get a cab to take you to Bed-Stuy.

PS: You could cut a lot more than the fat jokes out of this movie and it still wouldn't lose much.

rocknrollunicorn (#12,570)

@preservingdisorder I just want to say that I did not really see the "disgust" on the part of the other bridesmaids, either. If anything, the blonde one seemed preoccupied with/grossed out by the fact that Ellie Kempler's character had only had sex with her husband.

swizzard (#329)

(ZOMG SPOILERS! throughout)
I think, re:McCarthy's character, that Michelle's critiques aren't quite accurate. Her geekiness (for lack of a better term; she reminded me a lot of my autistic aunt) was more the focus of her humor than her weight, per se. I think it's relevant that, e.g., on the plane she throws herself at the mustachio'd guy sitting next to her, who is definitely NOT a 'looker' (which would be the 'classic' comedy choice, like a gender-inverted Benny Hill routine. Cf. also Jon Hamm's character, whose looks are his literal sole positive feature.) In some ways, she can be construed as almost a mirror-image of Wiig's character: confident and successful in her field and life in general, minus the social and romantic connections that Wiig's character prizes.

More generally, I think Bridesmaids should be commended for affording its female characters the degree of depth it did. Specifically, women are mean in Bridesmaids, without being 'mean girls' or 'ice queens' or whatever. Helen is allowed to be status-crazy and anal but also thin-skinned and lonely (her whole breakdown in the car was dramatically somewhat pre-ordained, but still believable, esp. the whole 'no I'm still pretty' joke.) Wiig's character flirts like mad with Irish Cop and then does him dirty the morning after they bone; he's appropriately hurt and she has to earn his trust again, as opposed to simply apologizing or signalling her availability or something else Hollywood. Sorry this got so long.

saythatscool (#101)

@swizzard The mustachio'd guy sitting next to her on the plane is her husband in real life, for what it's worth.

The Future is Here (#10,633)

I'm a little disturbed by how quickly and cynically you dismissed the "women speaking exclusively to each other" requirement of the Bechdel Test, which is merely a framework that points out the tremendous gender disparities in stories written for the screen. How suspicious and particular does one have to be to believe that merely having women in all the leading roles is not "female enough," to basically implicitly accuse them of being puppets on strings?
And to do it in the same breath while building insidious sexist straw-men out of what seem like innocent and (gasp!) positive movie reviews, as you said: "Eek."
I also think it's an unhelpful misreading of the movie to suggest that the spectre of the "male realm" of marriage haunts this movie. To say that is to take our outdated WWII era ideas about marriage and just slap them onto this movie without so much as the admission that the idea of marriage has changed since The Women came out (the original, not the remake). As if people in their 30s don't spend plenty of time going to their friends' weddings: why not just see the premise as the commonly-understood backdrop it is? The movie may be being marketed as an ensemble comedy, but this movie is really about Kristen Wiig's character, who is at sea for plenty of complex reasons, not simply because she doesn't have a man. What, are we not allowed to have women fall in love in movies now because it seems like a man is solving their problems?

@Clemenko Sorry did you read her as dismissing the test by pointing out that the movie didn't really live up to it? That was her point you know, it really didn't. The test is this:
1. It has to have at least two women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

it didn't live up to the third point. And yes this is a problem which harkens back to WW2…men expect women to be waiting for or seeking out a mate/male. So what's in the misreading? Even you end your comment with the same point of expectation…you make the argument complete. Thank you.

The Future is Here (#10,633)

@Shane Truax@facebook I do appreciate your point about how the author applied the Bechdel test, you're right, but I don't really think it's necessary to think of the pursuit of love as gendered. If Hollywood said to me, "all women want is a mate," I'd say, bullsh*t, but if Hollywood said to me, "all anybody wants is love," to me, that's harmless. I mean, heck, the civil rights issue of our decade revolves around the right to get married, around love! It's in this context this movie has been made, a context that specifically suggests love/partnership transcends gender. To apply an old construct that men are narratively "fixing" women at the end of movies with relationships, I think, is a mistake, if only when it comes to this movie.

@Shane Truax@facebook There are plenty of things female characters discuss in the movie besides men? Lillian and Annie talk about her failed business when they walk past it, Annie and Megan talk about Megan's capacity for handling 6-9 puppies, Annie's depression, nukes, there's talk about Lillian's love for Paris and Wilson Phillips, Annie and her mom talk about whether they're going to move in together, Annie and her badass roommate talk about her badass tattoo, and of course, Lillian talks about Annie's incredible skillz at picking out divey restaurants. Are people under the impression that because there's a wedding on the horizon in the movie everything in the movie must be related to it? That's like assuming because someone's getting married soon they have nothing worth talking about aside from WEDDINGS.

dialuna (#12,505)

Ok so I think your critique is fairly accurate from a feminist perspective but not at all from a cinematic perspective, meaning that you seem committed to criticizing these–fictional–characters for not espousing progressive, feminist ideology without paying much attention to whether the plot/tone/themes of the movie do. Especially with the Melissa McCarthy character, you take offense that most characters' behavior toward her in the movie is superficial and unfair, but doesn't that make the movie realistic? In the same way that Rose Byrne is wholeheartedly embraced for being beautiful and rich despite having terrible personal traits. The fact that McCarthy acknowledges her appearance and what that has meant for her, both humorously and seriously, and manages to be the only really caring/giving character out of the cadre of more conventionally attractive females is I think the bigger picture statement. We live in a discriminatory and backwards society and arguing that films should just ignore that i think misses the point of making films. Instead Bridesmaids embraces those conditions and shows how its characters manage to overcome that.

@dialuna I'm not sure where you live but personally I haven't time for this sort and if this is how you go about life I probably wouldn't have time for your superficiality either. This is the sort of behavior which should be gotten rid of by the end of high school at the latest. If not some serious therapy needs to be considered. Sorry but no, this is not REAL LIFE. At least not for anyone I know.

melis (#1,854)

So in the place that you live, conventionally attractive people don't generally get better breaks in life? WHERE IS THIS PLACE?

@dialuna The Real World. I've worked in this world for over 40 years from brown to blue to white collar and can only say that of course there is discrimination, however; most long range work I've done e.g. Human Services, has always had a mixed bag that worked if the people did. Certainly 'Attractive People' may at time require more upkeep and strokes but usually they can be tolerated and if they prove to be more than a pretty face who have gotten too many breaks, kept around.

Jeff Carpenter (#3,752)

I'm not as worried about specific parts of the film as Michelle is, but I completely agree with the overall feeling that although this movie was fine, it's not some big turning point for women.

It was, perhaps, a new (and positive) direction for romantic comedies, but that's really all this was. An evolved rom-com-rework. It's nice to see that kind of film evolve but this is not ground-breaking or super-feminist or any other kind of big cultural shift. I can find much more feminist-power appeal in Tina Fey's 'Date Night,' honestly, and I'm not saying there's all that much there.

Personally I found 'Bridesmaids' to contain the exact same amount of humor as an episode of NBC's 'Community' which sounds good until you realize 'Bridesmaids' is about 5 times as long. So it's not bad, really, I'm just not as gaga over it as some reviewers seem to be.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

Wow. I didn't know that a fucking Hollywood comedy is supposed to be taken this seriously. Referendum of the fools, for sure. Not quite a festival of stupidity as democratic elections are, but then again, not nearly as significant of a catastrophe to comment on either.

ABMessi (#12,506)

I find jokes about one's own looks depressing and retrospective.

melis (#1,854)

On a slightly off-topic note, the previews they showed before this movie made me so depressed. Will someone please, for the love of all things holy, write a decent role for Anna Faris? Please?

pajamarama (#6,019)

@melis Anna Faris makes her own career decisions. Nobody forced her to be in The House Bunny or Observe and Report. I'm so sick of her being fawned over as the future of women in comedy, when she seems to care a lot less about the harmful message her roles send than someone like Maya Rudolph.

melis (#1,854)

@pajamarama I wish Maya Rudolph had more, and better roles too, although I see your point – Anna Faris isn't completely powerless in this situation. I just don't see a lot of other big studio movies getting made that are better options. It's not like she passed up starring roles in fantastic, well-written comedies to do 'Observe and Report.'

bennimaddi (#314)

i haven't seen bridesmaids yet but if i was a woman and wrote a movie about women, i would be really disappointed to have it be judged on the basis of whether it is or isn't the most feministically correct movie of all time.

acetyl02 (#12,507)

I think you're misreading the movie. Annie's angst surrounding the wedding isn't the fact she lacks a man in her life. Her problem, which characters mention a few times, is that she's hit bottom in life: Failed business, no money, kicked out by her roomies, and a one-way relationship with a hot prick. Her main conflict isn't even the wedding itself, it's with Helen and what she thinks Helen represents, success. Annie worries that Lilian will slowly slip away, because Lilian's new life will be filled with successful Helen's and there'll be no room for failing Annie's.

When she has her turn-around moment in the movie, what does she do? Bake, something she refused to do before, because she felt she had failed at it. Yes, she bakes it for the boring cop, but he rejects it. Wouldn't a standard Hollywood flick have the two then hook up and that would be the happy ending?

Also I'd say the defecation scene is a pretty hard jab at the silliness that is the entire wedding industry. There they are in a stuck-up wedding gown boutique, which requires grabbing a reservation seven weeks in advance and you need to buzz into. And what happens? They defecate all over the designer, over-priced dresses. Seems like a pretty irreverent, middle-finger to me.

I could go on, but I think you get my point. I'd say the movie was a soft B and, like most Apatow movies, dragged on too long. Would have also loved to hear more from the other bridesmaids. But to dismiss it as not breaking enough ground for female comedies is to really miss the boat, I think.

caw_caw (#5,641)

@acetyl02 Your take is interesting and insightful and generous. I'm trying to think of an equivalent film where the main male character is written as a complete failure in every aspect of his life – relationships, work, home, friendship, roommates, life. Off the top of my head, I can't think of one.

And the fact that the main character's biggest ambition is to bake cupcakes, which she fails at? Again, certainly an interesting choice for a film that's selling itself as a feminist empowerment film. I'm having trouble thinking of a movie where the male character has a similar development arc.

Annie IS worried about her friend's changing wealth status, and what it means for their friendship, but the film deals with those issues rather sporadically. The conflicting sources of tension in this movie say a lot. Annie is fighting herself. But she is also fighting against Helen, the perfect domestic goddess. The film doesn't resolve any of Annie's underlying issues very well. Instead they just wind it up with a homage to Sixteen Candles when Would Be Boyfriend shows up at the wedding. Annie still doesn't have a job or a direction but somehow all will be well because she made up with her best friend on her wedding day and a guy showed up to save her from spinsterhood.

oh gosh (#12,548)

I actually just made an account to comment on this. I don't think I've so thoroughly disagreed with someone in quite a long time.

You can't think of an equivalent film where a man is failing in all aspects of his life? Look no further than other Apatow comedies. Knocked Up is a great example. The truth is, men being portrayed as losers is so common in comedies it goes basically unnoticed. Women being losers is still, I'd say, pretty radical. The most damaging thing to women in comedy is when they're not allowed to be failures, to be mean, to be ugly. Because a lot of the time they wind up the gallant to their S.O.'s doofus, which is not very fun at all.

The film IS NOT selling itself as a feminist empowerment film. The very idea is laughable. It's a female comedy, yes. It's not the Vagina Monologues. Have people on the internet taken its role and responsibilities too far? Yes, definitely. And I think that's part of what the article was trying to get at, with those awful, overblown reviews. But even in the wildest, most misguided analysis, I don't think anyone thought they were making a "feminist empowerment film." Also, what the fuck is wrong with baking? It's her career. Feminine is not anti-feminist.

There is nothing sporadic about the treatment of class in the movie. It is the single most important thing that weighs down on Annie, without a doubt. Everything she fails at, she fails due to her lower class — she doesn't have the connections to compete with Helen, she can't afford to move away from those horrible roommates, she can't really afford Vegas, the cheaper restaurant, etc. She is haunted by her failed business. SHe keeps that fucking Cake Baby sign in her room like some grim specter of failures past, and baking, which used to bring her joy, was ruined for her. It's Irish Copy Guy himself who helps her work through her internal struggle with accepting the failure of her business. In case you didn't notice, she has to resolve her issues with baking (and her failed Cake Baby) before she can really open to him. No, she doesn't have it All Figured Out, but the fact that her relationship with Lillian was the real romantic ending should be a big flashing light that this movie was really about Annie taking the first steps out of depression, and beginning to pick up the pieces of her life after it collapsed around her.

caw_caw (#5,641)

@acetyl02 I totally appreciate that you did that. I actually don't think we disagree all that much with each other.

My main comment is that Seth Rogan's character in Knocked Up (as well as most Judd Apatow characters) are lovable goofballs, but they are not failures. In Knocked Up, Rogan plays a stoner with close friends and no serious baggage. At worst he is lazy but lovable. He has no trouble finding a job and easily rises to the occasion of the birth of his child.

As far as my baking comment, there's nothing wrong with baking. However, it's clearly in the realm of "woman's work" which traditionally wasn't always "counted" as work.

The film is selling itself as female empowerment. Even if the people who wrote it didn't intend it, the marketing wizards are definitely using girl power as a sales wedge.

Or maybe I'm completely full of it. That's a likely scenario.

"And the fact that the main character's biggest ambition is to bake cupcakes."

That sentence sounds incredibly judgmental. Or I'm just misreading it.

And I didn't get that she was saved by a man at the end of the movie. There's no guarantee that they're going to last. And there is no guarantee that Annie will be happy, single or with someone. Her romance with the cop was a subplot. The movie was about her depression during a time when her best friend was moving on with her life.

At least, that's what I got out of it.

Emdashes (#4,271)

@caw_caw Maybe Bridesmaids is Feig and Apatow's answer to "Greenberg." Also, the moment Annie was tagged as a cupcake store owner, I was sad. Why do female protagonists have to have soft, nice jobs like baker or women's magazine columnist or pet store owner? I know, those jobs are actually difficult.

Vulpes (#946)

Having not yet seen it, I can't really comment on Michelle's points, but about the metacritical criticism I Have Thoughts. The marketing of the movie has heralded it as some sort of breakthrough in women in comedy, while the blogospheric/critical commentary has followed the same track. (The latter, of course, isn't "its" fault, but it's of a piece.) This leaves it wide open to criticism of a femiladyism variety because any movie like that will inevitably fall short of the Perfect Vision of one group of feminists or another. One movie just can't address, pitch-perfectly or not, all women's issues in comedy, let alone outside of that one field. Something will inevitably fail to critique the patriarchy strongly enough or not perfectly address fatphobia or racial tension or SOMETHING.

To analogize, this reminds me of some of the discussion I read today about Loras and Renly last night on GAME OF THRONES. I thought their relationship, which was much more oblique in the books, was shown really well. They were smart, in love, and sexual. While scheming, they aren't portrayed as particular villains (and in the hierarchy of sociopaths on this show, they barely rate), but they're not also beiged into perfect angels. Yet some complained that Loras was too twinky and that they didn't actually get to kiss. You just can't please everyone.

Having lived a great number of years around 'imperfect' people I find what you say and how you said it to be so damn on the mark I must congratulate you. I was raised with the 'good ole boy' mentality of the South and this film positively reeks of that ilk. The sad part to me is how your sex is letting it wink and nod them into submission…again. Why can't people wake up and smell the BS!! This is only another male orientated feel good because 'we GAVE the GIRLS another movie about themselves' piece of crap which will inevitability be used a ammo when a real Womans' movie comes along in need of money. "Oh we can't do that we just made you a movie last year sweetheart, you'll have to wait." I wish this feeling of being alone on a beach with a bunch of sea gulls would go away. But it's been there so long now I'm beginning to believe I can understand them sometimes, sad.

shelven (#1,992)

Re: Bechdel test. I haven't see movie yet #worstcaveateveriwill YET I am surprised no one has objected to the premise of this lady movie having to be about a wedding. I am a lady, after all, and if my ladies are any example, most of our time together is spent plotting to overthrow editors and seeing if we can get Nanette Lepore on sale while watching Top Chef and correcting each others' pronunciation. Loved the lovely writing here btw.

rocknrollunicorn (#12,570)

@shelven Personally, I think the movie lampooned the wedding industry/weddings as talking point of women from ages 22 to 42 idea much more than the author of this post realized or acknowledged. Everything is completely over the top and we laugh at it. I suspect the author thought she was the only one smirking? But not by far.

caw_caw (#5,641)

In case it wasn't clear before I just want to add that I applaud Michelle for writing this. Generally the knee jerk reaction to a piece like this is to accuse the writer of being a bitter hag who takes everything too seriously.

Deconstruction and analysis of a film like this is important. Entertainment is big business. Movies don't happen by accident or in a vacuum. The more people think about them and discuss them, the better.

Hannah Aron (#12,518)

It's great to see debate about Bridesmaids, but it seems Michelle Dean saw a different flick from the one I saw.

Five Major Fact Points This Critique Got Wrong:

1) Without giving it away, the fat girl does get a sexy guy in the end. Though the butt of humor, she at the same time does have great appeal without make-up, froth and figure.

2. Why can't a skinny girl be the butt of humor? In fact, kristin Wiig is quite thin and the movie's central butt of humor.

3. Wedding critiques: The writer has missed the campy send-up of weddings as central to this film's existence — it would be leaden and unfunny to come out in some kind of diatribe polemic. That would be rhetoric. This is a satiric comedy.

4. Claim: This movie is only about getting a man. That is incorrect. The real divider is that Maya Rudolph's character is marrying up and marrying into a new wealthy crowd — it is the money, not the man that separates these best friends. And that is why Kristen Wiig cannot sit in first class with her buddy, ultimately leading to their huge rift. (And Maya's contrition.)

5. It's just not a little something that gets Kristen Wiig fired as maid of honor — she commits a major, major gaffe with major consequences for the bridal party. (Enough said, no plot spoiling here.) This gaffe would have gotten any maid of honor anywhere in the world FIRED.

It appears that this author has misread major points in this movie in the desire to slam the Apatow machine. Sure, the shit in the street scene was crass and pointless, but I still laughed my head off! More to the point, the movie satirizes elitism and outrageous weddings while making a nod to ravages of the recession, along with heartfelt conflicts and resolutions of a good- old-fashioned buddy film.

MichelleDean (#7,041)

@Hannah Aron I'm beginning to feel like every woman who watched this saw different things in the film. Not to mention this review. But just responding to the factual stuff:

1. The fat girl gets a guy who is not presented as a "sexy guy." That's pretty much standard romcom procedure. Usually everyone gets a guy in the end. Not everyone, of course, gets to have food in the sex scene. That is For Fat People Only.

2. But she's not portrayed as a buffoon, or as the "odd" one.

3. I… don't see it, sorry. There is no real send-up of weddings involved. If there was, it would detract from the core emotional conflict, i.e. that Annie is screwing up Lillian's wedding, because the audience would be snickering at the whole affair.

4. I didn't say it was only about that, only that results of the Bechdel struck me as more mixed than some people were saying. I used the phrase "All About the Men," yes, but I did not mean by that to say that the movie reduced it all to men. I see your point about the money and don't disagree, but I felt kind of unclear about how Annie even afforded the coach seat. And I feel like if it was about the money, that should have been more explicit, because frankly Lillian is kind of an asshole if she felt that Annie's inability to spend to her standards was legitimate grounds for a "rift." I even kind of thought blaming her for wanting to go to a cheap restaurant, considering how broke Annie was, was bullshit. You're a bride, not the queen of your friends and entitled to a tithe of their income.

5. I… guess I just have a different view of whether or not it's a "major gaffe" to be drunk/stoned on a plane when you were handed both the drugs and the drink by your usurper. And whether or not it makes sense to "fire" one's maid of honor when said person has been a friend for a long time.

Anyway. All to say, these things you point to: I don't think they're facts, strictly speaking. I think they're points of interpretation on a movie that, like most Apatow movies, was sort of sloppily edited, so some things were left unclear. And others, I think, have a lot to do with one's own views about how friendship and weddings work, and not a lot to do with "the facts."

oh gosh (#12,548)

I agree with the fact that it wasn't necessarily fair to blame Annie for the messed up bachelorette party and fitting. But the way Maya Rudolph's character handled it — by passing the duties onto someone who could afford it — was realistic. Brides are heavily coached into thinking "This is /your/ time, do what you need to do." Was it thoughtless in regards to Annie? Definitely. And perhaps a little intentionally hurtful. I think anyone would be pissed if their bachelorette party (or any big event) was cancelled on account of one person, even if it wasn't really their fault. Her character wasn't perfect, giving, flawless — she was a little selfish. She let Helen get to her head. And that's part of portraying women as human on-screen. To criticize this movie because it characters weren't nice or fair enough is, to my mind, to totally miss the point.

Also, some other things women talk about other than men — conversations between the horrible roommate and Wiig, conversations between Wiig's mom and Wiig, and the heartfelt conversation between McCarthy and Wiig.

And — no real send-up of weddings or wedding pageantry? Really? The big neon lights at the end? The swans? The puppies? Hell, if you wanted it to be laid out, Wiig's character actually says it during the shower. "This is ridiculous, I would have thought you would be rolling your eyes at this kind of thing."

rocknrollunicorn (#12,570)

@MichelleDean I fail to see, even with what was admittedly pretty bad editing, how Annie's financial situation and its relation to her ability to be a "proper" maid of honor is not made very, very clear. If I recall, we are actually shown the amount of her very meager paycheck right before everyone insists upon Vegas. The scene in the dress shop begins with Annie trying desperately to avoid an $800 dress. She rolls up to an unexpectedly swank party in a car that is on the verge of collapse, which she is clearly embarrassed to valet park.

There was a suspension of disbelief that she could afford any of this, but come one. Assume that she has a credit card she decided to max out, or her mother floated her a loan. The things people do to keep up with the ridiculous demands of weddings. And the ridiculous demands of this wedding are made quite clear, as pointed out by other commenters.

Furthermore, I thought the air marshal was very sexy. Fuck, he was an AIR MARSHAL. Annie gets a Wisconsin state cop. Megan gets a guy who has the gun on the plane. I would say this is at least a comparable result for both women, and Megan seems much more comfortable with her sexuality.


"I felt kind of unclear about how Annie even afforded the coach seat."

She took back her rent check and bought the planet ticket. One can easily assume that she justified it, because the roommate's sister was living there rent-free.

Yeah, it's not clear, but you have to read between the lines.

Carleton (#12,524)

"We don’t need to apply this overblown—and, frankly, patronizing—idea of “social responsibility” to Bridesmaids. It’s a funny and audience-pleasing movie that generated enough word-of-mouth to succeed without some manufactured bigger-picture ideal elevating it into something its creators never intended it to be"
Excellent piece by Genevieve Koski over at AV Club.,56114/
I feel like your arguments against this movie are actually directed at Hollywood and Western Culture. Cut the movie some slack.

arnolds123 (#12,555)


I'm super DUPER over people ragging on Bridesmaids for being anti-feminist or whatever. Where are they getting this idea? Guess what, humorless movie critic, movies cannot be all things to all people. It's not Kristen Wiig's responsibility to write a movie that worships and redeems womankind for all eternity. She wrote a funny ass movie that was relatable and clever, and you know what? That's all I want in a comedy. I am not going to worry about what gender norms it may be reifying if I'm laughing my ass off at it and it's not overtly offensive. And I wouldn't laugh at something anti-woman, because I am woman, hear me roar. UGH, UGH. Get over it.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@Stephanie Early@twitter Is "I'm a _____ and I wasn't offended," the new, "My black/gay/feminist/Jewish friend thinks that's funny, so it's obviously not offensive,"? If so, congratulations on getting rid of the degree of separation, but a sample population of one doesn't really prove much.

bennimaddi (#314)

@kevin knox , of course– much better for the world for everyone to be offended by everything all the time!

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@bennimaddi Why yes, I exist in a perpetual state of high dudgeon, because that's the ONLY other option!

rocknrollunicorn (#12,570)

I am really starting to think that everyone saw what they wanted to/expected to see in this movie. I'm not totally exempting myself from this suggestion, either. But I feel like you miss so many things in this review, and honestly your dislike of Judd Apatow kind of seems to be the root of this.

First, let me say that I don't fully understand the Judd Apatow hate. I did find Superbad kind of awful in places, but I loved 40-year-old Virgin, Freaks and Geeks, Knocked Up… if this means my opinion is invalid or my feminist card is revoked, so be it. I did not find any of these works to be offensive on a misogynist level.

Bridesmaids: how did you totally miss a) the class issue, which I thought was major, realistic, and a way of commenting on the over-the-top ridiculousness of weddings, and b) that Wiig's romantic troubles were absolutely not the main source of conflict here; rather, it was her jealousy of Rudolph's new friendship?

So we have a movie about one female friend getting married, and it's actually not that the other is jealous of the romantic aspect (seriously, I did not see that at all), but that she is worried about her bond with her lady friend. I dunno. I don't think I've seen that in a movie full of ladies before.

Then there is the fact that Wiig and Rudolph are not classified as, say, "HOT" women, or "SMART" women, but are really rather three-dimensional and sexy, smart, funny. Compare this to Something Borrowed – the other "chick flick" in theaters – which seems to be maintaining the very firm divide between Smart and Sexy ladies.

Now, I guess we're going to have to agree to disagree on the Megan thing. Here is what I saw: we begin with the movie seemingly embracing the Fat Woman as Horny but Gross stereotype, and then we gradually see that she is the happiest, most self-aware character in the film. I thought the scene between Megan and Annie was touching and not played for laughs. And (SPOILER ALERT), she gets the guy, just like Annie. I found her plotline rather subversive in terms of the usual fat lady trope.

Finally, I am sick of reviews like this that mention and then dismiss the current crappy status of female comedians. I guess that's easy to dismiss if you are not a female comedian, or a woman who loves comedy and is looking for, I don't know, a few people of her gender to laugh at/with. But the fact of the matter is, getting a lot of people in the theater to see a female-driven comedy that is not a traditional rom-com — and getting men in those seats too — is a big fucking deal. It is. So despite some flaws (and I'll admit this film has them, though I think we disagree as to what they are, precisely), I'm gonna go with "baby steps. YAY."

Kelli Marshall (#6,353)

Enjoyed your post and glad I waited until today to write my reaction, "Bridesmaids and the Critical Hysteria Surrounding It" (in which you're cited, btw): Thanks again!

janeysmith (#12,640)

There are a lot of problems with your analysis. The most glaring is probably the class issue. This movie is imbued from beginning to end with class commentary, from Wiig's crappy car, to her lost job and mention of the recession, to a shot of her paycheck, to her advocating for the cheap dress at the fitting. It is also classic satire about weddings–which is inextricable from the class commentary– from riding into the horse at the party, to puppies as wedding favors, to the ridiculousness of the final wedding (fireworkds, a manmade lake, a famous band), to the rich woman's constant referencing of Wiig's inability to pay for things. I don't want to sound like a jerk, but wedding-wise, anyone who doesn't understand that this is a satire simply doesn't understand the art of comedy.

Secondly, the primary relationships are between women. Just because a movie is set against the backdrop of wedding planning does not mean it's all about heterosexuals and men. There are four male characters in the movie, one of whom has almost no lines (the groom), one of whom, again, is clearly satiric (Jon Hamm), one of whom is refreshingly normal-looking and also a secondary character (the cop) and one of whom also has hardly any lines (the air marshall) and is a male foil for a female comic– something almost unheard of in Hollywood comedy.

Thirdly, fat people dont' get to just *be* in movies. That's unfortunate, but that being said, her character is smart, funny, sexual, and complicated. In the scene where she is trying to get Wiig to stop pitying herself, she talking about how she was bullied in high school, and how one needs to be strong, etc. And she gets the guy at the end. The air marshall. With the gun. The sex is funny, but all the sex in this movie has comedy in it.

As for the poop and puke humor, there are lots of ways to look at that. Here the way I choose to see it: Women have bodies. Women are biological, embodied beings even when culture tries to hide them in beautiful gowns.

This movie is a comedy, a satire, and a story about common experiences that some women (not all, but many!) have– dealing with friends "growing up" and growing distant, dealing with friends' weddings (I've been there, it sucks being in a bridal party when you're poor), being poor, feeling insecure, needing female company, having a body. It's not perfect, but as someone who follows comedy and the comedy world, I can't see how there's any doubt that it fulfills the functions of satire, comedy, and woman-centered narrative.

I hope everyone sees it to make their own opinion instead of just listening to people on message boards. :)

Melissa McCarthy is Jenny McCarthy's cousin.

RobynDVC (#3,887)

I think that this article really is quite great. However, I do take issue with what you said about Melissa McCarthy being pigeon-holed into certain characters because of her size. She was a main cast member on Gilmore Girls, and was extremely feminized throughout the entire series.

Weird that you wouldn't know about this considering there is a post about Gilmore Girls on the runner of the site right now.

The word catholic means "wide-ranging in taste." I'm not sure that's how you meant it. It's a bit counter-intuitive, because we think of the Catholic Church as restrictive and enforcing of orthodoxy, but it derives from the sense that it includes all things in the universe.

ariel the mountain (#13,196)

Wow! This is one of the best reviews I have read in a while. i think ,though, that you take what people say too seriously. this is not a feminist movie, even if it is billed as such. its not even a woman's film because that is a meaningless term and the fact that it was written and produced by a woman only means that it was written and produced by a woman, nothing more.

Benz (#13,495)

@Michelle Dean To suggest that “nice guys” allowed women to “have a movie like this one” is an absurd statement that should clue any reader in to the clear bias and logical flaws in this review.
Many previous comments have discussed the issue of body comedy/the broad comedy’s role as social commentary, and I believe that these points of contention are only obvious symptoms of a more endemic problem that resided at the core of this review.
Men in this review = “shudder” , “boring” and are portrayed as overlords who force the actors and writers to behave in ways that only appear to break with convention. (Except for Jon Hamm, he’s hot and it’s totally progressive to say so because he’s seriously really like exceptionally hot.) The phrase Apitowian-industrial-complex reads like a big authorial pat on the back, but what does it actually mean? Are you seriously coding Judd Apitow as a malicious titan of industry, creating holes in the ozone layer and breaking the backs of underpaid laborers? Apitow has leverage in Hollywood because he has been writing successful scripts for a long time. He has an audience and is a known quantity in terms of ticket sales. (Essential in this “Gilded Age of market economy”.)

The problems with this movie are said to begin with Apitow’s lordship over the movie. The women involved get a pass because your intuition suggests that Apitow must have ordered the writers to write fat jokes for the overweight woman, he must have demanded all conversations among this group of women must revolve around men (especially that hot Jon Hamm) and Apitow himself certainly must have ordered the casting of the central character as an attractive woman.

The overt message is clear, this is not a movie for/about/by women. It fails in many of the ways you hoped it wouldn’t. In order to achieve this message, you must depict a quiet, controversy-free, self-made writer into an evil villain that represents all male hegemony . You must also take countless leaps and behind-the-scenes hypotheticals to insist that this man, again is the root of all evils.

Ariel@twitter (#13,506)

I think another piece of evidence that bolsters your argument here is the portrayal of her British roommate as well, who is fat and portrayed as not only stupid, but unhygienic (botched tattoo) and ugly (the comment about prostituting herself meant as deadpan comedy because OF COURSE larger women are undesirable, even as commodities). I laughed long and hard at this movie but this is exactly what rubbed me the wrong way. Thank you!

Ron Palais@twitter (#13,547)

It's just a funny flick, dude.

EAlmquist (#13,704)

I thought your summary of Melissa McCarthy's character was right on. And I thought the suggestion of having a buffoon character be conventionally pretty and skinny was done exactly right in the character of Caroline in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. She played the stereotypical pretty blonde girl, and the humor and buffoonery came from her being hilarious while drunk, and affectionately showing her dependency on the friendship to the main character of Norah.

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