Bridesmaids, the new woman-centered comedy, performed far better than expected on its opening weekend, raising the question: what does this movie’s success mean for comedy in general, which is overwhelmingly dominated by men? The stakes were high for Bridesmaids from the moment the trailer came out earlier this winter. For the most part, critics seemed to feel that it lived up to the hype. New York Times critic Manohla Dargis claimed that the film offered “irrefutable proof that along with producing and starring in a hit TV series (thank you, Tina Fey), women can go aggressive laugh to aggressive-and-absurd laugh with men.”
An Entertainment Weekly piece, though, pointed out that there’s no reason that we should expect this film not to do well. Daniel Frankel asked, “Why would a major comedy produced by Judd Apatow, heralded by enthusiastic reviews, featuring a breakout performance by a venerable Saturday Night Live star, the whole thing pitched as a funny, soulful date movie to an audience that regularly turns the worst sort of pandering chick-flick crapola into major hits … why would that movie surprise anyone by making as much on its opening weekend as The Bounty Hunter or Failure to Launch?”
Even so, the movie’s success might disprove prevailing assumptions of what male viewers want. In a piece for the New Yorker last month, Tad Friend explained, “Studio executives believe that male moviegoers would rather prep for a colonoscopy that experience a woman’s point of view, particularly if that woman drinks or swears or has a great job or an orgasm.” While male moviegoers’ tastes clearly should not be the main force behind which film projects are greenlighted (even though sadly, they usually are), the popularity of Bridesmaids could show that this perception doesn’t give men a lot of credit.
The film is not perfect. And I wonder whether, in our desperate searches for a raunchy feminist comedy, we have overstated Bridesmaids’ successes. Mary Elizabeth Williams pointed out some obvious flaws: “In a movie that may prove a benchmark for female comedy, it’s ironic that the filmmakers made Annie a baker who has to get her groove back by returning to the kitchen.” Another character, who is not only socially awkward, personally unpleasant (if occasionally well-meaning) and — surprise! — overweight, shows that sizeism is alive and well in the film industry.
Then too, we have to remember that this is — yet another — wedding movie. I saw 27 Dresses recently and was reminded, when I saw Bridesmaids, of just how tired the genre (and it really is a genre) is. Do we need another movie about women acting crazy during friends’ weddings, even if its female characters vomit and melt down instead of daydreaming about babies and melting down?
And although Williams claims that the movie shows that “women can be disgusting and raunchy and winningly heartfelt just the same,” I left the theater disliking most of the characters, especially Kristen Wiig’s. What grown woman really refuses to sell a “best friends” necklace to a teenage girl in a jewelry store?
What two friends upstage an engagement party by competing to see who can give the most lavish toast? And while there certainly are disgusting moments, the women in the film don’t seem realistic in the same way that the sloppy men who populate Judd Apatow’s films do. Instead, they seem plastic, and a little pathetic. Ultimately, Bridesmaids was entertaining and in some ways better than the alternatives – but in our search for the milestone feminist comedy, is this really the best we can do?
Have you seen Bridesmaids? Are you planning to see it? And what do you think? Is this a feminist milestone, or a flop?
Photo from Flickr.