[originally published June 6, 2011.]
Bridesmaids: Or, Familiarity Breeds Contempt
A friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself.
Director: Paul Feig
Writers: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo
Stars: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne
I REALLY wasn’t going to see this film. I’m REALLY glad I did. The title was enough to send me running. I tend to avoid that which conforms or validates a dominant system of belief. Frankly, I thought “here we go again.”
Plot: Picked as her best friend’s maid of honor, lovelorn and broke Annie looks to bluff her way through the expensive and bizarre rituals with an oddball group of bridesmaids. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1478338/)
I was thinking that even if you resonate with the traditional notion of bridesmaids, there must be some conflict, something that irks you – maybe not. Anyhow, this is a fun film, full of laughs, and it is subversive. First of all, most of the women in the bridesmaids group are unusual, atypical. A tension exits between our expectation for these women in Hollywood Cinema and what we get. The women are flawed in many ways. There is no glossy perfection that is idealized. The messiness of life, love, and finance is explored not hidden away.
Basically, you have Annie (Kristen Wiig) a failed bakery-owner, who fears that she is losing her BFF, Lillian (Maya Rudolph) to Lillian’s new wealthy and beautiful friend, Helen (Rose Byrne). As a fun subplot Annie is having a very cruel and casual relationship with the dashingly handsome Ted (Jon Hamm), but develops a flirtation with an Irish cop named Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd). Initially, Annie is asked to be Lillian’s Maid of Honour. The women who play the bridesmaids include Rose Byrne, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, and Melissa McCarthy.
Kristen Wiig says that the film It does not fetishize marriage and weddings.
“Even in this day and age, if you’re not married, there are people who are like, Awww! Don’t worry, it’ll happen for you someday. Which is fucking crazy. So when we were writing the movie, we were hoping to send the message that you don’t have to be married to be a normal member of society.”
That is the thing with Western identity. We’re told how to be. I know better and even I had expectations for these women. I used to watch Melissa McCarthy on the television show Gilmore Girls. In that show she was very sweet and loveable. This type of character fit my expectations for her in this film. She was, however, the opposite of her other character – brash, sexual, vulgar. Her large size made her suspect in a culture of gyms, diet products and liposuction. Could she fit into a bridesmaids dress and who told her she could feel sexy?
In my book You Never Know: A Memoir I say, “…that is why there is a fascination with Barbie®. Many of us have heard of that woman who had several surgeries to look like her. Cindy Jackson has these quotes on her Web site: “The new and improved Cindy Jackson: A bombshell who wasn’t born that way… she lived a real-life Cinderella story.” (Joan Rivers); “No one knows more about cosmetic surgery – from both sides of the scalpel. She’s living proof of her unique expertise.” (The Times); “A trailblazing pioneer, she did the first and original Extreme Makeover 15 years before the hit TV series. In another 15 years, they’ll be doing what Cindy Jackson is doing now.” (no author attributed).
I do believe an unreal standard exists. The unreachable can be incredibly alluring. A temptation to achieve the unattainable exists. Someone I know very well used to be bulimic. We can take things to the extreme. This is understandable.” (Shiller, pp. 37)
While a notion of ‘difference’ is typically vilified by our society, in Bridesmaids it’s celebrated. Melissa McCarthy says, “… she’s the one getting all the guys.”
(http://www.nypost.com/p/blogs/popwrap/melissa_mccarthy_Xw1eka8oKeQ4Ykegg7xEyM#ixzz1NwUe2IZ7) It is unique to subvert a very traditional framework. I mean, what a challenge it is to criticize from within. When Iggy Pop (Punk icon) performed on American Idol (Season 10) blogs suggested this was what he was doing – challenging the box. So here’s the thing, yes, you can enjoy the film purely as entertainment but I also believe it moves beyond that.
Women are often put in a box – a beauty box, a behavior box, an intelligence box. To go outside of ‘the box’ is radical. But it’s just a film, you think. The power of representation cannot be underestimated. That is why there was major backlash to the gay film I Love You Philip Morris. The resistance to ‘difference’ is very harsh in general. (My review of I Love You Philip Morris http://www.liveforfilms.com/2011/05/10/i-love-you-phillip-morris-or-what-i-did-for-love%E2%80%8F-by-romy-shiller/) Bridesmaids remains true to the formula on many levels (I can’t discuss this without giving it away – sorry) but it is skewed.
Tom Charity of CNN.com says, “Bridesmaids is a stiletto-sharp, raunchy, no-holds-barred yuk-fest that stands as a worthy female counterpart to the likes of Wedding Crashers and The Hangover.” (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/bridesmaids_2011/) I could limit my discussion to these films and a comparison. But where’s the fun in that? Besides, they pay me the big bucks (ha!) to explore ‘meaning’.
Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are available online