Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bridesmaids: A Ladybrain Review

In the feminist blogosphere, Judd Apatow’s name is synonymous with dude-bros, high-maintenance shrews and man-children. The writer and director who brought us some of the biggest sleeper hits of the early 2000s—The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up among them—has made his name with a series of movies about immature, loveable losers and the women who settle for them. After seeing much success with movies he wrote and directed, he produced a series of films that promising actors wrote, often starring themselves—Jason Segal wrote Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Seth Rogen wrote Superbad and Pineapple Express. In films like these, the women who reject our slacker protagonists are demonized and punished accordingly. For sins against Veronica Mars, the feminist blogosphere regards Apatow’s name with almost as much distain as Roman Polanski’s.

So imagine my conflicted feelings when Apatow approached a talented, hilarious actress to write a film for him to produce.

Feminists have largely seemed to get behind Bridesmaids, released three weeks ago, despite Apatow’s presence as a producer under the theory that if this film doesn’t do well at the box office, a woman-centered ensemble comedy will never be made in Hollywood ever again. Feminist icons implored women to show up at the box office in bridesmaids dresses. The biggest women in Hollywood website reports weekly on the film’s profits and box-office performance. Most dutiful feminists made their way to the theaters opening weekend, and the rest of us have filed in in the ensuing weeks.

Despite the fact that I tend to be a mite skeptical about purchasing-power activism and honestly had something better to do opening weekend, I did make it a priority to see Bridesmaids in its second weekend in theaters. And while I won’t tell you it’s politically revolutionary to go see this movie, I will tell you that you will absolutely love Bridesmaids because it’s just as irreverent, hilarious and heartwarming as you’ve heard.

Bridesmaids tells the story of Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Lillian (Maya Rudolph), who are best friends forever until a series of increasingly unfortunate, hilarious and cringe-worthy events that are set off by planning Lillian’s impending nuptials. The pair’s endearing, wacky BFF status is put to the test when the more polished but lonely bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne) tries to copycat her way into Lillian’s graces to dethrone Annie as maid of honor. What ensues is a tornado path of pettiness and absurdity wherein Annie sinks ever lower to hit rock bottom before she sinks a little lower.

As all Hollywood films do, Bridesmaids does leave some feministy things to be desired. This movie is clearly seeped in the logic of heteronormativity and old-maid phobia that has been canonized in romantic comedies, and some of bridesmaid Megan’s (Melissa McCarthy) antics can certainly be read as fat hate. The film is set in a traditionally acceptable feminine theme of wedding-planning (though a wholly irreverent version), features a protagonist whose career ambition is also acceptably womanly (she bakes), pits two conniving women against each other and throws in an accusation of lesbianism as an insult.

But along with these imperfections, Bridesmaids gets a lot of things right. It was written by two women (Wiig and Annie Mumolo), features women who candidly complain about sex and children, and has a villainess who is more pitiable than evil. But what struck a chord most with me was its celebration of women’s friendship.

Although we only see Annie and Lillian alone in a few scenes, I chose to see Bridesmaids as a love story of best friends, even though much screen time is spent on Annie’s relationship with an unassuming, appropriately working-class policeman. The writers and director Paul Feig (that skinny guy from Heavy Weights) make this stretch into resistant spectatorship even easier by showing Lillian’s husband in only two scenes that I remember. But as someone who fiercely loves her best friend and has fiercely reacted when I felt like someone was trying to threaten that relationship, Bridesmaids was cathartic, if not advisable as a guide for how to behave in life or in bridal parties.

So if you are a lady who loves your friends, go see Bridesmaids, preferably with said friends. I won’t tell you it will solve the sexism in film problem, but I will tell you it’s a damn good, lady-friendly time.

Bechdel Grade: Pass

Feminist Grade: B-

Overall Movie Grade: A

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