Bridesmaids and the Critical Hysteria Surrounding It

Bridesmaids and the Critical Hysteria Surrounding It

If Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011) fails financially, Hollywood will never make another female-centric comedy again. At least that’s the word on the street. First, apparently Bridesmaids is The Movie that will decide if women can carry blockbusters and subsequently liberate female viewers from the dreadful Katherine Heigl-helmed romantic comedies to which they’ll surely be subjected next summer. Second, any woman who refuses to watch Bridesmaids in its theatrical release is seemingly shirking her societal duty. Yes, according to Salon‘s Rebecca Traister and Legally Blonde‘s writer-producer Kirsten Smith, seeing this “homance” is much more than a trip to the theatre; it is one’s social responsibility.

Understandably scared to death by all of this hype (not really), I did what every woman in the US and Canada with ten bucks in her pocketbook was instructed to do last weekend: I hauled ass (actually I walked calmly) to the nearest Cineplex, bought a ticket for Bridesmaids, and waited to be bathed in the ground-breaking comedy of SNL regular Kristin Wiig, who co-wrote the script with her fellow Groundlings alum Annie Mumalo. Two hours later as the credits rolled, I leaned over to the spouse for his opinion. “I liked it,” he said with a smile. “It was really funny.” I’d noticed throughout the movie he’d laughed aloud more than I, so his positive reaction didn’t surprise me. “What about you; what did you think?” he countered. After a few seconds of staring blankly at the names still scrolling up the screen, I delivered this philosophical gem: “Uh, I’ll need to ponder on this one a little longer.”

For what it’s worth, this is the same vague answer I came up with after the husband and I screened Up in the Air (2009), Invictus (2009), and (500) Days of Summer (2009) — three other recent films that, like Bridesmaids, are ranked highly on MetaCritic and Rotten Tomatoes. They’re also three films that, after thinking about them for a couple of days, I eventually rated as average: not horrible (e.g,. Greenburg) and not top-notch (e.g., An Education), just average. So if the recent past is any indicator, my (non)reaction to Bridesmaids will inevitably translate to this: I’m trying to figure out why critics applaud this film so much, but in the end, I’m gonna have to give it a B-/C+. And, yeah, after three days of reflecting on Bridesmaids, discussing it on Twitter, and reading (too many) reactions to it, I’m gonna have to give it a C+.

“Blasphemy!” fans of Bridesmaids will cry as they question whether I was laughing when

  • Annie (Kristin Wiig) mimicks an erect penis with her head and one eyeball,
  • a mother of three teenage boys confesses that her house is covered in semen (e.g., “Once, I cracked a blanket in half. Did you hear me? Cracked it…in half“),
  • Lillian (Maya Rudolph), dressed in a puffy wedding gown, succumbs to diarrhea on the corner of a busy street,
  • Annie goes on a destructive cursing rampage in the middle of a posh bridal shower, and
  • Megan (Melissa McCarthy) offers up “Fight Club” as an idea for a bachelorette party and then later attempts to expose and seduce an Air Marshall?

Moreover, those fans will probe, “Also, didn’t you find Bridesmaids‘ smaller moments endearing, e.g., Annie’s solitary cupcake-making, her one-sided conversations in the car, and her discussion of a circus/carnival wedding with Officer Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd)?” To all of the above, yes. Yes, those scenes were funny and, yes, some of the more subtle instances were charming. But would I go as far as to claim that overall Bridesmaids is

  • “one of the most groundbreaking mainstream movies of the past decade, an indie women’s picture sneaking in under summer-blockbuster cover” (Ella Taylor, NPR),
  • “exhilarating” (J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader),
  • “gut-bustingly funny” and “giddily brilliant” (Owen Glieberman, EW),
  • “fucking hilarious” (Dana Stevens, Slate),
  • “a turning point in feminism and comedy” (Mary Pols, Time),
  • “a bawdy, brave and brashly feminist flag in the male-dominated raunch-com genre” (Ann Hornaday, Washington Post)
  • “a four-square piece of populist fun that ranks as quite possibly the best mainstream American comedy in years” (Todd Gilcrest, Boxoffice Magazine), or
  • “your first black president of female-driven comedies” (Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon)?

(To the last bullet point, WTF?)

I laughed aloud during Bridesmaids about five times, mostly because of the well-played/-written scenes cited above. But honestly, I did not laugh at or identify with the virtually all-female cast nearly as much as critics assured me I would (actually, I connected way more to the lead character in Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old-Virgin than Wiig’s Annie). During Bridesmaids my gut did not bust, and I did not become “giddy” or “exhilarated” throughout. Rather, as discussed with two colleagues afterward, I was bothered by the movie’s clumsy pace and excessive length (the back-and-forth bridal toasting bit and dress-fitting scenes were uncomfortably long) as well as its unnecessary characters (Annie’s ridiculous brother-sister roommates) and forced ending (Annie/Rhodes in the police car). In conjunction with its awkward pace, I also found myself troubled by Bridemaids‘ jarring tone, which “bears the distinct scars of having been ‘fixed’ by and for dudes [i.e., producer Judd Apatow and co.]” Village Voice‘s Karina Longworth further describes this issue in her review:

“Many of the chaotic set pieces cataloging Annie’s self-destruction have a kind of dumb crassness that works against Bridesmaids’ often smart, highly class-conscious deconstruction of female friendship and competition. Comedy of humiliation is one thing; a fat lady shitting in a sink is another.”

I like Stephanie Zacharek‘s interpretation too:

“Plenty of bits made me laugh, but much of it didn’t sit right afterward, not least the wallflowery self-pity — masquerading as ‘We can be as gross as the guys are!’ empowerment — of the basic premise. Bridesmaids obviously strives to seem modern, but too often it mistakes crassness for freshness.”

Finally, as you’ve likely gleaned from the title of this post, what also bothers me about Bridesmaids is the hyperbole surrounding it, a lot of which comes from women. That female filmgoers’ “solidarity is required by way of their wallet […] for a movie whose female-ness is derived almost exclusively from the sheer number of speaking roles assigned to women” kinda rubs me the wrong way (quote from The Awl‘s Michelle Dean). Sure, one can be excited about a film, but all of this get-thyself-to-a-theatre-because-it’s-your-duty talk feels unnatural, almost hysterical even — and, whoa, that’s a word/concept/disease with which female audiences or critics certainly don’t want to be associated, right?

So next time there’s an interesting-looking, potentially game-changing, female-driven movie on the horizon or in the theatres (and there will be), let’s tone down the rhetoric a little bit, moving away from “your first black president of female-driven comedies!” (again, WTF?) to something more like Manhola Dargis‘s review: “Bridesmaids isn’t a radical movie; it’s formally unadventurous; and there isn’t much to look at beyond all these female faces. Yet these are great faces, and the movie is smart about a lot of things, including the vital importance of female friendships.” Yeah, that’s fair and more importantly, it lacks hysterics.

Water massages as a treatment for hysteria c. 1860.Water massages as a treatment for hysteria c. 1860.


Thoughts on Bridesmaids I’ve enjoyed reading: