Friday, May 20, 2011

Bridesmaids Review: New Gender Roles in Studio Hollywood

By Eliza Rosenberry

It’s been a recent trend for female comedians and actors to bemoan the gender culture of studio Hollywood.  Not to say that moviemaking hasn’t always had a male-dominated power structure, with male-centric stories, but for some reason there’s been a lot of welcomed questioning lately regarding female characterizations (see this Natalie Portman interview).  Girls and women in studio movies often lack the depth and relatability of their male counterparts; an example Portman references in that interview, Devil Wears Prada, appears to present a strong female lead but her success is undermined by femininity (especially its location in fashion).  Even Judd Apatow's previous movies don't allow women characters to be in on the joke.  Although Bridesmaids’s protagonist (played by a superbly balanced Kristen Wiig) is a pastry chef, a traditional homemaker-like career path, she’s otherwise one of the only female characters in recent memory to refuse female conventions while maintaining a strong sense of relatability.

Bridesmaids is hilarious.  It’s as good as Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin, and somehow manages to incorporate the best of all of its talent.  Apatow’s production and oversight is certainly palpable, particularly in the film’s structure (sex scene, sadness, failure, isolation, self-alienation, some good drunk scenes, epiphany, everyone comes together at the end).  But Paul Feig, the film’s director (known for creating Feaks and Geeks back in the 90’s and also for directing episodes of some of the best television comedies since: The Office, 30 Rock, Arrested Development, and Bored to Death, to name a few), has incorporated his television experience and eye for scene development into an efficient yet cinematic film.  That is to say, individual scenes (I’m thinking of the one where Kristen Wiig gets inebriated on a plane) feel like they could have been a threaded storyline in a sitcom, but are done so epically that it is actually very movie-like.

As for the plot, there are the usual Apatow frustrations with seemingly unnatural and unexplored character conflicts.  In Knocked Up, when Katherine Heigl makes Seth Rogen get out of the car in the middle of the street, tensions hardly seemed significant enough to merit such a response.  Of course, she was pregnant and hormonal and irrational.  So there you go.  Similarly, in Bridesmaids, Wiig storms out angrily after sleeping with an uncommonly thoughtful and sensitive guy because he asks her to make breakfast with him.  Although the seeds for these conflicts are somewhat planted earlier in the films, they often manifest as over-the-top.  If you’re going for realism, I don’t know anyone that would storm out before breakfast (but I know a lot of people who would sulk, passive-aggressively make breakfast, eat, and then never call again).
It’s recently come to my attention, having watched in quick succession releases from the past decade like Brick or The Wackness, that the same nerdy guy who got his heart broken at sixteen is probably writing all of the movies in Hollywood.  The girls aren’t trustworthy but rather manipulative; they’re not kind but they are beautiful enough to merit adoration.  It's  frustrating to see such one-sided approaches to female characterization.  Bridesmaids certainly has its evil female characters, but Jon Hamm is more manipulative than any woman in the whole movie.  By contrast, Kristen Wiig gives a more balanced, functional performance than we’ve been allowed to see on Saturday Night Live.  In doing so she portrays a complex, developed character who is desirable and a little crazy, but also insecure and funny.  This kind of performance is rare in Hollywood and Wiig has certainly moved from hilarious supporting act (see her role in Knocked Up) to a really unique, multifaceted leading actor.

Bridesmaids, A

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  1. Yeah, I thought Bridesmaids was wildly funny, but as a film it really didn't do much for me. At first it was strong, but as it focused more on Kirsten Wiig's life crashing down and less on the wedding itself, I found myself caring less and less about the overall story of the film and only really caring about Kristen Wiig's character and her well being. As such, the only plot that kept me consistently interested was the budding romance with the cop, and even that seemed a little too unnatural to really sink into.

    Another major problem was that the movie dragged. A romantic comedy should not be two hours long, and there was just some stuff that could have been cut down. I know it really didn't add that many minutes to the overall run-time, but the scene where Annie and Helen exchange speeches and where Annie tries to get the cop's attention buy doing all sort of illegal stuff while driving just dragged on and on and on. They stopped being funny after a while, and the point was already made.

    Also, the whole scene where the fat bridesmaid comes to try to extend her friendship to Annie... what was the point of that? It wound up amounting to absolutely nothing. Long scene, wasn't all that funny, didn't do anything for the movie as a whole.

    I disagree with the overall score of A, but I honestly think a lot of it had to do with us being of two opposite genders. I was bored to death by the end of the movie, and while I stuck it out til the end, my friends had left with about 10 minutes to go in the movie, and I can't blame them, there was nothing except for the possibility of a few laughs keeping me there.

  2. I agree that the movie definitely had slow points, especially the scene with Annie and Helen making competing speeches, and unrealistic aspects like all R-rated comedies. The point, though, I would argue, is not the plot but rather the laughs.

    Like you point out, I'm interested to see if the overall reception of the film is different if you're a girl.

    However, I completely disagree with your calling the movie a "romantic comedy." It's certainly been marketed that way, but framing the movie as a typical Apatow-style dirty R-rated comedy is, in my opinion, more effective and accurate.

  3. Interesting, will see it soon! Being somewhat of a feminist, I'll probably come out on Eliza's side