Saturday, May 14, 2011

Humor from a woman's point of view: 9 notes on Bridesmaids

“Studio executives believe that male moviegoers would rather prep for a colonoscopy that experience a woman’s point of view . . . "

[Note: many of these notes came from Mrs. Film Dr. I enjoyed the film, but feeling a bit out of my depth in this case, I stole what insights I could from her before she returned to her Hawthorne biography.]

1) Most romantic comedies don't really get the vulgarity of women, particularly when women are in a good mood, or when they are pissed off. The cursing was very apt in Bridesmaids. It conveys the silly vulgarity that women have, but only around each other. If there were men involved, they wouldn't be that way. At one point, Annie (Kristen Wiig) pretends to be a penis by shutting one eye when joking around with her friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph). The film ends up being sweetly crude, with an odd honesty to it (at one point Annie points out her "boobs are sweaty").

2)Written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, Bridesmaids demonstrates the underhanded, mean-spirited way that women often fight with each other. It's rarely overt. They take it all underground. The movie concerns the rivalry between Annie (Wiig) and the rich Helen (Rose Byrne) over the friendship of the bride-to-be Lillian. Annie acknowledges that Helen is prettier than she is, and more graceful.

Immediately feeling threatened, Annie begins thinking of ways to undercut Helen. She doesn't like this "better" woman usurping her role as a best friend. She doesn't want to share. The one-up-"man"ship at the engagement party where the two women take turns giving a speech in honor of Lillian serves as an early example of this behavior. Here, it's not really about how much they care about Lillian, but about being able to show their "best friend" status to everyone else. The rivalry also gets complicated by money, since Annie's cake business is failed and she has a crap job at a jewelry shop. Helen, meanwhile, lives in an estate, and has endless funds to buy a new friend. Since Helen is the kind of woman that she and Lillian would normally have made fun of, Lillian's seeming transfer of affections seems to diminish the basis of their original friendship. But since Lillian is marrying "up," and Helen is her husband's boss's wife, by be-friending her she may be (symbolically) proving to her husband that she's worthy of marrying into his class. Annie reads her "change" as treacherous.

3) When Annie and Helen have an argument about whether or not people change, that scene probes Annie's deep-seated dislike (and distrust) of Lillian's inevitable change after she gets married. Helen's engagement party for Lillian at a posh country club betrays her attempt to change Lillian. Here, Lillian is out of her element, but obviously wowed by the status that her marriage (and her friendship with Helen) has allowed her. She has risen above her girlhood beginnings. Later, to retaliate against Helen and to show that people don't change, Annie takes the bridesmaids to a cheap Brazilian restaurant because that's the kind of thing she and Lillian would have done when they were younger. Lillian even says that Annie always takes her to places that look crappy on the outside but then serve delicious food. (Here, Annie is wrong, however, as the various bridesmaids come down with instant food poisoning.) Helen has missteps too, such as when she takes Lillian to a French designer who makes an awful-looking wedding dress. Yet, the two women continuously compete in this way--Annie in reminding Lillian of her girlhood, Helen in showcasing what she could become.

4) Jon Hamm plays the commitment-phobe Ted. Objectified by women due to Mad Men, Hamm appears to enjoy portraying a scoundrel, a guy who uses women for sex. As he tells Annie, the next morning, "I really want you to leave, but I don't know what to say without being a dick." The movie suggests that a person should not be involved in a sex-only relationship with someone he or she has feelings for, because Annie always hates herself afterwards. Lillian points out that Annie puts herself in situations where she feels bad, so she's fully at fault for the Ted business. Annie kids herself into believing that she can change Ted, yet he's quite candid about his lack of interest in her. Hamm's uncredited appearance in this role is a nicely ironic commentary on his own objectification.

5) In dramatic contrast to Ted, Chris O'Dowd charms as the love-interest cop Rhodes. His Irish accent tends to slow down scenes with Kristen in a manner reminiscent of Ralph Bellamy. He's middle class like Annie (whereas Hamm's character is rich: he drives a Porsche).

Rhodes begins to appreciate Annie's quirky humor when she does a little soft shoe dance to prove that she's not drunk--a scene similar to Naomi Watts' dance before King Kong in the 2005 version. At any rate, the Rhodes subplot works in part because he's not the usual central interest in the storyline, as Anne Helen Petersen points out.

6) One scene, late in the movie, alludes to My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), when Annie and Lillian exchange a long look before Lillian leaves in a limo. Throughout the earlier film, Roberts' character has been competing for her male friend (played by Dermot Muclroney), and at that moment, she realizes that she has to let him go. At the end of Bridesmaids, you get the same sort of bittersweet quality as it blends friendship with renunciation.

7) Bridesmaids is especially good with ensemble set piece scenes such as the one in a jet where Annie drunkenly says "Help me, I'm poor" as she infiltrates the first class compartment. Another especially hilarious scatological scene takes place, incongruously, in a pretentious bridal shop called Belle en Blanc. The director Paul Feig allowed the actresses to improvise variations as they shot these scenes. As he says,

"The one for me that stands out is the airplane scene, and just all of the stuff that Kristen’s doing. It was definitely scripted out, some of those lines she was hitting, but it was just her taking it and running with it. I shot them over and over and over again partly selfishly because she was making me laugh so much, I just wanted to see what she was going to do if I started it again. [Laughs] So yeah, it was always throwing such curveballs at us, but it was the whole cast. It just worked well.

We started with a structured thing and we had lines lined up and that sort of then devolved into, `Try this,' or `Try that,' or I’d give them an idea. The girls always had a laugh because my catchphrase is `Dealer’s Choice!' Which means just take it anywhere you want it to go, do whatever you want with it, and let’s see if we get anything out of it."

8) Feig strikes me as the kind of director who excels at letting his performers contribute effective ideas to the movie. In an article in the May 20 Entertainment Weekly, Melissa McCarthy (formerly of The Gilmore Girls) talks of how, for the audition, she interpreted the Megan character in terms of "cropped Dockers, athletic sandals, pearls, maybe a carpal-tunnel bandage." The bandage is prominently on display in the movie. As she says, "I love playing an eccentric woman who's really confident. Yes, Megan looks different for somebody in the movies who's not playing crazy, but that's just because everyone in the movies is always in a hyper state of perfection."

9) Megan frequently steals the movie in part because she prefers women that talk (and fight) straightforwardly. She's the aggressor, and she recommends that the shower theme be Fight Club, where they just grease up and hit each other. Given the way the film plays out, that would have been psychologically healthier.

The subject for various visual gags because of her body type, Megan appears to be, ironically, the only woman who is comfortable in her own skin. She has fun seducing an Air Marshall, and she helps Annie realize that she's not fighting back enough. In some ways, she's the Falstaff of the group, the one allowed to indulge in her appetites, and she tells the truth. She seems very unfeminine in her way, but part of that is because she doesn't act fake, ever. So, oddly (but typical of the honest humor of Bridesmaids), the character we are conditioned to consider the butt of the most jokes turns out to have the most chutzpah.

7 comments:

Sam Juliano said...

I'm glad to read that the lion's share of these notes were rovided by Mrs. Film Doctor, since the only reference points I can make are from my wife Lucille who actually got back in the house only minutes ago from a screening at our local multiplex with my two daughters in tow. (the three boys opted to stay back). Lucille thought it was entertaining, but I remain skepticla in view of my bad experiences with other Apetow vehicles. This is quite a pointed and perceptive read.

FilmDr said...

Thanks, Sam.

I'm not a big fan of Apatow's work either, and I didn't notice his influence much here. Kristen Wiig stands out as an impressive talent, with range as an actress and a playfulness missing from most comics. She doesn't come across as a star, and that makes the film all the more likable.

JeanRZEJ said...

I haven't seen this - and my 'stringent' theatergoing restraint will probably prevent me from seeing it soon, but a girl at my work called it the funniest film she'd ever seen and two of my friends, of opposing sexes, said it was really funny. One of the second pair didn't laugh at my Orange Mocha Frappuccino joke, though, so I'll take her opinion with a grain of salt.

I am looking forward to you breaking down humor from a goat's point of view in Le Quattro Volte, though!

FilmDr said...

Thanks, JeanRZEJ,

Bridesmaids is one of my two favorite theatrical releases of this year, along with Hanna. I should probably emulate your stringent viewing habits. After sitting through spirit-crushing backwash of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, I was all ready to swear off movies altogether. Blockbusters are just not worth the pain.

JeanRZEJ said...

I haven't seen any since the second. I'm pretty certain the entire series is an allegory for corporate greed, just a bunch of brigands sailing the sea with no goals in mind except to collect booty in all sorts of delightfully illegal ways. In that way it's sort of brilliant. The giant seam monsters are obviously the Feds cracking down with their nefarious 'regulations'. All of that weighty allegory can be tough to slog through. What ever happened to the days when movies could just be brainless fun?

I always try to keep an ear close to the ground when it comes to comedy because people who love arthouse films can often be humorless. And yet love slapstick. I don't understand it. I'll definitely check this one out. Did you ever see I Love You Phillip Morris? Or anything else of the ilk we're talking about in this comments section (including goats) of late? I feel like once I've exhausted the Balkans (a treasure trove of hilarity if there ever was one) I'll be running thin on options. Laughter sustains me. I need... more... Bridesmaids... in more ways than one.

Diana Y. Paul said...

Check out my review on my website: www.unhealedwound.com. It has a different point of view from yours, but highlights some of the same themes. Would love to crosslink with your website, because you have humor in your reviews too, without being pedantic! Some of my movie reviews are of older indepedent films, especially foreign ones--for example, "Bliss" and "Irina Palm". You might want to review them in the future too!

FilmDr said...

Thanks for the link and the offer, Diana.