Bridesmaids (2011) has been billed as an important feminist step forward in Hollywood comedies, as more of the same, as definitely having something of import for feminists to discuss. Naturally, I went to see it. It’s about Annie, (Kristen Wiig) a single lady in Wisconsin, who lost her bakery during the recession – and her savings and boyfriend with it. When her best friend, Lillian, (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged, Annie is appointed maid of honour. Everything goes horribly wrong, not least through the attempts by Lillian’s new friend Helen (Rose Byrne) to sabotage Annie at every turn. It all works out in the end, of course, and Annie ends up with a bloke of her own to boot.
What’s good about the movie? Well, it has ladies. I like ladies. Bridesmaids, in fact, centres on the ladies! Allows the ladies, in fact, to be funny, and not even always in a sexy way! There’s physical comedy – I found the food poisoning scene especially hilarious, but then I have a bizarre sense of humour. I don’t think that’s enough for a film to be a ginormous feminist leap, but okay. This is a low bar to be happy with, but I was also really pleased to see an actress of colour as the bride, the object of affection, the centre of attention. She’s coded as mixed race without any awkward exposition or bad jokes. How often does that happen?
At the same time, it was more of the same. It is, after all, a film about a white wedding between a woman and a rather rich man. And the main character’s main talent is baking. Don’t get me wrong, I am hardcore about baking, but that is a pretty routine passion for a lady to be represented as having. Kjerstin Johnson at Bitch Magazine had this to say:
“While this film is garnering comparisons to The Hangover and not, say, The Brothers Karamazov, it’s like the six leading (mostly white) women were given a bucket of character and when they had to divvy it up, each had barely enough personality to fill a single high-heeled shoe.
“That’s why we’re left with unoriginal, re-hashed characters from these bridesmaids: the naïve prude, the lustful lush, the unrefined fat woman, the beautiful rich bitch.”
I am not quite sure what is going on with the film’s representation of queerness, such as it is, which tells me that maybe the writers, Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, aren’t sure, either. There’s an awkward moment at the bridal shower when Annie, in crisis mode, wildly accuses Lillian and Helen of being lesbians and a couple, but it’s not meant to be funny or harbour a hint of truth. I was wincing waiting for the bad lesbian jokes to hit us when the groom’s sister, Megan, (Melissa McCarthy) appeared. She’s fat, not much one for make-up, dresses in a masculine style with the occasional incongruous pearl necklace, and adopts a lot of dogs in the course of the film. Yet there are no such jokes, and instead we have ones about Megan’s aggressive heterosexuality. Well, okay. The one moment in which same sex desire might have actually been allowed to be a thing takes place between bridesmaids Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and Becca (Ellie Kemper). The ‘naïve prude’ and ‘lustful lush’ kiss after a discussion about their terrible sex lives with their husbands. That’s it; we hear no more of them, and their characters go back to the cardboard from whence they emerged. Queerness is present, but it’s never allowed to flourish; it’s acknowledged, but never more than nascent. It’s a slightly more palatable space than, I suppose, the gay best friend occupies in your usual het wedding fare. That’s as far as I’m concerned, at any rate, but then I am one for the flexibility of the present and undefined, and I’m sure this semi-presence frustrated other viewers in different ways.
So, it was pretty much what I expected. And now I can say that I sat through a Judd Apatow film.