Baby, It's Cold Inside
Let's clear something up: Bridesmaids is not the female version of The Hangover. The 2009 male-bonding blockbuster had fleshed-out characters, a plot and a purpose. Bridesmaids is a parade of every despicable chick-flick cliche whose alleged edginess stems from use of the word "cunt" and watching women degrade themselves through cattiness, loveless sex and public incontinence.
Kristen Wiig stars as Annie, a single woman who lost her bakery and her boyfriend to the Great Recession. Her only friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), gets engaged and asks Annie to be the maid of honor. At the engagement party, Annie meets the new circle of friends that Lillian has made in the eight months she's lived in Chicago with her fiancé, Dougie (Tim Heidecker)--at least, I think that's how it works; Bridesmaids cares even less about timelines and geography than it does about comedy or realism.
The women are archetypes, of course. We meet Becca (Ellie Kemper), the bubbly, newly-wed prude; Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), the haggard, alcoholic mom; Megan (Melissa McCarthy), the awkward fat girl who acts like a cross between Zach Galifianakis and Cliff Clavin; and Helen (Rose Byrne), the rich wife of Dougie's new boss who we're meant to believe is Bridesmaids' villain (from what I can tell, her only crime is having been raised with culture and self-esteem).
Annie's instant jealousy of Lillian and Helen's bond sets in motion a series of oneupmanship sketches that Universal Studios had the balls to release as a movie. Briedsmaids isn't even episodic in its plotting; you could shuffle the middle hour-and-a-half of scenes and wind up with the same understanding of these women's motivations and personalities--which is to say, none at all. Unlike The Hangover, which set its characters on a bizarre, debauched Las Vegas scavenger hunt, where one clue led to another and then another before finally achieving a clearly established goal, Bridesmaids simply meanders and stalls. From the gown fitting where the women blow vomit and dihorreah out of just about every orifice, to the "hilarious" ten-minute airplane scene in which Annie mixes muscle-relaxers with scotch and winds up causing an emergency landing, the movie buckles under the weight of its see-if-it-sticks approach to comedy.
There's a sub-plot involving Annie's relationship with a highway patrol officer named Rhodes (Chris O'Dowd), but again, we're presented with a series of vignettes and meets-cute rather than a story with forward momentum. This may be due to the fact that Wiig, who co-wrote Bridesmaids with Annie Mumolo, knows how despicable a human being her protagonist is and doesn't want the audience wondering why Rhodes would even bother with Annie--not for the whole movie, anyway.
Lest you think me a misogynist, allow me to explain why Annie is so gross. It's become de rigueur to mock romantic comedies for their shallow portrayals of women--specifically, the over-twenty-five sad-sack career junky who just needs a scruffy, dashing hunk to give her a sense of humor and a solid lay. Think of any mass-appeal Katherine Heigl, Kate Hudson, or Jennifer Aniston picture from the last decade, and you'll catch my drift. It's an easy formula that pretends to paint a more realistic portrait of the modern woman, but which ultimately acts as an excuse to showcase the male lead's great looks and comic timing.
Annie breaks this mold by lacking A) a job and B) any sense of self-awareness. She sleeps with a vapid, handsome businessman named Ted (Jon Hamm) who uses her as nothing more than a respiring glory hole. Yet she pines for him. She spends the entire film sabotaging Helen's efforts to give Lillian a dream wedding because, at the end of the day, everything is about Annie losing her best friend--not her best friend starting a wonderful, new life. The only redeeming part of the screenplay is that Annie finally gets called on her shit (though not before ruining the bachelorette party and destroying the wedding shower in a foul-mouthed, violent tantrum). But I was done with this monster about an hour before the light bulb went off. There's a difference between cute, desperate and vicious; Annie is like a rubber-faced version of The Bad Seed, whose deplorable actions Wiig and director Paul Feig count on being overlooked by lots of silly faces and pratfalls.
I might have forgiven Annie had it not been for the scene following her night of lovemaking with the cuddly, good-hearted Rhodes. He surprises her by stocking and prepping his kitchen for a fun morning of baking--a passion of hers that she's let lapse since the bakery closed. Instead of taking part, or politely declining, she flips out and storms out. I'm not spoiling anything by saying that they eventually wind up together (this is, after all, a chick flick and not an actual movie), and that made me really sad. Despite all the supposedly redemptive progress Annie makes later on, Rhodes doesn't deserve to be saddled with such a neurotic nut-job.
It hurts me to have to write these things. Bridesmaids is full of actors that I generally love, but they're all squandered on a screenplay that isn't half as smart as they are. I'm also tired of having to write about the same movie over and over and over again. Whether you want to call it No Strings Attached, Going the Distance, Couples Retreat, or How Do You Know, chances are you've spent lots of time and money buying into the same clueless-guy/lovelorn-girl film; the performers and ratings may change, but the outcome is always, depressingly exact.
Melissa McCarthy's presence made me think of a terrific example of what this movie would love to have been. Get ready to roll your eyes, kids, 'cause I'm gonna invoke Gilmore Girls. Yes, it was a prime time dramedy on a C-level network; yes, it was brimming with dialogue that sounded like it was written by the test-tube-daughter of Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith; but it was also an honest look at how smart and vulnerable women relate to one another. McCarthy was on that show, playing Lauren Graham's bubbly best friend, Sookie. Their dynamic was fun and touching, and there wasn't an irritable bowel in sight.
Gilmore Girls invested in strong characters; in turn, its audience invested in it. Bridesmaids gives us no one worth relating to. The screenplay comes close, but the most sympathetic person in the whole movie is the alleged villain, Helen. We're meant to laugh at her high-class taste and proper demeanor; she's supposed to be the bitchy snob who stole down-to-earth Annie's best friend. But it's easy to see why Lillian would ditch her psycho sad-sack pal for someone with brains, sophistication, and a healthy sense of herself. Just as we're never given reason to like Annie (at all; let me repeat: At all), we're never given reason to hate Helen. She indulges in some weird behavior that betrays what had been established as her character, which smacks of Wiig and Mumolo's need to sloppily set up more gags.
There's nothing wrong with women headlining a raunchy comedy. But until the day comes when the creative forces behind these projects step their writing up to the level of their male counterparts and stop kowtowing to the dumbest members of their audience, I'm afraid we're doomed to these garish, pink fantasies. What writer/directors Todd Philips and Judd Apatow (who produced this movie) have over Wiig and Feig is the courage to show men as they really are: Yes, they can be idiots who forget how to function outside the vicinity of a strong female influence. But they can also be heroic, fun, smart, and loyal to one another. It's also interesting that these supposedly male-targeted raunchy comedies feature stronger female characters than films aimed expressly at women--whereas the men in Bridesmaids are relegated to one-dimensional jerks or jokes; particularly Dougie, who, I don't believe, has a single line in the film, but who is for some reason described by his sister as a raging asshole.
I can watch movies like Old School and Knocked Up and recognize well-rounded, human qualities underneath the layers of pot smoke and exaggeration. The only truth that Bridesmaids espouses is that if you get to the age of forty and are still unmarried, you're doomed to be a rich tool's fuck-doll whose only acquaintances are either like-minded harpies or dithering idiots who are too stupid to know better (no, I haven't strayed into a critique of Sex and the City). If there's anything to that, ladies, you have my sincerest apologies.