Spoilers! Lots and lots of spoilers.
What I expected when I went into "Bridesmaids": An over-the-top comedy that sends up the hellish wedding-industrial complex for 90% of the film, and then tacks on a happy ending to reassure audiences that they should engage with it anyway, thereby ruining all the fun of the past hour and a half.
What "Bridesmaids" actually was: An over-the-top comedy with dramatic bits that merely uses the wedding as a backdrop to explore the complexities of female friendships with deadly accuracy that makes a mockery of "Sex and the City", especially the movie.
Boy how did "Bridesmaids" not want to be a chick flick about shopping and boys. Of course, these things are part of women's lives and women's friendships, so they are almost completely unavoidable, but the filmmakers subverted the paradigm in two very obvious and I thought amazing ways, by having the single shopping scene disrupted by the now-notorious (but as funny as advertised) food poisoning scene, and by giving the groom in the wedding exactly zero lines. (He's permitted to mouth something wordlessly, as if to hang a lampshade on it, and that's it.) Even the bride in "The Hangover" had a bigger role.
Not that the movie just flips the script of the dudebro comedy, where women are one-dimensional accessories. The main male character has a personality that matters, and they actually do some stuff with him where they set you up to think he's a typical Nice Guy®, but then you find that isn't actually what he's like at all. But let's be clear: this movie is about women, and it's a big fuck you to the Hollywood establishment that pushes women out of decent roles, and the number of women with speaking parts is easily double the number of men with speaking parts. They have nice little touches, too, where certain characters that would be played by men in 99% of comedies (say, random person sitting next to you on a plane saying weird shit) are female, and one character—the perturbed flight attendant—that is played by a woman in 99% of movies is actually a man in this one. Little choices like that make this movie feel fresh and different in ways that I didn't expect.
But that doesn't mean it's flawless. In fact, I'm really sad to report that the movie had a major flaw that prevented it from really being great, which is that it was too pensive and slow-moving. I wanted so badly for it to be an ensemble cast, since every single actress in it kills, but it was mostly about Wiig's character Annie, and how her friend's over-the-top wedding is provoking every anxiety she has about being a failure at life. This means that there are lots of scenes of Annie being sad, Annie staring into space, Annie driving around and boring the shit out of us. And this is all scene time that doesn't go to women making me laugh until I want to pee.
Which is a major shame, since every scene that wasn't Sad Annie was pretty much awesome. Every time Annie's anxieties boil over into anger or bizarre behavior, Wiig had the audience in stitches. More than that, the rest of the bridesmaids (and even the bride) all had great turns, and you could feel the audience perk up the second that we cut away from Annie forlornly baking a cake or whatever to the promise of the other actresses coming onscreen. It actually made the lack of screen time devoted to broad comedy painful, because those parts were so good. I think the filmmakers cut back on some of the broad comedy and had some of the sad shit in there in order to make Annie more sympathetic, but it didn't work at all. If they'd left it at a couple of scenes where she's goofing off with Lillian, the bride, you would have bought that she's usually not like this. They didn't have to hammer it home with all the droopy-eyed stuff.
Melissa McCarthy was especially awesome, embodying the role that would surely be played by Zach Galifianakis if this was a typical, male-dominated comedy, except that she's a weirdo but not a loser. If the audience perked up when the ensemble actresses came on screen, they practically cheered at the sight of her face, she was so funny. It wasn't just that she was so good, either—the screenwriters worked in like a fat joke about her, a bizarre one that she sells well, but overall they did avoid avoid stereotyping her as the fat lady. Comedic roles for fat actresses fall into two categories: the sap and the oversexed woman who doesn't realize she's fat. They do play around a little with the second one, but her character is far more butch than this stereotype ever is. We also quickly learn that her supreme self-confidence isn't delusional (and it's always portrayed in the stereotype of the confident fat woman), but well-earned, since she's ridiculously smart and built immense wealth with her own hard work. In other words, she's proud of herself because she should be. There is never a moment in the film where you could even reasonably describe her as "sassy". Plus, and I thought this was a nice touch, she got to be butch without subjecting the audience to any kind of moaning about having to wear a dress to the wedding. No, she got to be too smart for stupid shit like that.
I hope she starts getting better roles, but I'm not going to hold my breath.
I honestly expected more negative, sexist shit after reading Michelle Dean's review, but I walked away feeling like I saw a different movie than she did. I think she was annoyed at the way this movie was taken as some big feminist event, and that made her ungenerous, but I have to push back. No one is saying that having comedies where women not only dominate but come across as human beings will change the world. But as I've noted before, being entertained and feeling pleasure are extremely important things, and the fact that women don't get to have nice things does matter. I also want to see stuff where feminism is just assumed to be true, and doesn't have to be asserted, and this movie had some of that going on. At no point does a character suggest that having to work for a living is some great moral dilemma for women, and female sexuality is just a given, not treated like it's bad nor presented in a protest-too-much way. This paragraph of Michelle's in particular didn't ring true to me:
That said, even when applying the new gold standard of the Lady Film, the Bechdel test—it's now been endorsed by the New Yorker, after all—the results are mixed. I'm not sure if we can really count conversations about weddings in this movie as not being "about men"—although it's true that the province of the wedding is presented to us as women's territory. But movies like Bridesmaids presume that much of the angst that women who are not the bride feel on these occasions has to do with not being married (or at least in a stable relationship) themselves.
The Bechdel test doesn't require that female characters never speak about men, and if they didn't, I think that would be really weird. (Unless they're lesbians and the movie is a romantic comedy.) Women talk to each other about men. They just talk about other stuff, too. The Bechdel test just asks very simply that there be even a single scene where two named characters talk about something other than men. The joke is that's a minimum requirement. Needless to say, that minimum is met in the first few scenes of the film (Annie and Lillian talk about Annie's failed business, without even mentioning that she started it with a boyfriend, which doesn't come up until later), and it continues throughout. Because I read Michelle's post before seeing it, I ended up mentally cataloguing topics of discussion besides men, and to make it even broader, besides wedding planning. Characters talk about business, work, money, children, high school, what makes someone a loser instead of a winner, dogs, being brave about eating at offbeat restaurants instead of middle-of-the-road fare, self-delusion, art (well, bad art), tattoos, female friendship, travel fantasies, the shitty music you liked in junior high school, the difference between old friends and new friends, and nervousness around flying. They also talk about sex and men, but what made it nice is that it was integrated. You know, like real life.
Also, I don't really agree that the angst the character feels is because it's not her wedding. Michelle admits later that maybe part of it is that she's afraid of losing her friend to marriage, but again, I don't agree. Annie is far more worried about another woman stealing her best friend away, and her anxieties that are provoked by the wedding have more to do with the fact that she feels her friends are all growing up and moving on with their lives while she lives with her mom and doesn't have a job. Again, they go out of their way to leave men out of it, and by the way, all three of the married bridesmaids have failing relationships. I was actually surprised how disinterested this film was in propagandizing marriage.
So, I would say see it. It's hilarious. But I will also say that it should have been edited very differently, with 75% of the Sad Annie shit cut and replaced with what I bet is some hilarious ensemble comedy acting that is probably laying on a cutting room floor. Beating us over the head with Annie's dilemma was unnecessary. I wanted to yell, "We get it! She's sad!" Especially since some of the comedic bits did more to demonstrate her fucked-up-ness than any pensive scene ever could.
Also, Hollywood? More of this, please. Kthnxbai.