The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
Bridesmaids

Reviewed by Lauren Jade Thompson.

Director Paul Feig
Length 125 mins
Certificate 15 / R
Rating *********-
Filmmaking: 4  Personal enjoyment: 5

Photo from the article Trailer.

Bridesmaids, the latest offering from Apatow Productions, deals with the trials of Annie (Kristen Wiig), a struggling, debt-ridden, single thirty-something, whose best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces that she is getting married. Tasked with the celebrated and challenging role of maid of honour, Annie must organise a wedding, bring together a disparate group of female companions, and come to terms with letting go of her childhood friend.

On the surface, this might sound like it has the potential to be a fairly mundane romantic comedy, with perhaps a touch of the now-famous Apatow magic thrown in to up the gag count. However, the selling of this film as some kind of female version of The Hangover (2009) (or, if you will, The Hangover's sister) has actually done it a disservice. Yes, it is funny; yes, it ekes this comedy out of the run-up to a wedding; but it is also surprisingly moving in a way that The Hangover clearly isn't. In fact, one of the real difficulties in grappling with Bridesmaids is that it feels as if there hasn’t been a recent Hollywood film quite like it.

The one immediate shame of Bridesmaids is that, despite an aggressive and largely successful (judging by the box office figures) marketing campaign, the message about who might go and see this film still seems a little confused. The trailers emphasise the slapstick and gross-out humour that characterises much previous Apatow output, trying to stress that this isn't just another chick-flick ("Chick-flicks don't have to suck!" offers one poster, already buying into a framework that devalues films “for women”). Yet the “pinkness” of the posters, the foregrounding of a Sex and the City-style female ensemble, and the matrimonially-focused title may, I feel, have alienated some potential male viewers. Certainly, the audience in the screening I attended was largely female - usually groups of women. One rather gets the impression that the Universal marketing execs struggled with what to do with such an unusual film.

That issue aside, once you’re in the cinema, Bridesmaids is a treat, whatever your gender. Although it is an ensemble piece, and all the performances are perfectly timed and played, this is really Wiig's film (she is not only star but co-writer, alongside friend Annie Mumolo, who also has a cameo appearance in the film). Having delighted in her all too brief yet scene-stealing appearances in films like Knocked Up (2007) and Whip It (2009), I was desperately looking forward to seeing what she could do in a meatier role, and Wiig impressed not just with her trademark comic delivery, but also the depth and pathos she brought to her role.

The film’s focus on a long-term female friendship - a womance, if you will - and on Annie's life disintegrating (due, in no small part, the film makes clear, to the economic circumstances brought about by a recession) is dealt with in good humour, and succeeds in being touching without being heavy-handed or overplayed. We are so used to seeing the best man/best buddy character wrangling over the loss of his friend into the deep dark pit of matrimony in Hollywood comedy films, and here, in a timely intervention, it is done with women. Fortunately, thanks to great performances and snappy writing, this manages to feel affecting yet unpatronising, and Bridesmaids’ emotional slant on the issue does nothing to dampen the humour and vigour.

Similarly refreshing is the casting: it is great to see a variety of female roles on offer, particularly in relation to age and size. It shouldn’t need applauding to allow a 37-year-old woman to play a 37-year-old woman, but it is a sad fact of Hollywood’s female representations that it very much does. Watching Bridesmaids, one also has the quite refreshing feeling that these actresses were employed for their skill and comedic timing, rather than solely for how they look. Chris O’Dowd and Jon Hamm both excel in their roles as Annie’s potential partners, and the question of the right/wrong partner will be explored further in the Alternate Take.

Bridesmaids is also, of course, not unproblematic. Feminists could critique the nature of Annie's failed business (she makes cupcakes), the representation of her mother, and the fact that a future with a man is used to signify a turnaround in her fortunes. However, the space that the film gives for explorations of female-female relationships is important. This happens not just in terms of peer relationships, but also via Annie's relationship with her mother (a lonely divorcee and in some ways a ghost of second-wave feminism). The more I reflect upon this film, the more struck I am by how unusual this nuanced, meaningful and witty treatment of female homosociality is. Female friendship is often dealt with in a manner that is either sappy (Steel Magnolias [1989], Waiting to Exhale [1995]) or superficial (Sex and the City), but Bridesmaids somehow manages to negotiate both these possibilities to produce a genuinely funny and poignant film. Again, this synthesis is something that is seriously (and probably intentionally) underplayed by the marketing material for the movie.

The women in Bridesmaids are allowed to do all sorts of things that women in popular film are not often allowed to do: be funny, intelligent, look ugly, love each other. It was a movie that had me leaving the cinema feeling lucky and proud to be a woman, rather than - as is the case with many films in this genre - slightly ashamed, or having enjoyed the film but found it troubling. Recommended for bridesmaids and bachelors alike.

This review was published on July 01, 2011.

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