Bridesmaids: The funniest mixed-race buddy film ever
Labels are the problem. Male or female, black or white, comedy or drama, PG-13 or R? In which section of the DVD store will this film end up? How do we market it? To whom should the product placement and the trailers before the film be skewed?
It is for these reasons that a gem like Bridesmaids receives qualified approval like “the funniest R-rated female driven comedy of all time”. There’s a glaring missed opportunity, given the ethnicity of one of the film’s leads – surely an enterprising reviewer will dub it “the funniest mixed-race buddy film R-rated female-driven romantic comedy of all time”. Perhaps with an exclamation mark or two for good measure.
Bridesmaids stars Kristen Wiig, who co-wrote the film with Annie Mumolo, and a host of other Saturday Night Live alumni. At the time of writing, it has made almost US$125 million in the US alone and is one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year.
But to look the much-deserved praise in the mouth, it is quite depressing that a mostly female cast gets commented upon in hushed tones, or enthusiastic ones, or at all. It’s a sign the male-oriented comedy has become so normalised that any departures from formula are hailed and viewed with the sort of awed curiosity reserved for the rare and unusual.
Even the respected critic Roger Ebert saw fit to open his review with an anecdote about how not all women are able to tell a dirty joke, when reversing the gender in that statement is surely just as applicable. In many reviews, the surprise is palpable: women don’t want to watch diabetes-inducing claptrap about finding the perfect man! Women can be rude too!
Hey, guess what? Women know. Worryingly, now that everyone else knows too, it is quite plausible that the ingredients of Bridesmaids will be distilled and loudly regurgitated in future films. These will diminish in plot and quality with the same speed as rueful executives trying to explain to their boss why a combination of girls and grossness just didn’t work this time around.
The missing component isn’t immediately obvious in Bridesmaids, which takes its time to get to a point where it passes the Bechdel Test. Its characters often discuss men and romance and the tribulations thereof.
But, often hilariously, they also react to disaster and heartbreak and the dull ache of seeing first dreams, then friendships, wither away. They take steps to recover those things. They stumble, and sometimes they succeed. In other words, they behave like human beings. And, wonder of wonders, that’s what moviegoers – female, male, or undecided – are queuing up to see.
The boldest thing about Bridesmaids is that it doesn’t set out to be a message film. It is not, as it has variously been called, a comedy for girls, a grrl-com, or a feminist manifesto, even if it is broad enough and has enough heart to have all those things ascribed to it.
It is, nevertheless, brilliantly and brazenly defiant to the sort of Hollywood filmmaking that Helen Mirren describes as continuing to “worship at the altar of the 18-to-25 year old male and his penis”. And it does this nimbly, without succumbing to the weight of labels or stereotypes, by being exceptionally good.
Put THAT in your pipe and normalise it.
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