Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Feminist cinema and "Bridesmaids"

When I first saw the commercial for "Bridesmaids," I shook my head and sighed. Here is Hollywood engaging in another misogynist piece, I said to myself, in order to rein in some profits. The trailer appeared like a horrid rip-off of "The Hangover,"but NOW with women!! Yes, women were supposed to flock to this piece to see their foibles put on screen and laugh along with comedic actresses Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph. This was going to be an unmitigated disaster.

I was, very fortunately, wrong. The film blew away my expectations and even the prognostications of Hollywood. The producers hoped the film would be able to gross over $80 million, but has now blown past $125 million with some stellar holds from weekend to weekend. It was expected to make $17 million its opening weekend and instead made over $26 million--a rather huge disparity in this day of precise measurements regarding box-office receipts.

How did this film become a break-out success and one of the most successful comedies of the year?

Kristen Wiig plays the largest role in the film's accomplishments. She stars as the hapless maid of honor who cannot get anything right for her childhood best friend's wedding, played by Rudolph. Wiig cowrote the screenplay with Annie Mumolo, and the earnest and witty dialogue make the movie shine. Wiig has become a star in the last few years thanks to SNL and now she is a bona fide screen star, something that doesn't normally happen to women older than 35.

Judd Apatow, the mastermind behind "The 40-year-old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," has followed up his earlier successes with this one. Unlike Apatow's earlier work, "Bridesmaids" features female characters who are not mere caricatures and scenery for his more subtle and complicated male characters. In this film only one man has any significant screen time, an impressive rarity in cinema. (However, male only cinema is easy to do, think of "Glengarry Glen Ross"). Here women of a certain age (considered old by most Hollywood standards) are flawed and human, with qualities that still make them touching.

With the able direction of Paul Feig, best known for television work, such as "Freaks and Geeks," the film navigates between the most scatological of humor to a character study of two women negotiating changes in their lives and the concomitant stressors to their seemingly strong relationship. A film about a wedding, especially a comedy, often focuses on the bride and groom and the disasters leading to the day of matrimonial bliss, but in this one the groom is rarely seen, instead we focus on the women. I can think only of "Father of the Bride" (and its remake and sequels) that takes such a different approach to marriages. For the first time, we have a movie about what is widely considered in Western culture as the pinnacle of a woman's life narrated and centered solely on the women involved. Quite a brilliant move.

Along with the broad comedy of Rudolph and Wiig, Rose Byrne adds a touch of subtle drama with her bitchy portrayal of a fellow bridesmaid, who manages to drive a wedge between the aforementioned women. She imbues this character with a desperate need for friendship and competition, making her heinous behavior psychologically palpable.

Hopefully, the success of Wiig, and her fellow SNL alum Tina Fey, will give Hollywood reason to make movies aimed at smart, discerning women, women who are not teenagers obsessed with Edward Cullen. There is enough money within studio budgets to allow this, and apparently there is even demand among consumers for such works. Such a welcome change. phew!

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