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Friendship, “Sistermance,” and Female Comedy

I’m really excited about Bridesmaids (2011).

The upcoming comedy is the story of Annie (Kristen Wiig), a thirty-something woman, dissatisfied with her life. Her bakery has failed, she’s $40,000 in debt, and lives with a “weirdo” roommate. Suddenly, her best friend is engaged, and she’s faced with the responsibility of being her maid of honour.

Obviously, hijinks ensure. Seems typical, right? Pathetic, love-starved ladies are not exactly an anomaly in contemporary comedy. Yawn. Same old, same old. Moving on. But honestly? This film can be better. I so badly want this film to be better. Because its success could have a ripple effect far greater than just a good weekend box-office haul.

The film’s comedy pedrigree is impressive on its own: it is written by SNL’s Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, produced by Judd Apatow, and directed by Paul Feig, creator of Freaks and Geeks. But nonetheless, I was unsure. The film’s first trailer left a bitter taste in my life.

Why, with such a fabulous cast, and with such talented women at the helm, would the movie rely on such tired stereotypes? Thirty-something women are pathetic! Pretty women are always bitches! Fat women are loud, obnoxious, and disgusting! Amiright?

But last week the film’s second trailer was released, along with an early review by Dustin Rowles (a reviewer who has previously earned my undying respect with his sharp takedown of the marketing of the rape-exploitation film I Spit On Your Grave (2010)).

Rowles praises the film:

Bridesmaids is not a film that could spoil all its comedic value in a two-minute trailer – the jokes are not stand-alone, they are parts of bigger, funnier scenes that often climax in breathless laughter, the sort where you miss half the lines because you can’t hear over your own cackles.

The worries I had with the first trailer, specifically the stereotyping of female characters, seem to be unfounded. As Rowles argues, the film:

doesn’t depict women who belong to exclusively to one of the major female role categories: Crazy bitch, uptight shrew, psycho slut, or overbearing control freak. These women fit all four categories and manage to remain likeable, even lovable.

Melissa McCarthy, whose character is presented in the trailer as a one-note fat joke, transcends these cheap stereotypes:

She’s not reduced to a litany of farts and burps. She’s outstanding, somehow managing to rise high enough to float above an already uproarious film.

The second trailer seems to offer a better illustration of these nuances.

McCarthy’s character is shown at her place of work, and I would by lying if I said it wasn’t slightly thrilling for me to see a woman working as a stockbroker instead of at some ambiguous, fabulous “media” job. The women also have more opportunity to interact with each other, specifically Wiig and Rudolph. Their relationship is the heart of the story, and herein lies the film’s most outrageous element when compared to other big-budget comedies.

Positioning female friendships as the main motivation of the film may not seem shocking, but it is rare. I can’t remember the last time when romance and gossip and men played second-fiddle to developing and nurturing female friendships. To say I’m tired of seeing women’s interpersonal relationships constantly marred by jealousy, mistrust, and petty arguments is an understatement. I’m really fucking tired of it. Are some women like this? Sure. I’ve had friendships like this. But guess what? Their importance in my life has been far overshadowed by the loving, mutually respectful, and supportive female relationships I’ve been lucky enough to develop. The film is written by two best friends: Wiig has said, “I wrote it with one of my best friends in the world who’s my writing partner, Annie Mumolo, who’s amazingly funny and so f*cking talented.” This is a fact I hope will lend it a sense of honesty.

To quote the magnificent Audre Lorde:

The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling. [“¦] Of course, women so empowered are dangerous. So we are taught to separate the erotic from most vital areas of our lives other than sex”¦

I realize tying Lorde into a discussion of a Judd Apatow comedy is stretching. Like, really stretching. As Rowles says, Bridesmaids is:

“¦ a filthy fucking comedy that combines the better elements of bromance and old-school Farrelly Brothers with honest-to-goodness heart. For everyone who liked The Hangover but thought it was missing something, Bridesmaids demonstrates exactly what its predecessor lacked: Awesome, hilarious women who can hilariously talk about their feelings in one scene and shit in a sink in the next.

Not exactly a film which inherently draws to mind the activist and poet, Lorde. But I can’t help but find a link in my own mind.

A film showcasing a range of women coming to terms with their unique personalities, and learning to find nurturing friendships in these differences? Plus cheap bathroom humour? Count me in. I hope many others are in the same boat, because damn if it won’t hurt if an all too rare example of female-driven comedy fails at the box-office.

Rowles is optimistic of its chances:

Its inevitable success (and it really is inevitable) could very well start a trend in Hollywood away from casting women just because they’re pretty and are capable of reading a few lines and laughing at the guy’s jokes. This could be a statement film: Women don’t have to be only the romantic half of the rom-com equation – they can supply the humour, as well. And if Bridesmaids is any indication, they have the numbers to do it better.

I hope Bridesmaids lives up to my expectations, not only for my personal enjoyment of the film but also for its wider implications: to show that good comedy need not be a misogynist bro-fest that caters to the lowest common denominator, and to show that women can write and carry a successful big-budget film.

Editor’s note: Filmschooled shares content from her blog with Persephone Magazine, where she appears every Tuesday night at 9:00 PM, EST. We totally want to go see Bridesmaids with her.
Thumbnail image credit from Flickr Creative Commons, Tacky Bridesmaid Dresses

9 replies on “Friendship, “Sistermance,” and Female Comedy”

My sister and I have already agreed to go see this when it comes out. Even though at first brush Melissa McCarthy’s role looks stereotypical and awful, I’m so excited to see her in an ‘ugly’ role after so many years of Sookie and now Molly on her new TV show. My one prayer is that she’s not made over by the end of the flick, a la the Breakfast Club- I was forever disappointed by that.

I can’t wait to see this movie. As one of the last single girls amongst my girlfriends (when did they all decide to get married by 27? Was it a pact I missed out on because I was out at a club with my gay boyfriend?), I can identify with Wiig’s character a LOT. I get asked those awkward questions all the time… oh, and the pitying looks… ugh. I am happy for each and every one of my friends, but let me be happily single without the LOOKS.

Rant over. This movie looks funny. I am hopeful for the future of funny ladies.

I’m really looking forward to this movie, not only because it looks super funny, but also becuase I hope it will start a trend of smart, funny “chick” movies. If I have to see another “27 Dresses” or “Bride Wars,” I might cut a bitch (pardon my language). Let’s be honest, women can be as horny, gross, and hilarious as our male counterparts. It’s about time movies can reflect that. The last movie I can think of that showed that was “The Sweetest Thing,” and I loved that movie.

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