Why Bridesmaids Just Ain't Funny

by Lisa Rosman
June 20, 2011 8:18 AM
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Question: How many feminist girls does it take to light a lightbulb?
Answer: It’s women—and that’s not funny.

You get the picture. Feminists aren’t funny. Feminist cultural criticism is even less funny. So God knows that to complain about Bridesmaids, which opened last month to a round of fanfare, isn’t funny. The movie has made more than $100 million at the box office at this point. Many, many women—including many whom I adore and admire—have sung its praises to the high heavens. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that attending this film is a political act: Use your box-office dollars to compel Hollywood to continue to put more funny women front and center. And all that jazz. So this New Deal Sally has tried to keep mum.

Except that Bridesmaids is a disaster on the women tip. Or, to be more specific: feminist tip.

I know, I know. That’s not funny.

But for long stretches, Bridesmaids isn’t either, despite all the bruja-ha it’s been reaping. In fact, in addition to being the least funny comedy over which producer Judd Apatow ever waved his Magic Wand (vibrator joke intended, always), it’s actually kind of offensive. At the very least, it’s wrongheaded.

To be clear: Many, many times in my life I’ve refrained from calling foul on pop culture transgressions. But it’s one thing to grind while Kanye hollers “We want prenup!” and it’s another thing to pretend these standard poop-n-puke frat-gags pasted over a Cathy Comic plot is anything but a not-so-hot mess—let alone a triumph in any way for women.

The shtick: Eminently likeable Kristen Wiig stars as Annie, a thirtysomething Milwaukee denizen whose life is the craphouse. Since her bakery went under and her boyfriend left her, she’s been reduced to working at a jewelry store (insert engagement ring jokes here) and to living with her mother (Jill Clayburgh’s last role, tragically). To make matters worse, she’s sleeping with the world’s most toxic bachelor (Jon Hamm, who seems to relish sending up his own good looks more than any other living handsome man), and her BFF Lillian (fellow SNL veteran Maya Rudolph) is getting married—to a wealthy nebbish! Naturally, Annie finds herself roped into co-bridesmaiding with a random gaggle of ladies including a virgin type (Ellie Kemper, best known as The Office’s Erin), a wannabe-MILF (Wendi McLendon-Covey), a bulldoggish fat lady (Melissa McCarthy), and a pathologically passive-aggressive trophy wife Helen (Rose Byrne), who does her best to undermine Annie in order to become Lillian’s new BBF (Best Bridesmaid Forevs). Insert other acronyms (and parentheses) here.

The film starts on its highest note, as the 10 minutes of screen time preceding Lillian’s engagement and Annie’s devolution into live-action Cathy are marvelous testaments to the casual, kind honesty that distinguishes earned adult female friendship. And, as they’re both old hands at oddball, wonderfully manic improv, Rudolph and Wiig riff off each other brilliantly when given a chance to really do so. Best is when they attempt to participate in an outdoor bootcamp class without having to shell out a fee.

But once Annie becomes bridesmaidzilla, the movie devolves into a bad-tasting waffle: Annie channels a hysterical banshee at various wedding-related events and is defeated by the thinly drawn Helen in the Best Friend Olympics. Aka the single girl is humiliated—and humiliates herself—once again. Quel radical.

The problem is that, despite Wiig’s screenwriting credit, this is basically a Judd Apatow flick (he’s a producer; his pal Paul Feig, director), which means it boasts his odd pacing and even odder, socially conservative values.

I actually love Apatow as a writer/director—I’ve yet to tire of The 40-Year-Old Virgin no matter how many times I watch half of it on nonpremium cable—but his boys-will-be-boys ethos and aesthetic doesn’t exactly lend itself well to what’s being hailed as the breakout female comedy of the, uh, millennium. At the end of the day, all his films are about how guys most highly prize their dude time but aren’t really men unless they settle down with a hot grown-up lady who’s funny, though not, G-d forbid, as funny as they are. With Bridesmaids, he ensures that vision of the cosmos, however unintentionally, since these chicks are not as funny. Honey.

I’ve heard tell that the original cut of this film ran at least an hour longer than its 124 minutes, and it seems likely that the outtakes far outstrip what seems patched together to presumably please reluctant male attendees. To be fair, a haphazard wobbliness has always distinguished Apatow films, has even granted them a 70s-throwback appeal that offers welcome relief from the too-slick Action Jacksons that typically hurl down the Hollywood pipeline. But here, though plotpoints may be randomly dropped, potentially strong characters may go nowhere, and seemingly inconsequential scenes may drag on forever, them girls are most resolutely put in their place. Methinks I smell too many suits in the kitchen.

Indeed, some of what’s been omitted in Bridesmaids adds up to a real loss. Such as any real ensemble scenes featuring these amazingly gifted women that do not include convulsive diarrhea or binge drinking. Or a legitimate explanation for why Lillian, who seems like a salt-of-the-earth girl’s girl in the very best sense of that term, would lack any other real female friends besides Annie—not to mention why she would abandon her lifelong best friend to be bought off by a Nutra-sweet type like Helen. Though occasional scenes are funny (especially one where Annie labors mightily to snare the cop’s attention in a truly inspired montage), mostly I found myself gritting my teeth. Female competition is an old saw, and though I’d never pretend it doesn’t exist, it only works as a cinematic device when its retrograde nature is acknowledged. Since such self-awareness is in zero evidence here, the result packs about as much of a punch as an episode of The Hills.

For though the normally on-point Melissa McCarthy has defended her role in this film, I find it hateful and, yes, antifeminist. She’s the badly dressed, (mostly) delusional, greedy-Gus fat girl whose desire is trotted out solely as a source of humor. She takes all the wedding party favors (live puppies, an admittedly excellent touch) and assumes she’s good friends with Annie though, apparently, the two have only hung out a few times. (That Annie doesn’t protest this fact seems more a product of the film’s slipshod editing than anything else.) And though she may correctly identify a nebbish on the plane as an undercover US Marshall, their subsequent sex scene –in which she pauses to eat enormous amounts of food between throwing him down—is worse than any of the have-their-cake-and-eat-it-too bullshit that you’d expect from the Farrelly Brothers. Or take the dynamic between good-girl bridesmaid Kemper and the wannabe MILF who makes out with her in the perfunctory girl-on-girl scene: a subplot that clocks in at roughly two minutes. And, really, the whole “girl fight” theme that provides the backbone of the storyline is a disaster. It’s not just that all these elements are regressive; it’s that female bodies, and specifically female desire, are consistently objectified as fodder for amusement and very mild titillation, and the “subject” doing the objectifying is the same-old, same-old--Juddy’s boys, in other words--while we women somehow cheer it on.

Um, that emperor is not wearing any clothes. The brother is naked.

There’s more, of course, such as the film’s mostly unexamined associations between marriage and finances, between men as financial objects and women as sexual objects: Ya gotta get hitched to shed your solvency issues, sisters! And: If daddy doesn’t make enough, better marry somebody who does, no matter how otherwise un-noteworthy he may seem.

But the bigger question is why so much has been made of this nothing-to-write-home-about flick. Since it's not awful so much as just More of the Same, why has it been heralded as the best advance for women since the advent of the birth control pill? Even in the last five years, far stronger, well-observed female comedies have come our way via both TV and film.

To wit: I may not love Tina Fey (her mean girl politics reinforce too much of the status quo though she is undeniably, searingly funny) but Baby Mama outstrips Bridesmaids all around, even though I found it mediocre at the time, and 30 Rock's characters Jenna and Liz Lemon are far too clever to dismiss out of hand. The work Amy Poehler has been doing on TV’s Parks and Recreation not only is better-observed and more deeply felt but manages to uphold female friendship as well as common decency while producing hysterical moments week after week. (My man Ron Swanson doesn’t hurt in that department.) I’ve touted Drew Barrymore’s 2009 roller-derby minor masterpiece Whip It in this blog before, but it bears repeating that it’s a female-produced, female-directed, female-written, nearly entirely female ensemble romantic comedy that includes slapstick, clever one-liners, go-get-you-some-girl carnality, and a terrific humanity that endows all of its characters, however minor, with nothing less than three dimensions. I may have spotted a fourth in a few instances.

And, when I was lucky enough to take in a Q & A with Elaine May after a 92nd Y screening of her director’s cut of Ishtar a month ago, her arch commentary reminded me once again that smart-talking dames have been doing it on their own terms since my beloved screwballs of the '30s and '40s. That other Mae, for example, was writing, producing and sashaying through her own musical comedies more than eight decades ago—and no can deny that Dame West boasted a far stronger command of her sexuality than these do-you-think-I’m-pretty? Lily Livers who mostly pepper screens these days.

So what’s the big deal with Bridesmaids? Because it not only keeps the bitches in their place but makes them feel victorious about it. Because it ain’t going to shake anything up even if the women sail to theaters in droves. Because it comes bearing nerdy male Hollywood’s ultimate seal of approval—the Apatouch—and because the attendant big-studio muscle thereby ensured it a big-studio publicity campaign as well as three-gazillion screens across our Glorious Nation. Because, ultimately, exactly what makes this negligible summer comedy so palatable to the greater American public is why it fails short:

It could have used a woman’s touch.

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  • Annette | February 13, 2014 12:25 PMReply

    You are totally wrong in this entire article. First off, I can't stand feminist movies either but this doesn't even fall into that category! Annie is not a feminist and neither are the girls. She is just simply a girl who is angry her best friend is falling under the spell that 99% of brides do and become totally unbearable crazy people. I actually have friends that have acted like this and I know a girl who reminds me a lot of Helen and I have to say it's really annoying. You try to be the supportive friend who is slightly jealous they aren't the one getting married (yes all girls feel that way and can you blame them when some rich, skinny, perfect other girl comes in and tries to steal them away?? It wasn't feminist it was about friendship...either you don't get the point of the movie or you just have never had close girlfriends.

  • Annette | February 13, 2014 12:24 PMReply

    You are totally wrong in this entire article. First off, I can't stand feminist movies either but this doesn't even fall into that category! Annie is not a feminist and neither are the girls. She is just simply a girl who is angry her best friend is falling under the spell that 99% of brides do and become totally unbearable crazy people. I actually have friends that have acted like this and I know a girl who reminds me a lot of Helen and I have to say it's really annoying. You try to be the supportive friend who is slightly jealous they aren't the one getting married (yes all girls feel that way and can you blame them when some rich, skinny, perfect other girl comes in and tries to steal them away?? It wasn't feminist it was about friendship...either you don't get the point of the movie or you just have never had close girlfriends.

  • tania | July 18, 2013 3:47 AMReply

    I think theres no humor in the movie, I actually felt uncomfortable and wanted to stop watching it. The story wasn´t that good and the humor was just "gross". With all that material, could have been better, I just got to see vomit, bad faces, people yelling a lot and stupid unnecessary scenes like getting drunk in the plane...wtf D: the woman was a killjoy, idk idk I just didnt enjoy it.

  • Gal227 | January 1, 2013 1:07 AMReply

    Bridesmaids was a great movie, name a funnier all female cast, i dont really get the point of the ramble above. Relax watch the movie dont over analyze, there are plenty of jokes and scenes that cater to all types of humor. There simply arnt better comedians at the moment who can do a better job than the power duo of maya rudolph and kristen wiig! I think it can be a bit raunchy and twisted but also different. Its not the typical romantic/comedic wedding movie and i think thats what makes it great, and honestly im glad something different came out for once!!

  • Sookie | September 12, 2012 3:44 PMReply

    LOL!!!! I couldn't agree more. I thought it was crass!!! Verging on redonkolos!! It was pathetic, unfunny and a waste of two hours of my time!! Each to their own though. I just hate how the numpties all promise that it's the funniest film ever!! Get a life, it was dire.

  • Colleen | September 12, 2012 3:38 PMReply

    Bridesmaids was utter, utter bollocks!!!!!!

  • Doc | September 12, 2012 2:55 PMReply

    Brilliant blog!! So true. I thought it was just boy's toilet humour, packaged for girls. Emperor's new clothes indeed! I couldn't empathise with any of the women. I found it offensive that anybody would think that this gutter humour is pro-women.

  • Emma | September 12, 2012 2:43 PMReply

    My friend brought it round, said it was "the funniest film she had ever seen." my two female friends and I sat to watch it. We were totally flabbagasted, after all the hype we thought we may actually enjoy the film. Excellent appraisal of the film. We all found it dull and unimaginative. I'm all for women being funny. Unfortunately we thought they were not. Something was drastically out of kilter and it irked us no-end. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. It just appears that pro Bridesmaids people can't hack us more intelligent types not liking it!!! LOL. Just kidding. x For the record several other female and male friends of mine despised it! Also others have loved it! Weird?

  • Bob | July 27, 2012 5:44 AMReply

    Watched this by chance on the movie channel had never heard of it - very funny. I think maybe if your expectations are too high - you might be disappointed, but me and the Mrs havent laughed so much in years.

  • xSwissx | May 26, 2012 2:00 PMReply

    Lol girls have been taking guys's shit in movies forever, and once a joke is cracked about YOU all, you get your nuts in a twist.
    Men can dish it out but they can't take it.

  • um | June 10, 2012 6:18 PM

    You realize a woman wrote this article, yes?

  • alexis88marie | March 14, 2012 6:14 AMReply

    Not that it matters who wrote this completely undeserving piece of crap about One of the funniest films since Stepbrothers, but whoever wrote this Please do movie critics a favor & go blow them all. It should be the highest satisfaction to come from your meaningless life...
    Seek therapy, you're delusional

  • bonni | February 28, 2012 12:40 AMReply

    My husband and I hired this on DVD and I was left just saying, "Wait, did I miss something?" I enjoyed a few of the scenes, but overall, the movie ranged between cringe-worthy and dull, with unlikable characters, unconvincing relationships, and poor editing, and it was way too long. When it was over I really did say, out loud, "Well. We could have been watching Star Trek DVDs." I really did feel like I'd wasted a couple hours on this film, and I honestly don't understand the extensive praise and hype this movie has enjoyed. I don't mind being in a minority, but I'm relieved to see I'm far from the only one who feels this way.

  • cs | December 25, 2011 9:02 PMReply

    Ive was really looking forward to this film. My girlfriend got it for Christmas yesterday and I said lets watch it. I looked at the back and it said 'better than The Hangover'. Thats a very big claim. That claim was rubbish. I can honestly say that this was the most overhyped film I have ever seen, it isn't funny at all and it's so boring. Even my girlfriend agreed so this is not a gender thing. With The Hangover I watch it again and again and laugh. Bridesmaids, I hardly cared what was going on.

  • Beenthere... | November 11, 2011 2:04 AMReply

    After being tireless hounded by friends and family, I watched this today. I was told it was hilarious. ??? Not. Started out with possible giggle or two. It is actually sad in some respects...There were some funny "bits", but aside from those. Not funny at all. Only real funny part was Matt Lucas and our own funny girl together as brother and sister, (which I have often made jokes that they would be perfectly suited!). I'm glad I didn't pay to see it.
    Too busy trying to compete with boys similar flicks. Doesn't work.

  • rls | October 14, 2011 4:50 AMReply

    Okay, I realize I am four months late on this review, but I couldn't agree more. Thought this was kind of funny: I found it when Googling "Melissa McCarthy sex object"

  • ReallyFunny | September 26, 2011 1:52 AMReply

    My girlfriends and I LOVED this movie!!! Very Funny and Entertaining.

  • cough! | September 22, 2011 12:11 PMReply

    Yeah a comedy starring beautiful, intelligent, talented, funny and awesome women fails because it needed a woman's touch???? Seriously you need to quit your day job and join the comdey circuit. Those women ruled the screen with every scene and Thank God there are people in the world who aren't stuck up and can recognize real comedy when they see it.

  • Div2994 | December 25, 2011 7:51 PM

    I know this is a bit late but I only just saw Bridesmaids today... Did you even read the review properly?! Holy crap, the film wasn't funny because it wasn't truly a woman's film; the reviewer was right in saying that because Judd Apatow was involved and thus his own values and views were shoved in amongst a multitude of things that could have made the film great and even hilarious. Yes, the women in it are beautiful, funny, talented, etc. but the film makers did not really give them the opportunity to shine and make the film worth watching; had the film really had a woman's touch then the generic female stereotypes littered throughout would have been challenged and real empathy would have been created (I felt sorry for none of the characters, nearly all of whom I disliked anyway; Annie was an ass, Helen was, well, Helen, Lillian was shallow and spoilt...). I am genuinely surprised that people liked Bridesmaids and thought it was hilarious, because nearly all of the comedy was offensive or crass. I just thought the film fell short of the hype.

  • GossipMom | September 22, 2011 4:16 AMReply

    Like an idiot I purchased the blu ray of the movie and it sucks! Dragged out boring not funny suckness!

  • Carmen | November 16, 2011 11:29 PM

    I've been watching this movie for an hour and I couldn't agree more, it is not funny. I've laughed twice. The lead, Annie, is kinda pathetic and a bit of a ass. I can't believe the raves this movie got.