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What Does "Bridesmaids" Mean for Women - If Anything?

By Christopher Campbell | Spout May 16, 2011 at 7:08AM

Is "Bridesmaids" really a game changer for women, on both sides of the film screen? And is 2011 the year we fight more about depictions of females in film than anything else? The debate over "Sucker Punch" was interesting enough, especially once "Hanna" came in as its supposed answer -- as was to me the odd feminism of "Hall Pass" -- but now we have a comedy that should be more clearly respectful to and of women, and people are still arguing against its significance to gender politics. Because it shouldn't matter. Because angles like Rebecca Traister's claim at Salon last week that seeing the movie is a "social responsibility" for women. Yesterday I saw inklings of a heated discussion on Twitter, but alas that is not the place for great debate. Apparently the proper venue is podcasts, which I guess makes sense, but I've never been one for listening to them. Attempts to comb the blogosphere this morning for interesting contributions to the conversation were met with disappointment. "Tree of Life" is generating too much attention with its own divided responses, apparently.
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Is "Bridesmaids" really a game changer for women, on both sides of the film screen? And is 2011 the year we fight more about depictions of females in film than anything else? The debate over "Sucker Punch" was interesting enough, especially once "Hanna" came in as its supposed answer -- as was to me the odd feminism of "Hall Pass" -- but now we have a comedy that should be more clearly respectful to and of women, and people are still arguing against its significance to gender politics. Because it shouldn't matter. Because angles like Rebecca Traister's claim at Salon last week that seeing the movie is a "social responsibility" for women. Yesterday I saw inklings of a heated discussion on Twitter, but alas that is not the place for great debate. Apparently the proper venue is podcasts, which I guess makes sense, but I've never been one for listening to them. Attempts to comb the blogosphere this morning for interesting contributions to the conversation were met with disappointment. "Tree of Life" is generating too much attention with its own divided responses, apparently.

The majority of moviegoers this past weekend also were still interested in the more masculine and patriarchally informed entertainment of "Thor," which does have one kick-ass male-fantasy sort of "Sucker Punch"-esque heroine yet also involves a mythological queen with little to do and a female lead who is more beefcake-gazing love interest than strong, smart role-model-role (Natalie Portman's doctor in "No Strings Attached" is a more respectable character). I'm even somewhat more curious about the link between "Bridesmaids" and "Thor": William Shakespeare. Actually, "Bridesmaids," which reminds us that traditionally comedy ends with a wedding, might have more to do with the Bard than the Kenneth Branagh-directed comic book movie, which sadly lacks the proper slaughter of a Shakespearean tragedy. "Bridesmaids," by the way, opened slightly below what the true Shakespearean movie of the year, "Gnomeo and Juliet," did.

A good consensus of people responding to the "Bridesmaids" success is that it's simply a funny and well-written comedy, not specific to its being written by women or primarily starring them. Many over the weekend were observing auditoriums filled with female moviegoers, and as Melissa Silverstein points out the imbalance was a fact. Even while I noticed a more even-gendered crowd at the show I attended on Friday, I definitely felt a greater female presence as far as vocal response goes (was my sense of louder female laughter and such simply to do with women being more audible than men in their emoting?). But is the larger percentage of women viewers really more favoring of a movie like this or of a movie like "Sex and the City" and regular "chick-flick" type rom-coms? I actually doubt it.

As for the other side of the screen, should we not recognize that, in addition to "Bridesmaids"' Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, women screenwriters are, for better or worse, already having a decent year with Leslie Dixon's "Limitless," Elizabeth Meriwether's "No Strings Attached," Moira Buffini's "Jane Eyre," adapted from Charlotte Bronte's novel, Katie Wech's "Prom," Jennie Snyder's "Something Borrowed" (another wedding movie), which is adapted from Emily Giffin's novel, and Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs' "Jumping the Broom" (yet another wedding movie), all in the top 50 highest-grossing films (domestic) of the year. Of course, none of them, not even "Bridesmaids" is directed by a woman. Box office-wise, the greatest success (and only, looking at just the top 50) of a female director is Catherine Hardwicke's "Red Riding Hood," hardly a great film but a "non-sexist" one that Dan Walber noted here for its "empowered and emotionally self-sufficient" female lead.

"Bridesmaids" may not even have the best opening for a comedy with a female protagonist or primarily female ensemble. Even if we dismiss the Madea character, which is the main draw to a Tyler Perry release, "Madea's Big Happy Family" takes that cake. Still, as far as its non-franchise originality goes, "Bridesmaids" is commendable for how well it did, especially without a proven actress like Jennifer Aniston (who opened bigger this year with "Just Go For It") to bring the crowds. However, I'm thinking the word of mouth that it's a good, funny movie are more to its favor than any claims that it's a good, funny movie for and by women.

Mostly discussions like this are only of significance to us movie writers who appreciate an angle. Obviously the headline "What Does "Bridesmaids" Mean for Comedies in General?" wouldn't be as grabbing. But I'd love to hear if any regular folk moviegoers have thoughts on the feminist purpose of the film. For now, here's a look at what other movie writers are saying (updated as/if necessary):

Melissa Silverstein at Women and Hollywood:

Bottom line - Women did the work. They made a movie for us and we came. Now they just have to keep making them and not just once every three or four years.

Craig Kennedy at Living in Cinema:

It will hopefully prove to Hollywood that if they make good and funny comedies by and about women, they can be a success. The time is now to tear down the ghetto of shitty romantic comedies. Are you with me?

Mack Rawden at Cinema Blend:

Now it’s up to a generation of female writers and actresses to keep being funny.

It’s as simple as that really. Women, perhaps rightly so, have bitched and bemoaned for years about the lack of female opportunities in a male-dominated movie industry, but if there’s one thing Hollywood likes more than the boy’s club, it’s making money. Bridesmaids has proven ladies can make people laugh, turning a profit in the process, but one successful chick comedy only opens the door for more. It doesn’t prove the genre itself is viable over the long haul. Women need three or four more big successes. They need to be funny again, and they need to do it within the next few years

Jenni Miller at Movies.com:

Unfortunately, we're still at that nascent stage where Bridesmaids is qualified as a female comedy. I got into a friendly discussion about this on Twitter yesterday. I Tweeted, "If there were more movies like Bridesmaids, it would be enjoyed simply as a really funny, great movie. But since there aren't, and there won't be unless audiences prove they make money, a lot of women like myself feel the need to rally. Hopefully soon, movies like Bridesmaids won't be a rarity." (Text cleaned up for clarity and grammar.)

Maybe someday we won't have to use those descriptors. That would be a nice world to live in. It's not the same world that financiers and studios and marketing teams live in, though. The elevator pitch might always require something about the target audience. But will that descriptor now include smarter, better comedies simply because of Bridesmaids? And a more important question is whether or not Bridesmaids really deserves such scrutiny, such pressure to be more than what it is? And isn't it somehow undercutting the talent of everyone involved to assure viewers that women can be funny, as if there haven't been generations of hilarious women before us?

Genevieve Koski at A.V. Club:

It’s annoying that I apparently can’t enjoy it outside of a bigger social picture simply because it’s a “female” comedy and also happens to be good. Bridesmaids the movie is getting overshadowed by the increasingly obnoxious “Bridesmaids discussion." [...] We don’t need to apply this overblown—and, frankly, patronizing—idea of “social responsibility” to Bridesmaids. It’s a funny and audience-pleasing movie that generated enough word-of-mouth to succeed without some manufactured bigger-picture ideal elevating it into something its creators never intended it to be: A recent New York Times piece suggests Kristen Wiig is uncomfortable with the notion that her movie is any more “groundbreaking” than Baby Mama or Romy And Michelle’s High School Reunion.

Not everything pertaining to female-fronted entertainment has to be A Statement, and trying to turn featherweight notions like comedy and pop music into grand concepts can come off silly at best and obnoxious at worst.

Amos Barshad at Vulture:

In its opening weekend, Bridesmaids made enough money to ensure that Hollywood will provide us with at least one more movie in which a pretty lady does something gross. (Also: Some of its principals are already finding more work.) So was it the revolutionary game-changer — a.k.a., the "first black president of female-driven comedies" — you were looking for? Did it, beyond a reasonable doubt, establish Kristen Wiig as the movie star for our times? Or do you have no idea, because you actually just went to see Fast Five again?

Maryann Johanson at flick filosopher:

Now, I do want movies about women that are not are vapid romcoms or about shopping, but I don’t see Bridesmaids as a step in a positive direction. Because although it does feature some not-vapid-romcom and not-shopping stuff, none of that stuff is why the film is getting a big Hollywood push -- it’s getting that because of the grossout stuff, and it’s getting all the attention it’s getting because of the grossout stuff. Take away the grossout and the comedy-of-humiliation stuff that has been the absolute backbone of the big-budget Hollywood comedy for the past decade, and Bridesmaids is an indie produced for $5 million and never plays beyond New York and Los Angeles. I don’t want to see more movies like Bridesmaids, not about women or men, and I can guarantee you that buying a ticket for Bridesmaids will be interpreted by Hollywood as “women want to see grossout comedies,” and not “women want to see more movies that aren’t vapid romcoms or about shopping.” If Bridesmaids is a roaring success, we will start to see vapid romcoms with some grossout thrown in. We will see Sex and the City-type movies with vomit.

Chris Wisniewski and Farihah Zaman at Reverse Shot:

There’s already been plenty of ink spilled over the more scatalogical aspects of Bridesmaids, which Wiig co-wrote with Annie Mumolo. In its most hilarious laugh-out-loud scenes—it has at least two or three raucous extended sequences—the film out-grosses most man-centric gross-out comedies. What’s most surprising about Bridesmaids, though, is that it’s a real movie. Neither a you-go-girlfriend exercise in female empowerment nor a Hangover for ladies [...] And with her film’s better-than-expected opening weekend numbers, Wiig might have helped save Hollywood movies for people who aren’t 14-year-old boys.

Richard Lawson at Gawker:

Wowww! Ladies who weren't on their monthly pains, and therefore housebound, all across the nation received rides from a male relative and purchased tickets with their allowance money to go see this film, their first (and last) husband-free outing of the year! Certain societie-types are saying this represents a whole new trend for women, who increasingly have purchasing power and may soon seek the right to wear trousers. While there are rumors from the cities that some women are taking employment at various secretarial posts and clothier's offices, one shouldn't get too ahead of oneself with this whole "women's movement." Blessedly the only movement the vast majority of good Christian women are still making is from the kitchen to the bedroom and back again the next morning.

Dustin Rowles at Pajiba:

So now that a female comedy has made $25 million, the media is determined to spend the next week over-analyzing it, placing it in its proper context, and giving historical weight to it, probably while metaphorically patting women on the head. Here’s an idea. Let’s not. Let’s just enjoy it for what it is and next year, around this time, we can all look forward to the studio pitches along the lines of, “It’s like Bridesmaids for men!”

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