Friday, 16 September 2011

Film Review: Bridesmaids

Judd Apatow's prior films have all had one thing in common, that is their very male-centric perspective. It is something he has often been criticised for, perhaps motivating him to address it in his latest film by casting an all-female lead in the context of his traditional bro-comedy formula. Given Apatow's résumé of Super BadAnchorman and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, one might expect Bridesmaids to induce similar levels of hilarity. The result, unfortunately, is the opposite.

Annie (Wiig) is a thirty-something year old woman recovering from the recent insolvency of her baking business. When best friend Lillian (Rudolph) asks her to be maid of honour at her upcoming wedding she is initially delighted. However she soon finds herself competing against Helen (Byrne), a prissy queen bee who seeks to usurp her as Lillian's BFF. Annie's attempts to plan the wedding consequently spiral out of control as she engages Helen in a battle to be Lillian's bestest pal.

Here's the difference between your standard Apatow-esque bromance and Bridesmaids. The straight-up dude comedy is what it is; brusque, surly, without scarcely a redeeming quality, but ultimately throwaway. Bridesmaids attempts this while adding another dimension to proceedings, one often found in romantic comedies. That is to say amongst the gross-outs and boorish behaviour found in the bromances of Apatow, Bridesmaids adds the nuanced, introspective devices seen in romantic comedies. These are the hooks which allow the female audience to self-identify with characters in the film. This is all well and good, but herein lies the crux of the problem. When you decide to "cross the streams" of the cantankerous tripe in your churlish dude comedy with all this reflective, character identification stuff you get "total protonic reversal". You cannot have a whimsical characters and interpersonal exposition while a fat woman shits in a sink. And that's not an analogy.

The most disappointing thing about Bridesmaids though is that it does nothing to invalidate sexist idioms such as 'women aren't funny'. If anything it actually does more to reinforce that notion. Sure, the movie industry has been crying out for women to take the leading roles in this genre, and maybe it's because this is the first that it has received such critical acclaim. However, just because it is the first that does not excuse what is a genuinely unfunny film. By all means Bridesmaids should in one sense be commended for trying to break the mould, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it fails as a comedy. For one thing women just don't seem able to pull off vulgarity as effectively as men. Such coarseness doesn't seem to sit with them. To descend to the stupidity and childish antics of men is more disquieting and cringeworthy than it is liberating. While this may well have been the intended effect, you would expect the LOLs to follow. They don't. The impression that is left seems that the decision to make women act 'like men' was taken either to attract more males to the audience, or purely to preach to the choir of the 'anything men can do, we can do better' branch of feminism. There's a reason why women have often been referred to as 'the fairer sex', and I'll admit this now girls; it's because you're better than us men-folk.

Perhaps it's most disappointing that Kristen Wiig's first lead is in such a shit film. It doesn't help that she, like her co-stars, are also trying ever-so-hard to charm their audience. Equally disappointing is just how underused some characters are. Cynical Rita (McLendon-Covey) and jejune Becca (Kemper) display sparks early of comedic potential but this is never capitalised on. Instead the fat Zach Galifianakis copy, Megan (McCarthy), hogs the limelight. Supposedly there to inject absurdity and raucous humour into proceedings, the character is probably the most irritating thing about the whole film. She's certainly big, but definitely not clever. Bridesmaids even manages to screw up the most simplistic jocular devices. For example, one running joke is how at an engagement party everyone has a spouse except for Annie. Guests then ask her "Oh, so you're not married then?" in a sheepish, embarrassed-for-her manner. It's a common comedic tool used to horrible effect. So what if she's not married? Why is creating a false aura of shame and awkwardness around a nothing fact supposed to be funny?! It's a contrived attempt at a joke which ultimately misfires.

Supposedly The Hangover for girls, Bridesmaids is perhaps the most overhyped and overrated film this year. It is in this hyperbolic hysteria and this expectant tag surrounding the film where a lot of the problem lies. Bridesmaids essentially branded itself as the women's Hangover which consequently set itself up as the litmus test for women's viability as comedic actors in Hollywood. But Bridesmaids makes for more uncomfortable viewing than it does humorous, reinforcing stereotypes while simultaneously damaging women's appeal as comedians. And yet, regardless of any critical standard women will flock to this as if rallying around some sort of liberating banner. What's worse is that if box office takings are anything to go by we can expect more films in the future of the same mould as Bridesmaids. In short, it's difficult to understand its wide critical acclaim. Maybe I'm missing something here. Maybe I've lost my funny bone. Or maybe men really are from Mars and women from Venus.