Writer and teacher in Seattle at work on
her second novel.
Laurie Frankel’s first novel, The Atlas of
Love, came out in August 2010.
The summer Bridesmaids came out, Salon ran two articles on it with these headlines: “Bridesmaids: A Triumph for Vomit, and Feminism” and “Seeing Bridesmaids is a Social Responsibility,” the former of which begins with the line, “Meet Bridesmaids, your first black president of female-driven comedies” and ends with the line, “Three cheers for equality.” The New York Times calls its humor “liberating” under the headline, “Deflating That Big, Puffy White Gown.” The LA Times calls it the “rarest of treats: an R-rated romantic comedy from the Venus point of view,” and goes on to introduce “an ensemble of witty twisted sisters who come in all shapes and sizes (both the wit and the sisters, the unrelated kind, just ‘doin' it for themselves’).” Entertainment Weekly writes, “Bridesmaids has a fully rounded, textured, and original script, even if it does offer a funky-lady spin on a number of Apatow tropes” (italics mine).
Every review out there, every one, remarks on this movie as a female-centric film. That deserves some exploration to begin with. It is directed by a man. It is produced by a man. So what all these reviews are noting is that the film is written by women and starring women. The latter, of course, is not unusual -- most movies feature women, even in leading roles. What they’re noting as unusual here is that the women are funny. And what the marketers and promoters of this movie contend is that the very fact of this film -- women being gross and lowbrow and funny and for sale -- is a triumph for women and that seeing it is a feminist act.
It seems important, then, to look at the film critically from a feminist perspective, and I have some complaints. Many of them are, in fact, the usual complaints. Here we learn:
1) Single women are losers. Annie’s life is a disaster. The sex she has with the hottest man in pop culture right now (John Hamm) degrades her because it holds no promise of a relationship (consider how much of a loser we’d label a hapless male lead for having commitment-less sex with the hottest woman going). She has weird, unsuitable roommates and then lives with her mom. Her business fails and closes and then she even loses her mindless backup job. She has no money; her car doesn’t work; she can’t afford to be a real friend (love, of course, being nowhere near enough). But much, much worse than any of that is this central tragedy, presented as such: her best friend gets engaged. Plus, to top it all off, despite the fact that she is reed thin, she makes several comments over the course of the film as to her jealousy that her rival is so much skinnier than she is (she isn’t, best I could tell). Speaking of which, we also learn that...
2) Fat women aren’t really women.
Here we have four Hollywood-thin bridesmaids who each embody a female caricature (single loser, rich wife, naive newlywed, and mom) and one large woman presented so butch that she’s barely female at all. In fact, that she’s heterosexual, worthy of love, and can attract a man is one of the film’s final punchlines. Speaking of attracting a man, we learn that...
3) Weddings = happy ending. Even when they’re disastrous. Even when the love story is so underdeveloped that the groom appears on screen for about a minute. Even when their ruin has been the topic of the previous two hours. This truth extends to show us that unloved, uncoupled heroine = loser whereas equally poor, equally unemployed, equally socially inept heroine at the end but with the promise of a boyfriend also = happy ending. Which brings us to my final usual complaint...
4) Women can’t really be friends for women are too shallow, catty, selfish, self-involved, petty, and jealous.
Is Annie happy for her lifelong friend Lillian when she gets engaged? No, not even for a moment. Can she swallow her annoyance with Lillian’s new friends or her own feelings of inadequacy and jealousy or put aside the challenges in her own life for just a little while while her best friend gets married? She cannot. She’s supposed to be endearing, suffering from slightly exaggerated, comic versions of the flaws we all share. Instead, she’s selfish, self-absorbed, and a really shitty friend. This is especially alarming because usually the friendships are the heart of Judd Apatow movies. The media has labeled them “bro-mances,” and that slightly ridiculous monicker seems in fact appropriate to me because what’s enjoyable about those movies is the pleasure of watching these friendships -- the pack of endearing guys who are crass and gross and just want to get laid but nonetheless have one another’s backs and, though they rarely admit it, really care about each another. They’re the reason why these movies work. The friendships are the sweet parts holding together the grossness and crassness and over-the-top slapstick humor. Bridesmaids has grossness, crassness, and over-the-top slapstick humor but, lacking these friendships, nothing to hold it together. This is a movie about friendship and a wedding which is almost entirely lacking in love. Worse, it reinforces stereotypes that women can’t support each other when weddings, money, men, or other skinny women are involved.
That’s not feminism folks. It’s the opposite.
Meanwhile, here’s complaint #5, the unusual one. This movie is earning praise for women being just as raunchy, gross, and scatological as men. Think only men can make money making movies where they shit and vomit on screen? Think it’s only funny when guys puke on one another’s heads or have diarrhea in a sink? Wrong. Great dawning day for women! Now they too can poop and puke on the big screen. So what we learn is in fact not that women are funny too or that women can be as funny as men but rather, again, the opposite -- that women can only be funny by being as much like men as possible, that women’s humor does not earn them a place on the big screen, that only men’s humor is worthy of that spot. Women are earning condescending praise here -- for not being squeamish, prudish, I-won’t-see-that-kind-of-movie nags. Does that sound like the voices of talented, powerful, groundbreaking artists finally being heard? No, it sounds like farting in a wedding gown.