Part 1: “Pitch Perfect” available here.
Part 2: “Bachelorette” available here.
Australia Day approaches, and so the Rebel Wilson Pride Special must come to an end. You may be thinking that Bridesmaids is pretty tenuously linked to the Pride Special, given that Rebel appears in the film for all of about five minutes, tops, but did you know that her role was created especially for her after her audition? AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE!
(As an aside, I think I’ve talked myself into having a crush on her over these last few weeks. She’s more than a bit awesome. Moving on.)
Bridesmaids is probably one of the most important female-driven films in recent memory, if not ever. It ‘proved’ that women could be funny (to whom, I wonder? Sexist jerks?) and became the highest-grossing Judd Apatow film, beating more traditional/dude-y comedy fare such as Knocked Up. Beyond its financial success, Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo’s script received critical recognition, even netting an Academy Award nomination.
But what of the message behind the juggernaut? Is the success of Bridesmaids something feminists can be proud of?
Female friendship isn’t perfect…
Continuing the theme of the three-part Pride Special, the film is focused largely on platonic relationships between women. In contrast to Bachelorette (female friendship is evil and destructive!) and Pitch Perfect (female friendship is practically a superpower!) I find that Bridesmaids provides a more nuanced and realistic view of this type of connection.
Maid of Honour Annie (Wiig) and bride-to-be Lillian (Maya Rudolph) have been best friends since school and, on the surface, appear to have the perfect friendship. They understand each other to a crazy degree, as evidenced by their breakfast chatter, their failed bootcamp session and, of course, the “wine and magazine party” exchange.
When Bridesmaids introduces the character of Lillian’s new friend Helen Harris III (Rose Byrne! OI OI OI!) (Q: If you’ve taken a married name, can you even be a “III”?) who poses a threat to Annie and Lil’s relationship, there is a concern that the film will descend into a cartoonish competition for the bride’s affection. Although much of the film’s drama is, in fact, derived from this competition, I found myself impressed at the sheer realism of the tactics used by Annie and Helen to gain the upper hand. Sticking stubbornly to pointless arguments (do people really change? Or do they stay the same? Or are they growing, and changing?), stealing the credit for good ideas, eating salad while others are going the whole hog… all passive aggression that was well familiar to me, even as someone with really loving and fulfilling female friendships.
While the film is careful to show the negatives to female friendship, particularly when used as a competitive sport (Annie screws up every major event leading up to the wedding), it eventually comes to the position that these relationships are helpful and rewarding, albeit complex. After an arse-kicking and an offer of best-friendship from Megan (Melissa McCarthy), Annie gets a dose of self-realisation and motivation. She manages to mend her relationship with Lil on the morning of the wedding by genuinely being there for her and listening to her concerns, and even comes to an understanding with the secretly troubled and lonely Helen. Is is only once she has made peace with the friendship competition can she fall in love with the right person and get her life on track. However, we also know that all of this could have been avoided if Annie had just pretended to be happy for her friend “and then go home and talk behind my back later like a normal person!”, proving that female friendship is not always rewarding and genuine but sometimes, is something that just has to be performed for the sake of propriety.
I can’t be mad at a film that celebrates female friendship without putting it on a pedestal. After all, that shit is complicated.
…but why are fat people so utterly imperfect?
What I can be mad at is the portrayal of fat characters in the film (there are five). Because I was focusing on my new crush Rebel, I couldn’t help noticing that all of the non-Hollywood-thin people were super weird and socially inappropriate. The connection with their size was hard to ignore. The security guard at the jewellery store where Annie works (lazy) and Bill Cozbi (alcoholic) perhaps get away the easiest.
Melissa McCarthy’s Megan is repulsive from the moment we meet her. She does not wear make up, she is inappropriately sexual and she seems to have no verbal filter. She is obviously lacking in self-control, further evidenced by her being unable to stop herself adopting nine puppies (she feels that six probably would have been a more realistic commitment). On the surface, she embodies some of the worst stereotypes about overweight people. The big reveal, of course, is that she is actually really successful at her job and has managed to snag Air Marshall John (adorably played by McCarthy’s real-life husband). However, I’m not convinced that “hey, did you know some people find fatties attractive?” works as a positive representation.
Worse is the brother and sister duo played by Rebel Wilson and Little Britain‘s Matt Lucas. These two have no concept of boundaries, freely reading Annie’s diary and secretly wearing her clothes just because they weren’t told not to. Rebel’s Brynn may actually have mental issues, freely accepting a free tattoo from some dodgy guy in a van. Lucas’s Gil is seemingly more responsible, given he is also Annie’s landlord, but this positive trait is thoroughly countered by the image of the two siblings creepily bathing together. Not only does this make the audience feel disgust by implying an incestuous relationship, it reinforces a physical revulsion to overweight by forcing the audience to look away from their transgressively fat bodies.
Simply put, Bridesmaids seems to have serious problems with fat people, and this is not outweighed (ha!) by the decision to give McCarthy a personality beyond ‘obese’. Props to her for getting an Oscar nom, though.
‘No one can change your life except for you’
That line is from Wilson Phillips’ hit “Hold On”, Bridesmaids’ theme song – in more ways than one (i.e. two. It’s the theme in two ways). Not only does it appear prominently on the soundtrack, but Annie is only able to get her life together once Megan points out that blaming the world helps nothing. The film makes clear that only Annie can take responsibility for Annie’s life. Happily, she comes to accept herself even though she is broke, living at home with no job. That this self-love is an important and necessary development is reinforced by Rhodes’ (Chris O’Dowd) rejected attempt to get her back into baking, and by Ted’s (Jon Hamm) abortive rescue from her broken-down car. I do like a self-rescuing damsel, and I adore the film’s message that an independent woman is still worthy of being loved, and willing to love (yep, feminists can and do maintain romantic relationships!).
Ultimately, Bridesmaids shows us female characters who are talented, flawed, fully-developed, whole people. Given the rarity of such depictions even in arthouse cinema, I think the success of Bridesmaids is something feminists can applaud (even if it did pave the way for Bachelorette, hmm). If you’re not at a BBQ and/or listening to the Hottest 100 countdown this Saturday, you could do worse than watching one of our Rebel’s finest. Have a great (and feminist) Australia Day.
Up next: Bitterness by request: ‘Big Bang Theory’
P.S. I promise I didn’t give Bridesmaids the thumbs up because it finishes with our ladies dancing while Wilson Phillips sing “Hold On”, but it might have helped. Look how much fun everyone is having!