Dir. Paul Feig
By Callum Hughes
“Women aren’t funny” is one of the most common misogynist comments thrown about by apparently thinking people these days. These comments seem to be based in as much evidence as noticing that the members of both Monty Python and the Two Ronnies were exclusively male. Not to put those old establishments down, but they’re hardly the be all and end all of hilarity. When great comedy is written about women are almost always ignored; in the UK alone Linda Smith, Victoria Wood and Josie Long, to name but a few, are some of the great comedians who have been widely ignored by a highly sexist press outlook. So a far more accurate comment, with far more evidence to support it, would be “comedy hates women”. The rise of rape joke culture, shock comedians and the continuing undermining of women in comedy is evidence to anyone who’s spent any time outside of a cave in the past ten years.
Stand up and television both have a long way to go, but film still seems like the medium most stuck in the dark ages. The enormous success of gross out comedies, mostly involving a plot in which men are pursuing little more than sexual satisfaction from attractive women apparently both amused and hugely attracted to their obsession with sexual organs, has held things back somewhat. Comedies where women are actual three dimensional characters are often at best reduced to the rather disparaging status of ‘cult favourites’ or worse are patronisingly disregarded as ‘chick flicks’.
Sometimes though, they get away with it, usually by playing the critics at their own game. ‘Juno’ was a good example of this; it was given an incredibly small distribution as a kooky indie film then became Fox Searchlight’s biggest success ever by pulling off the neat trick of being really good.
Bridesmaid though took it one step further. A big budget gross out comedy that featured women in the main roles, it caused a huge stir by not only being genuinely hilarious but being considerably more successful than any other original comedy released that year.
It wasn’t an easy ride though. The main criticism of the film was pointed at Kristen Wiig’s character Annie, who makes a series of catastrophic and embarrassing mistakes and generally does some very silly things over the course of the film. It’s easy to wonder whether such critics would have had the same problem with a male character behaving in the same way. The praise heaped on countless films of that type suggests perhaps not.
Bridesmaids beat the system by not only being more successful but also considerably funnier than most of the male-driven films it was compared to. Thanks mostly to Wiig and Annie Mumulo’s highly acclaimed screenplay. Every central character is both very funny and hugely likeable. The constantly angry and foul mouthed Rita (“there is semen all over everything. Disgusting. I cracked a BLANKET in half”) and the wonderfully polite and optimistic Becca (“You smell like pine needles, and have a face like sunshine!”) are brilliantly memorable supporting characters. If the film has a single not-so-secret weapon though it’s Melissa McCarthy’s perfectly in your face and abrasive Megan (“I’m glad he’s single because I’m going to climb that like a tree”), McCarthy’s since deservedly become Hollywood’s golden comedy ticket seller. It’s a remarkable performance, a character that is not uncommon in distinctly less likeable male forms; McCarthy makes her not only one of the funniest film characters in recent memory but also one of the most likeable.
It’s certainly not just a copy of other American comedies with women instead of men though, one of the greatest achievements of the film is its distinctness and originality, and there are comparisons but nothing quite like it. Part of that is being uncompromising in its perspective; it makes no excuses for being funny on its own terms. It gets away with moments that are brilliant in the context of the film but it’s hard to imagine them working elsewhere. Annie drunk on the plane is a good example of this, you can imagine it being somewhat stale and annoying in other films but the script and Wiig’s performance delivers something genuinely hilarious
Annie: What kind of a name is ‘Stove’ anyway?
Flight Attendant Steve: That’s not a name. My name is Steve
Annie: Are you an appliance?
Flight Attendant Steve: No I am a man, and my name is Steve
Bridesmaids, for me, is distinctly feminist. It passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, offering likeable, relatable women, more importantly though it is just about the funniest film of the past few years in a way that both twists the formula and creates something entirely its own and entirely on its own terms. This is populist feminism showing what it can do, showing that audiences don’t just want gross out teenage boy comedies; they want films that are funny. Beyond anything else Bridesmaids is hilarious, evidence for anyone who says otherwise that there is a world beyond their depressingly narrow minded views where women are playing comedy in the big leagues and are very very funny indeed.
Callum is a screenwriter and essayist who studied film at the University of East Anglia. He is the editor of the Feminist Film Blog.