Here come the Bridesmaids


Staff member
Plenty of people seem to think that Bridesmaids is "groundbreaking". There's less consensus about what ground is actually being broken.

For some, the film marks a breakthrough for feminism. A mainstream comedy written by women, in which women dominate the action and men are pushed to the margins, has wowed both the critics and the public. It's incontrovertibly funny, and that's to be considered no mere laughing matter.

The assertion that women have no sense of humour has long been seen as a patriarchal slight. So, the devastating female-delivered quips in Bridesmaids make the film "more feminist than Thelma and Louise" for Zoe Williams. Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams goes further. Bridesmaids, she assures us, is "your first black president of female-driven comedies."

Others, however, take the opposite view and brand the film a landmark in misogyny. In future, they fret, men may be able to take time off from demeaning women: now apparently, sisters are doing it for themselves.

After all, the film's bride, Lillian, is as desperate to get wed as any Jennifer Aniston cream-puff. Her maid of honour, Annie, is beset by a sea of troubles, yet the only one that the film bothers to resolve is her lack of a decent bloke. To win him, she has to take to the kitchen and retrieve the baking skills that she hoped she'd put behind her.


The principals, Annie and her rival Helen, are thin and beautiful, but there's also a buffoon on hand. Megan is grotesquely fat, and the butt of endless jokes dependent on her presumed repulsiveness, not just to men but even to her female friends. For The Awl's Michelle Dean, "this kind of movie can't be quasi-feminist, or perhaps more aptly, even a victory for women qua women."

These schools of thought may both be right. Or perhaps neither is. If breakthrough there is, maybe that fact is more remarkable than either of these possibilities.

Long ago, when films were in black and white, they were full of sassy, confident and witty women who got their way. Paradoxically, these creatures receded as feminism advanced. While women stormed the real world, they wilted on the screen. Cinema's women were allowed to be heroic, but also expected to be vulnerable, sensitive and saintly. As such, they could hardly expect to be a barrel of laughs. Inevitably their menfolk ended up as the funny guys.

Insistence on female probity is sometimes interpreted as a male response to female assertiveness. In 1987, Jack Nicholson's Daryl explained this thinking in The Witches of Eastwick. When confronted by powerful women, he said, men "call them witches, burn them, torture them, until every woman is afraid." Yet, it may be women themselves who were actually to blame for the muting of their big-screen portrayal.

Cultural captains

Their champions wanted the moral highground. According to them, it was men who lied, cheated, brawled and boozed. Women were supposed to be the victims of such behaviour, and so could hardly be presented as indulging in it. Cultural captains concurred in this dogma out of deference to the zeitgeist rather than counter-revolutionary zeal. Anyway, women found themselves thrust on to a neo-Victorian pedestal.

As it had in the past, sanctification exacted a price. This time it made women look not just humourless but also whingeing and self-righteous. A reaction emerged. In stand-up and on television, female performers tried to reclaim transgression and vulgarity for womankind. Staid old mainstream cinema lagged behind. But now we have Bridesmaids.

The film has been described as a female version of The Hangover, but it's clearly more than a gross-out caper for ladettes. Mass vomiting and defecation weren't even part of the original conception, but an afterthought from producer Judd Apatow. The bridesmaids aren't copying male behaviour, but neither do they come across as archetypal females, even though the context in which they're operating could hardly be more feminine.

This time it's Lillian, not her groom, who fears that marriage will rob her of her mates. It's Annie who has a problem with commitment, and not her swain. The bridesmaids have hopes, fears, longings, jealousies, rivalries and vulnerabilities that any woman might harbour.

For all its apparent girliness, Bridesmaids is more about friendship than women's friendships; it's about competitiveness not bitchiness, despair not weepiness, charm rather than cuteness and anxiety rather than hysteria. Its women have been liberated from the shackles of fabricated feminine rectitude. At last, they've been allowed to be people.

New ground has thus indeed been broken, and a new dawn has perhaps been signalled. The post-feminist ascendency of sanctimonious female exceptionalism may be coming to a close, not just on screen but off screen as well. Let's hope so. It's been such a bore.