Hey, it’s Mutual Oscarbation, our awards season feature in which Benjamin Sutton and Henry Stewart find out during what sorts of movies Academy members are stealing gift puppies. This week they lose their appetite for cupcakes watching Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids.
Hey Ben, let an actress pass diarrhea into a restroom sink and a thousand critics can write think pieces about gender and the Apatow formula. But for me Bridesmaids had a lot less to do with women than it did the economy. Goddamn, this movie is one long class-anxiety nightmare, a relentless shaming—sexually, professionally, every which way—of Kristen Wiig’s Annie, who has to ride coach while others ride first class, who has to fret over price tags, who drives a shit car, who doesn’t have the resources to shower her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) with the kind of gifts and parties that a rival lady-friend can. I thought Annie’s problem wasn’t that she had to watch Lillian get married—the formula for so many friends-growing-apart narratives—but that she had to watch as her old pal moved past her economically. The saddest part is the way Annie’s economic life becomes linked with her personal life: her bakery goes under, she loses her boyfriend; being broke makes her insecure and inspires a self-loathing that pushes her to sleep with awful men. God, Ben, if it weren’t for all the jokes, Bridesmaids would have really bummed me out.
Sure, Henry, Bridesmaids‘ class warfare may be more overt than its gender politics, but the two strike me as fundamentally inseparable. The whole time I watched I kept thinking of Robin Wood’s brilliant essay on one of this film’s most obvious precursors, My Best Friend’s Wedding. “The screwball comedy is primarily about liberation,” Wood wrote, “the overthrow of social convention, of bourgeois notions of respectability, of traditional gender roles.” Annie’s struggle isn’t only economic, it’s against the suffocatingly conventional—downright regressive, really—type of femininity embodied (very unhappily, it not surprisingly turns out) by her rival for Lillian’s best-friendship Helen (Rose Byrne). The film’s assault on the one percent is also an attack on the gender roles that tax bracket promulgates; I mean, come on, this movie goes into Chicago’s fanciest bridal boutique and straight-up takes a shit on its most expensive wedding dress. This meshing of money and gender extends to Annie’s failed bakery, where she sought to turn a conventionally feminine activity (making cakes and cookies) into a historically masculine one (a small business). Appropriately, the second time she passes her former shop Cake Baby, the vandalized sign reads “Cock Baby” and her cartoon likeness in the logo has been adorned with a huge dick—she’s being punished for trying to challenge conventional gender roles. Aside from food—so much thematically charged eating this Oscar season!—what are other ways in which Bridesmaids‘ women try to subvert normative notions of femininity, Henry?
Well, back up a second, Ben. I’m not convinced that by selling cakes in a bakery Annie is subverting conventional femininity. If Bridesmaids was trying to overthrow traditional gender roles, it might have made its heroine a police officer and her love interest a baker. But it did it the other way around. She even gets her man at the end! One thing I tried to stay conscious of during the movie was how it fared with the Bechdel Test—you know, whether a movie has two female characters that talk to each other about something other than men. At first, it doesn’t, not really; Annie and Lillian spend a lot of time talking about their relationships with men, and then about the latter’s wedding. But ultimately Bridesmaids isn’t a movie about women grappling with heterosexual love; those relationships are really tangential to the relationships they have with each other. So, Annie gets her man, I guess, but only because she was able to right her life by making peace with her bestie and her frenemy, right? I don’t know, what did you make of the movie’s portrayal of men?
Well, Henry, aside from the two extremes on the douchebag-sweetheart spectrum—Jon Hamm‘s Ted and Chris O’Dowd’s Officer Rhodes, respectively—they all seem to be either interchangeable or exceptionally insufferable. The movie is constantly, hilariously, making fun of tooly men, from the hovering older gents who are assumed to be Annie’s boyfriend in successive engagement party conversations, to the male half of her creepy British brother-sister roommates and her inappropriately touchy-feely jewelry store boss. Even boys are assholes, like Rita’s (Wendi McLendon-Covey) monstrous adolescents to Helen’s awful step-kids. In fact, I was initially tempted to deem Bridesmaids a women-driven response to the Hangover movies, until I realized that in both movies men are either creepy assholes or put-upon softies. So in answer to your question, Henry, Bridesmaids‘ portrayal of men is weirdly consistent with the portrayal of men in movies made by and for men.