Bridesmaids, and The Great Formula Still Being Ripped Off Today

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I was talking with my dad the other day about how I can’t stand Pitch Perfect, and how it’s basically the result of diet Bridesmaids having an illegitimate lovechild with Glee, and it got me thinking. I haven’t really talked about Bridesmaids much, and it definitely deserves to be talked about.

For quite a while, we have seen stupid movies loaded with gross out, scenes straight out of Jackass, and humor that is mostly based around shock, horror, awkwardness, and the above-mentioned gross out. I believe that a lot of that formula (in its modern form) comes from the success of Borat, which was a film about a walking stereotype trekking across America and offending everyone with his ways and beliefs.

So many variations have come out since then, usually with a simpler plot and varying levels of shock and toilet humor.

It’s no secret that these movies have men as their target audience. Not all men, mind you, but particularly those who have not mentally aged past about 14 years old. Women, even immature ones, just aren’t as amused by basic bodily functions and shocking things that are just there to shock for no reason.

It is perhaps not much of a stretch to assume that such “young” men that would enjoy these “comedies” would cringe if asked to watch a movie aimed at women, or even just starring a female character. Not necessarily because they are inherently smarter films (some chick flicks can be equally brainless), but because feminine is the opposite of masculine, and anything that is not masculine to these types of guys usually equals bad right off the bat.

Funny and “the feels” don’t mix.

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Hollywood’s response (in 2011): Bridesmaids.

It still has a story that women can enjoy and identify with, but it isn’t afraid to be gross and dirty and even downright unpleasant. And plenty of women like that about it.

Spoilers Below.

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Bridesmaids is a story about Annie Walker (Kristen Wiig), a single, insecure, down-on-her-luck jewelry sales clerk in her mid to late 30’s who is in one-sided, no-strings-attached relationship with a self-absorbed man-child named Ted (Jon Hamm, who also starred in all three Hangover movies). Her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged to her long-time boyfriend Dougie (Tim Heidecker) and makes Annie her Maid of Honor, which leads to Annie struggling to plan events for Lillian and the rest of the bridesmaids.

It’s particularly hard to make new friends and be happy for your friend when you are butting heads with a fellow bridesmaid like Helen (Rose Byrne), who is constantly vying for your best friend’s attention and friendship.

Hijinx and cat fights ensue. One thing after another goes horribly wrong, but also keeps to a decently realistic scenario.

The humor is very similar to that of The Hangover, but with a feminine touch. After lunch at a shady restaurant, the girls go dress shopping and come down with horrible cases of food poisoning. The sex scene, and pretty much all subsequent scenes, with Ted is punctuated by the lack of music, the awkward silence only broken by Annie’s equally awkward comments and exasperated side quips. The lavish bridal shower is filled with tension, which finally breaks with shouting and destruction of a ridiculously large cookie. It’s all silly and requires a bit of suspension of disbelief, but it’s relatable enough that you laugh or cringe or both and let the moments pass.

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Dougie, the husband–to-be, is not even a character. We only hear about him secondhand for most of the movie, and we see him in maybe two scenes in person. He is practically a background decoration, especially compared to the other two men who appear frequently in the movie, Ted and Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd), who at the very least get lines.

The major characters are all women, and while some of them are more developed than others (Rita is a single mom looking for excitement, and Becca is a sheltered newlywed. Both women struggle to find passion and happiness in their lives, though their subplots never really get resolved), there is plenty of growth in just Annie herself over the course of the film to make up for it.

Also, I must point out that Becca is played by Ellie Kemper, was also on The Office (US) and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. She is always delightful to watch.

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Interestingly, Rebel Wilson and Melissa McCarthy both appear in this movie, although there aren’t many jokes made about either woman’s weight (thankfully). They started the whole trend of “sassy overweight woman who is happy with herself and says outrageous things” that have appeared in countless movies since (usually ones that star either one or the other aforementioned women), but Megan (McCarthy) pulls it off not just tolerably, but she does great with it. The best of all of these usually hollow (and, in my opinion, disingenuous) character types.

Her performance is funny, sure, but it is somewhat downplayed, and her character also has a greater point toward the end of the movie than just saying ridiculous things or being overweight. She actually helps Annie come to terms with her own problems and gets her to stop feeling sorry for herself. Plus, she rose above her own bullies and became relatively wealthy and successful by her own merits, which makes her even more admirable.

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Having something to overcome, even just in your unseen back story, makes confident characters even more real and likable.

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Helen is fun to hate, as I’m sure that many women in particular have known other women like her. She’s beautiful, rich, successful, and well-liked (to an outsider looking in); she hides her dismissiveness and insults in sugared words and smiles; and she may or may not be trying to lure your best friend away from you. Even though Annie isn’t very subtle or tactful dealing with her, and both women are pretty evenly pathetic in the long run, we can understand with Annie’s near-immediate dislike of her and even empathize a little bit.

From the lens of an adult who grew from an awkward, bullied, less confident girl, Annie’s story feels real to me, in a way that any of the Pitch Perfect girls’ did not. Most of them have one or two character traits that they rattle off like an answering machine whenever the film needs a laugh, which, to me, doesn’t count as good female representation (or Fat or LGBTQ representation, for that matter). Beca’s (Pitch Perfect Beca, not Bridesmaids Becca) one note is that she’s too cool for school, and Chloe is a staunch traditionalist control freak.

They might as well be the seven dwarves for all I care. Funny, but not real people.

My biggest issue with Pitch Perfect is the disingenuous feeling I get from it. It’s just another Mean Girls, shrouded in a cloud of pretense. If you like it as mindless entertainment, fine. But to all you ladies out there talking about how feminist, progressive, and witty it is… why?

Even the cover is ripping off Bridesmaids.

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But wow, do I digress!

Annie wrestles with disappointing relationships, losing touch with the kids these days (in a world that increasingly values youth and beauty), lackluster living situations (from living with two weird siblings who read her diary to moving back in with her mother), crumbling career and business goals (her bakery goes under at the same time that her boyfriend leaves her, forcing her to give up on her dream and scare her away from baking, even just for fun), and the slow, but sure progression of age in general.
Whether you like her or not, she is a fully fleshed-out character. Her flaws make her more compelling, even if they also make you cringe.

Her life seems like it’s out of her control, and it doesn’t help that she is insecure and passive-aggressive when dealing with the harsh realities of it.

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Annie even begins seeing a cop at one point, but her stress and feelings of self-pity and loathing nearly sabotage one of the few good relationships that she has going for her. It’s not really a “third-act misunderstanding,” like the ones I have bemoaned in the past; she makes a few good points when she snaps at them, but ultimately, she distances herself from both Lillian and Officer Rhodes with unreasonable, self-destructive behavior.

If you don’t like her, or just don’t understand her character, think of it this way: a woman is seeing her best friend and the only constant, stable source of joy in her life getting married. She has to cope with losing her friend on multiple levels; Lillian is about to permanently become part of a couple, and another woman, who Lillian will probably get to see more often (as she is the wife of Lillian’s husband’s boss), is moving in on her territory. By trying to hold her position as Lillian’s best friend, as well as trying to outshine Helen, she makes things worse for herself and gets everyone pissed off at her.

She is definitely self-centered. It’s not good to be feeling so jealous, bitter, sad, and outright angry at what should be a happy time for her best friend, but it’s pretty understandable when cast in that light. Annie causes most of her own problems and blames them on the rest of the world, but as Megan eventually points out to her, “you are your problem. You are also your solution.”

A realistic struggle, and a positive, self-affirming message. What’s not to love about that?

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Bridesmaids has its share of sad and depression moments, particularly on repeated viewings, but as far as comedies go, it’s surprisingly deep as well as funny. It conveys a very human experience, albeit in a silly, hyperbolic way at times. I think that a lot of people, not just women, can relate to it.

And really, what is comedy for, if not to shine a spotlight on the unfairness and absurdity of life; giving us things to laugh about, even in our darkest moments?

The movie does end with some realistic triumph. Lillian still gets married, but Annie makes peace (and tentative friends) with Helen, reconciles with her best friend, and even continues her relationship with Officer Rhodes. While Rhodes might help that process along, she doesn’t end the film marrying him. She has to fix her own life, much like how she finally replaces the broken tail lights on her car.

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That is why I think that Bridesmaids is so great, despite its occasionally depressing moments and gross out. I’ll even go so far as to say that the gross out adds nicely to the realism, and hey, if it makes it easier for guys to get through the movie, that’s not so bad. It still won’t appeal to people who dislike seriousness or grossness in comedies, but that’s okay. It’s a great movie, but it doesn’t have to be for everyone.

I just wanted to say that…

…Oh, and that Pitch Perfect sucks!

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9/10

*All pictures, video clips, and other media belong to their respective owners. None of the images or sounds belong to me.

For the record, I did sort of like Pitch Perfect 2, mostly because it was a bit less cliche and a lot less tedious. 

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2 thoughts on “Bridesmaids, and The Great Formula Still Being Ripped Off Today”

  1. I don’t think you can blame Pitch Perfect for being formulaic, especially when you consider that Bridesmaids broke the code for crossover from chick flick to chick flick that your make friends could enjoy. It’s a pale imitation, but I think it played up its Glee roots at least as much as the gross out humor borrowed/stolen from Bridesmaids.

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