Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids isn’t the be all end all feminist comedy film that it’s lauded as but it offers food for thought about the dainty, polished roles that women are typically pigeonholed in. If you can stomach its raunchy food for thought, of course.

Kristen Wiig portrays Annie, a neurotic woman in her late thirties going through an almost midlife crisis. Her boyfriend leaves her after their cake bakery closes down. Annie’s kind-of-but-not-really dating a hot, but emotionally asinine tool (who, to his credit, is played by the typically charming Jon Hamm). Her dead-end job as a jewelry assistant leaves her uninspired, grumpy, and still unable to afford her rent. To top everything off, her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is tying the knot and introduces her to the picture perfect bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne). Helen, who, though tasteful and elegant, comes off as irreparably snobbish and creates a rift between Annie and Lillian with her lavish wedding ideas.

The humor in Bridesmaids is goofy, over-the-top, and gross. I’m on the fence about raunchy, over-the-top humor since I feel like it banks greatly on shock value. Some of the film’s gags make me laugh—like Melissa McCarthy’s puppy hoarding scheme—while others made me cringe—most notably, the notorious dress-fitting scene where all of the bridesmaids get food poisoning. It is refreshing to see women as vulgar and dirty as men, who are less likely to be criticized for that behavior. The ridiculousness of the dress-fitting scene makes it fun to watch but the deliberate over-performing feels slightly off-putting. Even hammy and a little condescending, as though the creators are giving themselves a pat on the back for saying, hey, women can be nasty too. And, the scene is nasty. Do not watch it on a full stomach.

The film is refreshing in its deep portrayal of women’s relationships. Annie’s boy problems are charming but relatively inconsequential. Besides her friends-with-benefits ordeal with Hamm’s character, she harbors a sweet, quiet relationship with Officer Nathan Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd), a stumble-bumble Irish policeman. Bridesmaids predominantly spotlights Annie’s relationships with other women, namely, Lillian, Helen, and her mother. Through these relationships, we understand her insecurities about being broke, unemployed, and unloved. The women in the film don’t compete over a man; they compete with each other. Jealousy stems from the desire for validation and on a deeper level, reluctant admiration. Annie wants to be as collected and tasteful as Helen, who herself (surprise, surprise) eventually admits to struggling with forming authentic female friendships.

While you can discern depth in its relationships, the structure of the film strikes me as slightly muddy. The third act, in particular, is a hair loose. There are lots of gags, most notably the car scene with Annie and Helen as they try to get Nathan’s attention. We don’t get to see much of Lillian when things hit the fan for Annie, which feels strange considering that the film revolves around their friendship. Their last conversation together feels convenient—Lillian had never voiced concerns about Helen but now confides in Annie at the very end? Hm.

Bridesmaids will bring out some laughs and share hard-knock life lessons about womanhood. Like its protagonist, it’s charmingly flawed. Chick flick connoisseurs who can’t watch another romantic comedy centered on the pursuit of a man will get a kick out of Bridesmaids. 

 

Throwback: Heathers

It’s been a while since I’ve watched Heathers but I have recently gotten the chance to read Daniel Waters’ brilliant screenplay during a long car ride. Heathers has always been one of those movies that I adequately enjoyed but never fully understood. It always struck me as a hair too cynical, the protagonist as a little too precocious. Over the years though, I’ve come to appreciate the film more, embracing the twisted emotional journey of its protagonist and uncovering a quietly empathetic message about teen hierarchies and insecurities.

Heathers revolves around Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder), who hangs out with the Heathers, stock mean girls at her school who are beautiful, shallow, and ridiculously popular. At the beginning of the movie, Veronica meets J.D. (Christian Slater), a new student who’s a little bit of James Dean meets Beetlejuice. J.D. tests her boundaries but the cruel Heathers and other members of their clique die by framed suicide.

Heathers poses biting commentary about the futility of teenage popularity, the ephemerality of martyrdom. Ostensibly, it creates an us-versus-them dichotomy. The Heathers are the mean girls and everyone else, their helpless victims. But then we have Veronica. Without Veronica, this film would be just a good-versus-evil bully revenge film. Veronica’s character exists in a gray area between the popular and the unpopular. She’s a snarky goth queen who, despite looking down upon the most popular girls at her school, still hangs around them. The dichotomy between her thoughts and actions renders her a compelling character. Her choice to hang around the Heathers reflects her insecurities. She remains complicit in all of their bullying. But she stays because being part of the in-group makes her feel safe.

Veronica is a feminist figure who overcomes male abuse from popular jocks as well as that from her boyfriend. Towards the end, the dramatic tension shifts from will J.D. corrupt Veronica to will Veronica survive? And Veronica does, indeed, survive J.D.’s mess. Despite her disdain for the self-obsessed culture at her school, Veronica puts on the white hat and becomes the new sheriff in town, as she so adeptly tells Heather Chandler.

Heathers has been called a dark cult comedy. Yet it’s more optimistic than I’ve given it credit for in the past. At the end of the day, Veronica refuses J.D.’s nihilism, ensuring that he’s the only victim of his actions. She befriends the chronically bullied student Martha Dunnstock, someone who unwittingly became a casualty in trying to mimic the deaths of the popular students. She achieves self-actualization, realizing her responsibilities as the new ruler of the school. She realizes that her classmates aren’t merely blind sheep. Like Martha, many students, entrenched in their vulnerabilities and insecurities, seek guidance, even in the most perverse forms.