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. 

 

On Saoirse Ronan: Brooklyn and Lady Bird

Ever since I watched her host Saturday Night Live, Saoirse Ronan has caught my attention. I recognized her from her early work in The Lovely Bones but hadn’t explored her most recent works yet. Two of my favorite performances from her so far include John Crowley’s Brooklyn and Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. Both received positive reviews for their thoughtful depictions of tough yet vulnerable female protagonists. In an upcoming adaptation of Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, Ronan will depict another smart, complicated female lead: the introverted, cautious violinist Florence. Now that I’m more familiar with her body of work, I’m excited to see how she brings this complicated character to life.

As I mentioned above, two of my favorite films that star Ronan are Brooklyn and Lady Bird. They’re vastly different films, one taking place in early twentieth century Brooklyn and the other in Sacramento at the cusp of the new millennium. But there are many similarities between them as well, which might be why I gravitate towards them. Each film features a strong female main character. They’re strong in different ways. Brooklyn’s Eilis is powerful in her controlled, deliberate ways whereas the titular character in Lady Bird brightens the film with her verve and naïve petulance. Both movies include complicated mother-daughter relationships and that sense of obligation that daughters feel towards their mothers. They’re fiercely hopeful coming-of-age films that guide audiences through complicated female perspectives.

Brooklyn

Brooklyn caught me by surprise since I’m not necessarily a historical drama fan. It’s a story about diaspora, a story about how to survive as an immigrant. It tells the journey of a young woman named Eilis who lives in a small part of Ireland. Eilis goes to America for better life prospects, leaving behind her sister and mother. She’s struck by an aching sense of homesickness but also a desire for adventure as she lives in a boarding house full of young girls like herself. Eilis thrives in her new job, falls in love with a young Italian man, and even attends night classes as she navigates American society.

Brooklyn looks beautiful. Cinematographer Yves Bélanger use of extreme wide shots lends the film a cinematic feel, drawing in the audience with how vulnerable his characters look against their environments. The color grading is gorgeous. The beach scenes are deeply saturated, with picturesque azure blue skies and vibrant green grass. Eilis wears bright colors, and low camera angles fashion her as the fearless, empowered heroine of the story. There are a certain stylishness and nostalgia that echo Wes Anderson’s most famous works.

Yes, Brooklyn is cinematically breathtaking but we still get strong characterization. Eilis possesses this strong-headed guilelessness that’s reminiscent of Anne Shirley from L.M. Montgomery’s beloved children’s classic Anne of Green Gables. Ronan’s complex performance cuts deep. You feel her sense of anguish when she’s leaving for America, her lightheartedness when she’s with Tony, and her nervousness when she’s back in Ireland following a family tragedy. I also appreciated the performances from Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson, who respectively play her Italian American and Irish love interests. There’s an understated sweetness to Cohen’s performance that makes you root for his character Tony. On the other hand, there’s a haughtiness to Gleeson that makes you enticed by his spoiled, smug bad boy character Jim. I do have to admit—I became a little lost in the third act with the introduction of Gleeson’s character but perhaps that was because Eilis herself felt lost at that point in the movie as well.

Watching Brooklyn feels like drinking a cup of cocoa on a crisp autumn day. The story is simple, yet there’s such a richness to the characters and a comfort to beautiful cinematography.

Lady Bird

Lady Bird is a movie that depicts suburban malaise as much as it appreciates the quiet idyllic beauty of the suburbs. In her directorial debut, Gerwig fleshes out wonderfully flawed but lovable characters within the McPherson’s slightly dysfunctional but loving family. No one’s quite perfect. Yet you can’t help but care about them. The movie guides the viewer to carefully listen to that beauty of the suburban humdrum. Within that humdrum, there’s this—as Timothée Chalamet puts it—comedic realism. It’s full of funny, witty dialogue without being too heavy-handed.

Gerwig tells the story of a petulant teenage girl who yearns for a more culturally rich life than the one she leads in Sacramento. Given the name Christine at birth, she renames herself Lady Bird during her senior year at her private Catholic high school. It’s a crazy adventure of a year—she falls in love, loses touch with her best friend, falls in love again, and gets in a myriad of ups and downs with her mother. The romantic relationships in the film are mundane and non-consequential, which actually feels quite refreshing in a coming-of-age movie (where the main protagonist is a young woman, might I add). Lady Bird really focuses more on the main character’s complex relationship with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a sharp-tongued nurse who works relentlessly after her husband gets laid off. Mother and daughter are smart and stubborn. They care for each other as much as they’re prone to cutting each other emotionally.

Set in the 90s, the movie, shot on a digital Arri Alexa Mini, has the feel of a 90s teenage flick. It primarily consists of standard medium and medium close-up shots. It’s not as visually dramatic as Brooklyn but there’s a certain charm in its simplicity. Lady Bird is really driven by how the characters communicate with each other, through looks and dialogue. There’s a scene when Lady Bird and Marion are shopping for the former’s prom dress at a thrift shop. Marion tells Lady Bird that she wants her to be the very best version of herself that she can be. Lady Bird ruefully asks, “What if this is the best version?” Marion throws her a look, a gaze of subdued disappointment that carves a thousand cuts deep as much as it subtly suggests that she believes her daughter is capable of much more.

That’s not to say that we don’t get any striking cinematography. The film has a handful of beautifully framed moments, like Danny and Lady Bird frolicking on a date or Lady Bird and Julie meandering during their prom night. If you look closely at the movie, you also notice that it’s enveloped in this grainy sepia tone, which lends it a wholesome feel. The folksy, plaintive Jon Brion soundtrack also elevates the overall comforting feel of the movie.

There’s a reason why Lady Bird was a darling at the Golden Globes and Academy Awards this year. Gerwig creates astounding depth in her characters and loads each moment with emotional weight within a deceivingly mundane story. It won’t take you long to recognize that this film is nothing short of a labor of love.