Much has been made already of the idea that Bridesmaids is breaking boundaries by proving that women can, in fact, be funny. That we don’t always have a big stick up our behinds, whining about patriarchal hegemony while burning our bras. This is true.
But Bridesmaids goes even deeper than that. Any woman who has spent time with communities of women, from matriarchal households to single sex schools to certain work environments can tell you that there’s a difference. As a woman, you feel more comfortable. You feel in control of the space. You feel like the space is yours and you are as much a creator of it as anyone else. And so siting down to watch a film that is almost entirely filled with extremely independent, three dimensional women ends up feeling like you are taking a breath of fresh air. When I say independent, mind you, I mean independent of each other – they are individualized and distinguishable from one another.
Even more telling is the two dimensionality of the men in the film – something that struck me as feeling not quite right, but something I equally couldn’t put my finger on until hours after I left the theater. The two men who play actual roles in the film (the groom is not one of them) are not complex. I felt not at all even remotely invested in the main character’s romance with either man – the jerk (who just became more of a jerk as the movie went on), and the sweetheart (who just became more of a sweetheart as the movie went on). I wasn’t waiting with baited breath to see who she would continue to see, or whether the bad guy would end up being good all along, or the good guy would end up being a bad guy all along. These sorts of plot twists necessitate three dimensionality in the male characters, and quite frankly, they were just not a big enough part of the plot to bother with that sort of character depth.
The one scene that seems to overdo it is the now infamous “pooping” scene, in which the women all get grotesquely sick from food poisoning in the dressing room of an upscale and over-the-top bridal shop. It’s the sort of grossness that one would find in any number of films for teenage boys that depend on that sort of scatological humor to prop itself up (think American Pie). It is interesting to note that this scene was added in by the male director, to the skepticism of at least one female writer. But in thinking more deeply about this, one wonders about gendered humor. Why DO so many men find this type of humor funny, while it just grosses out so many women?
The plain fact is that the physical structure of the human being is a joke in itself: a flat, crude, unanswerable disproof of any nonsense about “intelligent design.” The reproductive and eliminating functions were obviously wired together in hell by some subcommittee that was giggling cruelly as it went about its work.) The resulting confusion is the source of perhaps 50 percent of all humor. Filth. That’s what the customers want, as we occasional stand-up performers all know. Filth, and plenty of it.”
One idea suggested to me by New York Times bestselling author Michelle Goldberg is that women have very different relationships with their bodies than men do. Sure, men feel pressured to be able to grate cheese on their abs, and also feel self-conscious about being overweight or obese. But women have it worse. When men don’t shave, it’s not considered disgusting. Untidy perhaps (and often even rugged and sexy), but certainly not grotesque. When women don’t shave, it’s almost considered an insult to those around them – gross and offensive. Women who are fat are ostracized far more than men who are. Women are expected to be dainty and ladylike – our bodies are barely supposed to be able to be gross. And so we feel more embarrassed, more humiliated, more degraded when confronted with what our bodies are never, ever supposed to do.
Now, don’t worry – there is plenty for feminists to complain about in the film. And this wouldn’t be a post written by me if I didn’t devote at least a sentence or two to them. Mary Elizabeth Williams writes in Salon that it’s ironic that a film that generally succeeds at bucking stereotypes casts the main character as a baker – a distinctly “girly” and non-threatening career that she gave up when her shop failed. She finally finds happiness and feels like herself again when she returns to baking (read: the kitchen). Going in another direction, as WhatTamiSaid points out, the whiteness of the film takes some adjusting to as we are expected to believe that the biracial bride does not have a single black friend in the film.
But Bridesmaids was funny – both the writing and the acting filled a hole that has been too long vacant in Hollywood, and it was a pleasure even for this uptight, bra burning feminist to watch. It’s been said that one must be able to laugh at oneself, and admittedly, many who identify as part of an oppressed population find this hard sometimes. And so it takes true genius to produce comedy that can point out the absurdity of a stereotype without mocking the seriousness behind gender inequality. When you watch the awkward scenes between the Maid of Honor and the Bride as they hash out their differences in “girl language”, and the over-the-top, preposterousness that is the wedding preparations . . . well, you’ll see what I mean.
This film has been rated SF (Safe for Feminists).