Progress! Hollywood has recognized the comedic value of women! If you’ve had it up to here with movies all about fat dudes who are disgusting and crude and that’s all extra funny cuz they’re fat, then behold: Bridesmaids features not one but two very overweight women who will gross you out with their flab, their sexual desires, their farts, their inability to recognize the personal space of others, and other revolting things that are doubly hilarious coming from fatties!
But wait! There’s more! Let there be projectile vomiting as an expression of emotional upset! Let there be explosive diarrhea! Let there be outrageous public intoxication and sexual degradation and physical humiliations galore! Because that is, apparently, the only way comedies can depict the inner turmoil that comes with friendships changing and feeling jealous of someone you care about even though you don’t want to and other terrible secret things that we all experience and find it tough to talk about.
This is what fucking drives me crazy about a movie such as Bridesmaids, which gets a few things so right (more on those in a moment) but doesn’t even seem to realize it’s getting so much of the rest of it wrong: It’s happy to be graphic about the stuff that doesn’t matter — except that it makes everyone go “Ewwwww!” — and demure about the stuff that it should be graphic about, the stuff that it would be actually shocking if it were graphic about it. I’m talking about one moment in particular, but a moment that can be extrapolated, philosophically, to the whole film. See, Kristen Wiig’s (Paul, Despicable Me) Annie has a fuckbuddy in Jon Hamm’s (Sucker Punch, The Town) Ted, an asshole who treats her terribly (in ways that are both cleverly satirical and genuinely humorous because they’re only slightly exaggerated), but she’s okay with it because “he’s so hot.” And that’s fine: the movie treats that as a reasonable tradeoff, at least in the short term. Annie, we’re meant to see, is getting a lot of pleasure from her bedroom athletics with Ted, and who wouldn’t: he’s Jon Hamm(TM), and he’s gorgeous. But there’s one moment that’s supposed to represent the pleasure she’s getting, when Ted very sweetly and very hotly caresses her breast. Now, they’re in bed together, they’ve been having sex… and yet she’s wearing her bra. If I’m having sex with Jon Hamm and he’s got his hands all over me, there’s no way in hell I’m gonna allow any clothing to come between his hands and my body.
So Bridesmaids is perfectly content to give us unfettered looks at women in pain — vomiting their insides out, smashed out of their skulls and embarrassing themselves with their intoxicated public antics — but cannot bring itself to give us an unvarnished look at female sexual pleasure. I’m not talking about nudity: I’m not suggesting that we needed to see Kristen Wiig’s nipples to understand how goddamn hot it is to be in bed with Jon Hamm. I’m saying if it wants to be honest about how a character like Annie is not desperate to be married and just wants to fuck the likes of Jon Hamm — and yes, it is refreshing that Bridesmaids even goes as far as it does in this respect — then it really needs to show us.
The best things I can say about Bridesmaids, then, is that it does take a few baby steps in some good directions, but lets itself get distracted away from them far too often to be satisfying. The distractions are infuriating, in fact, because the kernels of a truly smart, truly honest, truly brilliant movie are here, and they get lost in what has become the standard Hollywood humiliation comedy. Annie’s best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph: Grown Ups, MacGruber), is getting married, and Annie is the maid of honor, but now she has to contend with pathetic Helen (Rose Byrne: Insidious, Get Him to the Greek), wife of Lillian’s fiancé’s boss, who is trying to horn in on the best-friend status; and Megan (Melissa McCarthy: Life as We Know It, The Back-up Plan), sister-in-law to be, who is fat and therefore amusing when she farts or expresses sexual interest in a man (because thin women never do such things, or gee whiz, could it be that such things are only funny when fat women do them?); and other assorted “characters.” I use the word characters in the pejorative sense: two of the bridesmaids disappear halfway through the film, proving that they were merely the setup for a punchline (an unfunny one), and not actual characters in the story.
Much of the rest of the film, as Annie copes with all the nonsense that goes along with planning a big wedding, much of which falls to the maid of honor, feels like overlong Saturday Night Live sketches haphazardly stitched together (the script is by Wiig and her fellow Groundlings comic Annie Mumolo, first-timers both). There’s no way in hell a movie such as this should be more than two hours long, and it’s painfully clear here where all the dross is.
There are some lovely bits that are almost profoundly honest and funny: the opening sequences establishing Annie and Lillian’s friendship are sharply realized, capturing women’s relationships perfectly. The sweet cop (Chris O’Dowd: Gulliver’s Travels, Dinner for Schmucks) who gets thrown into Annie’s path as a romantic foil is a wonderful example of how to be a nice guy instead of the sort of passive-aggressive Nice Guy who overcrowds The Movies, and their nascent relationship is likewise astutely drawn: it’s funny and warm and wise about the ups and downs of a new romance. There’s even a very sly Brady Bunch joke so precisely apropos that it’s sheer genius.
I can’t help but imagine that all the smart, witty, grownup stuff here was the movie, originally, until some evil studio executive pointed out that every instance of unwanted public bodily fluids in a comedy these days instantly add $10 million to the box office. The modern grossout comedy is practically defined by being 90 minutes of mortification, inviting us to laugh at the protagonists, followed by a finale that suddenly turns sentimental and wants us to feel sympathy toward those we’ve been watching get pummeled for our entertainment. But that disconnect and the wild shifts in tone have never felt more bizarre than they do in Bridesmaids, because they’ve never felt more calculated. And the piling on of the grossout tarnishes the good stuff here so badly that it’s hard to be sympathetic to any of it.