Friday, May 13, 2011

Vagina Envy, Unleashed

Kristen Wiig (left) as Annie and Rose Byrne as Helen in Paul Feig's comedy "Bridesmaids" . 
Universal Pictures

by Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW
Friday, May 13, 2011

Dear women of the world, you know this: women know women very well.  You are a sisterhood.  You compete with each other in myriad ways.  And you don't do this for the affections of men.  Thank heavens.  You compete with other women (including your closest friends) as a small part of effectuating your own sense of self-esteem, value and worth.  Your sisterhood and bond is one heck of a powerful thing.  Am I right so far?  Or am I being a presumptuous male chauvinist?

Even though sometimes ladies, some of you may want to literally wrap your hands around another woman's neck and throttle it in anger -- thinking, how could she do this to me? -- you would on the turn of a dime confide your every last innermost feeling and secret to that very same woman you almost killed two seconds ago.  Perhaps I'm wrong about all of that.  (But I don't think so.)

It is with this elongated preamble in mind that many women (and a share of men) will recognize and/or appreciate "Bridesmaids", Paul Feig's comedy which opened today across the U.S. and Canada.  The film follows a group of bridesmaids as they prepare for the special and unforgettable day for Lillian (Maya Rudolph), who is about to share the rest of her life with the man of her dreams.  Lillian's lifelong friend and bridesmaid Annie (Kristen Wiig) has met her match in a fellow bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne), who appears to be the "perfect" woman.  Instantly, Annie's vulnerability, envy and inadequacy coalesce and Ms. Wiig ("Extract", "Saturday Night Live") registers this well in an initial scene with Ms. Byrne.

Mr. Feig's film hyperbolizes the competition and rivalry between and amongst women
as some kind of mud-wrestling match -- although much of it is verbal, potty-mouthed and almost incessantly mean-spirited.  Despite this, "Bridesmaids" has good performances -- noteworthy are Ms. Wiig (especially in moments of Annie's serious dramas), Ms. Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd as traffic cop Rhodes and Melissa McCarthy as Megan, the bridesmaid who dominates the room on many levels. 

Yet "Bridesmaids" falls on its face because it is undisciplined, not knowing when to stop.  It fails because it is clouded by the scatological humor that kills male-dominated comedies.  It flops because at two hours and five minutes it is far too long, and unfocused.  Mr. Feig's film works hard not to make you laugh, but rather to ensure that every stereotype on the checklist of every Hollywood comedy is taken care of and flaunted.  Obesity?  Check.  Mistaken for being with the black old guy?  Check.  Mistaken for being with the bald, chubby white guy?  Check.  You're Asian.  Really, because I couldn't tell?  Check.  You're an "airhead" and you desperately need a man in order to survive on the planet?  Check.

You get the idea.

One can laugh at these, and that's fine -- it's healthy to laugh at one's self and a certain stereotype or three -- of course, but in Hollywood comedies there's consistently been a lack of sophistication and an abundant laziness about how these different types are presented.  "Bridesmaids" does not abate this trend.  Sadly this was the very last film in Jill Clayburgh's illustrious career before she passed away last year.  Ms. Clayburgh plays Annie's mother.  The characters of Ms. Clayburgh's heyday (see films like "An Unmarried Woman") may have instructed or whipped these sorry ladies in "Bridesmaids" into shape.

"Bridesmaids" incidentally, was written by Ms. Wiig and Annie Mumolo, who likely applied her name to Ms. Wiig's lead character in the film.  Judd Apatow, who has wallowed in this undignified territory with "Knocked Up" and "The 40 Year-Old Virgin", was one of the producers of "Bridesmaids", which will be compared (and wrongly so) to such films as "The Hangover" and "Hall Pass", but both of those films were more focused and had a story at the heart of them.  "Bridesmaids" shouts and screams but has little to say.  The scatological will appeal to those weaned solely on the gross and grotesque as funny.  As you watch this bumbling mess unspool before thee, think: is what you see in "Bridesmaids" funny or is it familiar?

There are at least three long scenes in "Bridesmaids", which purports to be a comedy by the way.  Each of the scenes lasts about eight to ten minutes, and desperately needed to be edited.  The scenes are played for laughs, yet the laughing gas quickly wears off in each within the first two minutes, leaving you in an exhausted stupor the rest of the way.  The obstreperous behavior and insulting four-lettered words that perhaps only women can "get away with" calling each other, cloud a film that -- had it stopped and smelled the roses and carnations its bridesmaids wore -- might have been an enjoyable experience. 

Simply put, "Bridesmaids" is an unmitigated train wreck, and often painful to watch.  Each of the bridesmaids in it is desperately unhappy, and their time together for what should be a grand occasion is instead an opportunity to showcase their extreme and not-so extreme insecurities, and tear at each other like wailing, spoiled-rotten Barbie dolls.  Comedy is comedy, and it is often borne out of pain but the trivialities in such an empty movie insult the real problems women have. 

Most troublesome in "Bridesmaids" is the idea that Annie, abundantly talented at baking, would choose to abandon it simply because her business went bust.  The film exploits the current economic conditions to expediently camouflage the underdeveloped background of its lead character.

The disturbing trend in Hollywood comedies of women having to give up everything solely to find love with a man continues here -- and when Rhodes tries to encourage Annie to take up her vocation, she flat out gives up.  We learn that her boyfriend who worked at the bakery, left her.  And then Annie just leaves her passion for what she does and enjoys?  "Bridesmaids" makes Annie less rational and more stupid than she should be, even as Ms. Wiig brings an acerbic flavor to a performance that is edgy and even disturbing in some moments.

I thought as I watched: isn't there more going on in a woman's life than a man?  Isn't there more going on in a woman's life other than seeing friends get married?  The screenplay is designed as a knee-jerk ornamental show of cardboard cut-outs. "Bridesmaids" is about the obvious, yes, but as scattershot as it is, the film misses the opportunity to do so much more with its material and its talented cadre of actors.  Could "Bridesmaids" used some of its 125 minutes to be more rounded, honest and dare I write, dimensional?  Could Mr. Feig and company loosen some of the overindulgence that weights this film down?

With: Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Franklyn Ajaye, Terry Crews, Jon Hamm, Kali Hawk, Rebel Wilson, Joe Nunez.

"Bridesmaids" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for some strong sexuality and language throughout.  The film's running time is two hours and five minutes.

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