Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bridesmaids: A Personal Essay

Last June, one of my best friends from high school got married. When she had gotten engaged the year before, she asked me to be her "man" of honor, which I immediately accepted. By the time of her wedding (to, I should add, her first serious boyfriend, a great guy she had been with for over four years), she had just finished school and her student teaching and was on the verge of landing a full-time job at her husband's school doing exactly what she wanted to do. Meanwhile, her man of honor was finishing up his Master's degree, no job in sight, $50,000+ of student loan debt looming after graduation, working a minimum wage job in retail to make ends meet and not only no man in sight but no significant relationship ever. Now, I don't mean to make her life sound easy or that she had things handed to her because she worked damn hard to get where she's at. But, at that moment, her life lined up perfectly for her.

Around the time of this wedding hoopla, a little movie called Bridesmaids was released. Superficially, the film mimicked my life and, therefore, I found the film hilarious beyond belief. I wasn't sure the film would hold up, but in the months between the theatrical and DVD release, I found myself thinking fondly of certain scenes and cracking up with laughter (usually at work, completely out of context). So when the DVD came out, I rushed to buy my copy and immediately came home to watch it. Not only was Bridesmaids as funny as I remembered, but I discovered it also had a deeper, darker, more bitter core right underneath the raucous comedy. And it's this core which makes Bridesmaids relatable on so many levels, not only to myself but to so many others .

Is This Real Life?

When we meet Annie (Kristen Wiig), the maid of honor for her best friend since childhood Lillian's (Maya Rudolph) wedding, her life is in a state of chaos. The bakery that she opened a few years previously has gone under, completely wiping out her life savings. Her boyfriend left her soon after the business's collapse. She now lives with two horrible roommates in a crummy apartment. She works at a jewelry store, a job she was only able to get because her mother knows the owner. If her present is currently glum, her future isn't any better as Annie is stuck in a rut and has neither the ability or the strength to get out of it. "Maybe this your bottom," her mother (Jill Clayburgh), a non-alcoholic who regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, thoughtfully suggests early in the movie. It's a lovely thought, but we all realize things will get much worse before they get any better.

So this is where Lillian's wedding becomes both a blessing and a curse for Annie. On one hand, planning showers and bachelorette parties are a welcome distraction from the drudgery of her everyday life. On the other hand, though, the wedding presents another problem for Annie's already burdensome life: Lillian's new friend and fellow bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne). Not only is she rich, classy, beautiful, a touch pretentious and snobby in the subtle way where she would never say anything mean directly to your face, but she is also blatantly trying to steal Lillian away from Annie. Or at least that's how Annie sees it after Helen gives a heartwarming, extremely personal speech about her friendship with Lillian at the engagement party. The moment soon devolves into a hilarious gag where Helen and Annie refuse to relinquish control of the mic and end up making asses out of themselves trying to "prove" to Lillian who cares about her more. The scene is one of the film's comedic centerpieces--I love when Wiig says a host of random words in Spanish in response to Helen's recitation of a Hindu quotation on friendship--but it also provides Bridesmaids with a portion of its bitter, true-to-life backbone: with the sudden emergence of Helen in Lillian's life, Annie is afraid Lillian is evolving beyond their friendship.

While Annie's life is in neutral, Lillian's life is changing quickly and for the better. The fact that Lillian has chosen a friend like Helen, someone Annie claims they would have made fun of in the past, scares Annie. If Lillian is now friends with someone like Helen, who is beautiful, classy and has her shit together, will she need Annie anymore? The fear of being replaced has crossed the mind of anyone who has found themselves slightly out of sync with their best friend from childhood. Bridesmaids' response to this, like many of its darker themes, is to laugh to keep from crying. Instead of moping, wallowing in self-pity or attacking the conflict head-on, Bridesmaids laughs at Annie's situation and her increasingly erratic reactions to it, in this case by setting up a rivalry between Annie and Helen for the imaginary status as Lillian's best friend. Instead of merely laughing off Annie's fears, though, Bridesmaids treats them respectfully, which is daring simply because of the fact her fears of seeing her best friend move on without her are more universal than most people care to admit.

The Perils of Being Single

If you have seen nearly any TV show with a female lead in the past 25 years, you will know that in the mind of most people there is nothing worse than being over thirty and single. Look at Dorothy Zbornak, Fran Fine, Liz Lemon, Christine Campbell and countless others if you don't believe me. Bridesmaids understands this stigma and addresses it in a bizarre yet ultimately hilarious way. As Lillian introduces Annie to her other bridesmaids at the engagement party, not one but two of the bridesmaids mistake random strangers who happen to be idling next to Annie as her boyfriend. It's as if the thought of someone Annie's age being alone is so unbearable they have to pair her off with anyone who comes along, even the odd, unlikely men who pause next to her. The fact that even Megan (Melissa McCarthy), a woman who is not exactly Emily Post herself when it comes to social norms and etiquette, comments on this shows just how ingrained in our heads this idea that women of a certain age should be paired up is.

But Annie isn't completely alone. She does have Ted (Jon Hamm), a narcissistic, immature jerk who uses Annie basically as a blowup doll with very little consideration for her feelings. Lillian knows he's a jerk, and so does Annie, but it's better to have a booty call every couple of weeks than be completely alone. And Bridesmaids completely understands the subtleties of realizing the guy you are with isn't right for you but not wanting to admit to yourself or anyone because, at certain times in your life, any attention from a male is positive attention. You make excuses for him, talk about how you're just having "fun", believe his intent to not become serious as perfectly acceptable. I know I have been there, a couple times, and it is a fuzzy area no other movie I can recall explores as succinctly as Bridesmaids does.

Officer Prince Charming

The introduction of Officer Rhodes (Chris O'Dowd) as Annie's love interest is both fascinating and refreshing for a number of reasons. First of all, O'Dowd's casting as Rhodes is a nice change of pace, as O'Dowd is hardly most people's idea of a matinee idol and the more conventionally handsome Jon Hamm is the asshole in the film. Secondly, the fact that Rhodes pulls over Annie because he thinks she's driving under the influence--which, sidenote, leads into perhaps my favorite sequence in the entire film: "If I was drunk, could I do this?"--is not the typical romantic comedy meet cute. There's no obvious sign that this guy is The One: he's just a nice guy who takes pity on Annie. Third, the progression of their relationship feels wholly organic to the film and resembles something out of real life rather than a stock romantic comedy. When they do meet up again after the night he pulls her over, whether they are eating carrots in the parking lot or grabbing a drink at the bar, their chemistry is palpable but never off-the-wall, only-in-the-movies electric like, for example, Damon & Blunt in this year's The Adjustment Bureau. They crack jokes, but they often feel like jokes real people would make in real life. O'Dowd & Wiig make their pairing realistic without moving into indie movie territory, funny without overdoing it and cute without pushing tweeness. It's a remarkable pairing, one that brings out the best in both actors and only serves the movie better. Without O'Dowd, would we work as hard to try to understand Annie's insecurities and fears? And without Bridesmaids, would we consider O'Dowd to be the Prince Charming he turns out to be by the final frames?

Bridesmaids is no doubt the funniest film of 2011, but, perhaps more importantly, it's also the film that captures my life as a post-graduate, stuck in a rut, trying to figure out what comes next. The film doesn't offer any hard and fast solutions for how Annie fixes her life, nor does its happy endinfeel completely out of place or undeserved. For these reasons, and many, many more, Bridesmaids will no doubt remain my favorite film of the year. And anyone who thinks my attachment to this film is hindering my ability to review this film impartially can go to hell. If we can't form unhealthy attachments to films, why in the hell are we reviewing films in the first place? Bridesmaids may not reach Malick-levels of Art, but nothing this year has moved me quite in the way Wiig and company have done with this film. Sometimes that's far more important in the long run.

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