I feel as though I spent the entirety of last weekend reading articles on the topic of the Kristen Wiig movie Bridesmaids, about its gestation and about what the film signifies for females en masse, with at least one of these pieces employing the truly vile new word ‘bestie’. The reason, of course, that such august organs as broadsheet newspapers are giving so much of a damn is that two women wrote the screenplay for, and women play virtually all the principal parts in, a flick that has been classified as belonging to the genre with the unlovely name of ‘gross-out comedy’. Hence the proliferation of articles about, again, whether women can manage this, or any other, kind of comedy; whether humanity at large is going to be able to cope with women acting as disgustingly as men are alleged to do; and whether Bridesmaids will, despite all the women in it, make any money. Amazingly, none of the pieces that I’ve read have expressed wonder at the fact that Kristen Wiig herself is able to be comical and is also physically attractive, rather than being, as the implication seems always to be, a person who resembles the result of taking hold of the Michelin Man, replacing his head with luncheon meat and then getting the mutant in question to wear a dress.
Having now seen Bridesmaids, the first thing to note about it is that, despite its advance press, it is not really all that vulgar. Yes, there’s a certain amount of ‘blue’ talk, with Jill Clayburgh, as the heroine’s mother, gratuitously saying of someone that she’s sure she ‘greets him in the evening beaver first’, and the groom’s sister amusingly describing her brother as ‘a fucking asshole’; there’s a scene in which the physical results of food poisoning are graphically portrayed; and another scene that proved, I was glad to see, that getting a tennis ball in the hooter is entirely equal to someone in a Chevy Chase film getting a golf ball in the nuts. So, yes, there is an overlay of coarseness but Bridesmaids is really nothing more nor less than an entirely traditional chick flick.
In short, Kristen Wiig’s character, Annie, is a failed purveyor of highly decorated cupcakes (not an advance on the welder-by-day-exotic-dancer-by-night situation that we saw in Flashdance in the days of yore), who is miserably single and has to deal with her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), getting married, and her jealousy at Lillian’s new best friend, Helen (Rose Byrne, giving, in my humble opinion, the most amusing performance in the film), coming in and taking over. Even aside from all the wedding-ness, Bridesmaids follows what is perhaps the most irritating convention in chick flickery and chick littery, as also seen most recently in the embalmed action of Something Borrowed: that of the adoring swain who hangs around the single gal, even while she has humiliating public fights with friends and affairs with full-blown bounders and, in short, makes a total dick of herself. In Bridesmaids, he appears in the person of an Irish policeman (Chris O’Dowd), who, naturally, Annie meets when he arrests her for a minor driving infraction. So, again, we see the entirely single and heterosexual man who is willing, at any time, to listen to this woman talk about herself and her feelings for hour upon hour … and, geez, I just saw strolling down the street a unicorn wearing a poncho made out of the Shroud of Turin. The unlikeliness of this particular convention of the genre has always sent me plumb crazy because during the times when I’ve been miserably single, I was pitifully grateful if I had anything to do with any man, even if he were merely apologising for having trodden on my foot with his heavy boot.
Anyway, I assume that Bridesmaids has an element of tastelessness because, first, its creators genuinely like this style of humour; and, second, because comedies with this element are ruling the roost, making the patina of uncouthness a good marketing ploy. But, while I am happy to give the biscuit to Judd Apatow, who in his films does actually incorporate witty banter along with, or as part of, crude talk or actions, I have to say that I occasionally feel nostalgic for movies that contained droll exchanges that didn’t end up with someone on a toilet. The amount of comedies where someone does end up on a toilet, combined with my advancing age, means that I live in terror that I may yet end up seeking out at the cinema what I call menopause fantasies, in which, Meryl Streep, doing a lot of throwing her head back and laughing, has a rat of a husband who has left her for a stacked and much younger woman but who then comes crawling back, because he so badly missed those reminiscences about, let’s say, George McGovern running for president.
I felt worse than I would have if, in the parlance of it all, I’d caught my tit in a zipper on the day that I read that the Farrelly brothers were remaking Elaine May’s 1971 classic, The Heartbreak Kid. Just in case anyone reading this is not au fait with the original film, Lenny (Charles Grodin) while honeymooning with Lila (Jeannie Berlin) falls in love with Kelly (Cybill Shepherd), a raving beauty whom he spies romping athletically around on the beach in Miami. He then sets out to extricate himself from his current marriage and wed Kelly, despite the fact that he barely knows her and that Kelly’s wealthy father has taken an instant loathing to him. This gives rise to a series of long, dialogue-heavy scenes of Lenny indulging in ridiculous lies and self-justification; the exchanges, while mirthful, are excruciating simply because of the quantities of horseshit that he’s spinning, with no need for a toilet even to hove into view. In the 2007 remake, though, in order, I assume, for the hero, Eddie (Ben Stiller), to be regular-Joe sympathetic, the emphasis is on Lila’s vileness – she is sexually exhausting; snorts drinks out of her nose because she has a deviated septum due to cocaine use; and, naturally, breaks a lot of wind – while the woman he falls in love with from afar is actually supposed to be his ideal woman.
What makes the first film and Lenny’s character so novel and compelling, however, is that he is merely someone who is chronically dissatisfied and, the implication is, will become just as bored with Kelly as he was with Lila, and possibly as quickly. The thing is, in any case, that the first Heartbreak Kid was a comedy about people under the age of forty (actually, people in their twenties) that didn’t need to take out the pack-out-the-cinemas insurance of, as per Bridesmaids, having one of the characters throwing up on the head of another person who is herself also throwing up. While the first Heartbreak Kid can be hard to watch, it isn’t hard to watch because someone wearing a fancy wedding dress is having gastrointestinal problems, which seems to indicate that much has changed in the past forty years.
On the upside with Bridesmaids, it does have some droll moments and, while I’ll save the speeches for Andrea Dworkin, it does please me that there should be a movie comedy that has, seemingly, been a hit with young men as well as young women in which female characters drive the action, and are not merely ball-busters, or ladies of the night who possess hearts of gold. In fact, at the screening I attended, the loudest audience laughs seemed to come from those of the male persuasion, which either means that the film, interestingly, appealed more to the fellows or that they are simply louder laughers. Aside from anything, and despite the fact that it reminded me of Liza Minelli singing at a wedding in the truly submental Sex and the City 2, I was in good spirits when Wilson Phillips sang at the nuptials that come near the conclusion of Bridesmaids. I’ve daily been expecting this musical group to have a resurgence, and it was heartening to see that Carnie Phillips still looks to be in ruddy health all these years after she broadcast her stomach stapling on the Internet. That really did give me a lift of the heart.