Monday 17 October 2011


There was a lot of hype about 'Bridesmaids' when it came out. Article after article about how it was going to change the industry. But just because a few black men are in politics now, it doesn't mean hundreds of years of institutional racism vanish. Likewise, the fact that a few male producers enabled two women to write a movie and have a female cast; it doesn't mean it's suddenly an even playing field.

But I wish it was. Because women are great at making movies. They're great when they step out of the restrictive chick-flick genre; because when films like 'Sex & The City' get made, I'd rather keep male privilege rolling for another hundred years. But films like 'Bridesmaids' and 'Whip It' - to give two examples (albeit light-comedy examples) show that there is a whole voice missing from cinema, a whole gender's perspective to be truly explored. The history of cinema is, by and large, the history of male storytelling.

In June 2009 I wrote a blog called 'Men Only' in which I said, among other things, "I love women on screen, they're an important part of films; but it's very rare that I find them interesting enough to carry a film as the lead. What's that about?"

And I want you to know I fully retract everything I said in that article. I was wrong, and my views have changed considerably.

A perfect example of great acting is Kristen Wiig in 'Bridesmaids'.

When you're watching a comedy, you rarely think about its complexity. You just have a good time and wait for the next laugh to come. Wiig's character, Annie Walker, was amazingly written and acted; a stunning performance from the lead actress. Not only is it worth noting -- I think it's worth exploring further.

Annie Walker was vulnerable and fragile throughout the whole film. At the beginning we find out that her business attempt, opening a bakery during the recession, has failed. When it did, her boyfriend left. Her best friend is getting married and her love life consists of casual sex with a man who doesn't listen to her, doesn't care about her needs, and doesn't want her sticking around for the night.

You cling on to anything when you're down. Annie clings on to her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph) who is also getting married. There's a touching scene when Lillian announces she's getting married and asks Annie to be the bridesmaid. Of course, she says yes -- but only seconds later, as Lillian chats on the phone to her fiance we see Annie sitting there trying to hide her loneliness.

The supporting characters in a film all give us information about the main character. It's done to maximum effect in this film when the gorgeous, rich, youthful and seemingly perfect Helen immediately makes Annie feel bad about herself. With just a look in her eyes we can see she feels old and under threat. We can all relate to it. We've all had a friend bring along a new friend and we feel all threatened and insecure about their in-jokes.

Wiig is noted for her comedic talents, which are undeniable. But the core of this movie is actually carried by her dramatic abilities. Those moments in between the laughs -- little snapshots of her character that lived outside of the writing.

A great example is the scene where she makes a cupcake in her apartment. She takes the time to make a perfect cake, which she bakes and decorates to perfection. She places it carefully on the table, on its own ---- before picking it up and scoffing it down herself. What a great, unique way to show loneliness! Lesser writers would have had her calling someone up and saying 'I'm lonely' or listening to 'All By Myself' -- here we just have her eating a cupcake, and it tells us everything.

I can't think of any other character in recent film history who shows the anxiety of insecurity and fear as well as Annie Walker does here. The writers really kept hitting this home, scene after scene. The airplane scene, renowned for her hilarious drunkenness and for Megan's (Melissa McCarthey's) conversation with the Air Marshall; also carries a lot of dramatic weight in that in cements the gap that is increasing between Annie and her best friend, which is being made worse by the fact Lillian and Helen are getting closer and closer as friends (due to her failings). They are in first class, while she is stuck in coach.

After Annie's mad, drunken behavior on the plane; Lillian suggests that maybe being the Bridesmaid is too much for her. Of course; this is the thing she'd always feared. Of not being enough, of not being able to do a good job, of not being able to be a great friend. That's what insecurity does, renders you ineffective and makes your worst fears come true. It's that vulnerability that Wiig manages to portray so truthfully. 

The sadness of the character is what makes it so compelling. It's what grips you. The funny situations she gets in have a weight to them because they're rooted in realism, no matter how absurd they are. We can relate. I can relate, and I'm a man. That's why all this men-only-in-leading-roles is bullshit, because we're all human beings, and our problems are universal.

The writing takes a great turn in that she begins to get what she needs: a good man (Chris O'Dowd as Officer Nathan Rhodes). Yet she runs from it. Can't handle it. Things have been going wrong for so long, what the hell do you do when something right comes along? There's a simple scene afterwards when she phones Lillian and says she doesn't have a clue what she's doing, it's the most truthful moment of the movie. Truthful because, in life, so often we don't know what we're doing. 

After all this -- she's lost. Lost her center, the thing that makes her herself. She loses her job in the jewelry store after calling a customer a cu*t, she's ignoring Nathan (without really knowing why), and she's asked to move out by her English roommates. What makes it so satisfying, dramatically, is that we feel for her -- she's a good woman, doing her best; yet again and again she's failing. We can all relate to it because that's how the world works.

Comedy is better when you relate to it, when it has reality as a basis. Or not even as a basis, it just needs something in there that's authentic. That's why 'The Other Guys' sucked. Absurd is fine, but you need a center; a place to jump off from. 'Bridesmaids' took care of these details and that's why it's superior to most of the comedies of recent years.

Then there's the bridal shower, which she's invited to despite being demoted from her Bridesmaid duties. She's a good friend and a proud person, so she makes sure she's there. She loves her friend. We see this when she gives her a present, a touchingly personal gift -- a collection of things from back home in Milwaukee, along with a photo montage from their younger days.

And then rich-and-perfect Helen buys Lillian a trip to Paris; an idea which stemmed from a conversation with Annie about how much Lillian likes Paris. Annie is heartbroken -- it's an extremely bitchy and manipulative move from Helen; which we the audience can see, and our hero Annie can see -- but the guests at the party can't. 

What follows is Annie going absolutely crazy; wrecking the garden and smashing things to pieces. It's a hilarious yet cringeworthy scene; but powerful because we feel her sense of injustice. Yet dramatically, she's ruining her best friend's wedding experience. The complex blend of comedy, sadness, and the righteousness of the other characters is brilliantly handled.

The Writing of the film, by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, with the watchful eye of Judd Apatow; is the core of what makes this film great. Each event, each scene, drives Annie further and further away from her best friend, and from herself. It's rooted in truth; we can relate to what's happening because we'd want to react just like she does. Even the parts of the film that are over the top and ridiculous, we're still there-- because the characters are so true. 

It's the acting of the film that brings it home. The best actors are able to do two opposite things on screen. It's why people pay Robert Downey Jr so much money, and it's why we all loved Jack Lemmon. Kristen Wiig has a touch of that magic. She knows how to get the laugh -- years at the Groundlings Theatre, and live SNL performances, and the multitude of ridiculous jobs before she 'made it' have helped shape the comedic talent that she is. What makes her performance in 'Bridesmaids' stand out, is how layered it is. We laugh at the comedy, but it's the heart and honesty we connect with. 

Care to share?


  1. I agree wholeheartedly. The scene at the bridal shower, where Annie is destroying the place, makes me laugh and cry at the same time.

    My other favorite scene is when Megan comes over to talk Annie out of her funk. Melissa McCarthy is wonderful in this scene, showing her vulnerability while keeping up the comedic flow. Also, there are puppies. Puppies are the best.

    Every time I catch Saturday Night Live (which isn't often), I'm always surprised to see that Kristen Wiig is still a regular in the cast. The show somehow seems beneath her now. I hope they do a Bridesmaids sequel where Kristen's character is getting married and Maya Roudolph's character is the matron of honor--oh, that would be so good!

  2. "Comedy is better when you relate to it, when it has reality as a basis. Or not even as a basis, it just needs something in there that's authentic."

    I agree about that and perhaps that's why I wasn't as thrilled about Bridesmaids as I had hoped for. All those raving reviews made me think that we FINALLY had gotten a movie with women who felt you know... real. Closer to what I am. But what we got was this mega-wedding thing and cup cakes - something I definitely can't identify with at all. It's not my world, it never will be.

    It was much, much more a standard comedy than I had hoped for. This said - it was OK as entertainment. But so standard. Not the turning-everything-upside-down thing that media had made me think it would be.

    Maybe I just expected too much. Maybe it IS a revolution even to have some women in a movie for a change, Not as supportive roles, but as carrying the movie. If that's the case, it's really a sad statement of how far from equality we are in the world of movies.

  3. WOW. This is like one of the best posts I have read till date. I am going to watch this movie NOW.