Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Make Us Laugh, Dammit: Why Bridesmaids is the New Oprah (not a compliment)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on June 5, 2011

Greetings and salutations! First off, I want to welcome all the new readers who have checked out the blog due to my Insidious discussion, which has apparently hit a nerve. I hope you’ll all stick around and keep reading. We actually got some comments for the first time, which is nice. Any and all feedback is appreciated!

So, I finally saw bridesmaids.jpg Bridesmaids yesterday. I also saw X-Men: First Class, which is excellent and everyone should see it, but I really want to talk about Bridesmaids. I was actually really disappointed by this movie, and I feel that I have to explain why. I had nothing against it going in; I’m certainly not one of those people who believes that women can’t be funny, and I was all set for a raunchy and raucous comedy that happened to star funny females. That’s the way the movie is being sold, but unfortunately that’s not really what Bridesmaids is. It’s really a preachy and condescending lecture on self-esteem, and it doesn’t even work particularly well as that.

Let me explain. Yes, for the first 2/3 of it, there are plenty of dirty jokes and gross gags (for the record, I don’t find women vomiting all over the place to be any funnier than men vomiting all over the place), but then the comedy is completely derailed in favor of a misguided message that doesn’t even make much sense in the context of the film. Bridesmaids is not even the ensemble comedy it’s being sold as; it’s basically about Annie (co-writer Kristen Wiig), an amiable and bright lady who hasn’t really recovered from her bakery going under during the recession. When her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces that she’s getting married and wants Annie to be her maid of honor, it’s time for Annie to step up to the plate and organize the perfect shower and reception for her buddy. Not a bad idea for a movie, at least in theory.

Except, of course, that doesn’t really happen. Annie screws everything up, has a gigantic temper tantrum and is replaced in her duties by Helen (Rose Byrne), a high-class woman who has it much more together (seemingly, anyway) than Annie does. Now, if the movie had been about Annie re-discovering her abilities and self-esteem through planning her best friend’s wedding and standing up to Helen, that could have been an awesome little movie. Instead, Annie goes home and enters a downward spiral in which she loses her job, gets tossed out of her apartment by her odd roommates and has to move back in with her mother (the late Jill Clayburgh). She also sabotages her budding relationship with Nathan (Chris O’Dowd), a nice guy who actually seems to like her, after he insists that she should start baking again. Why this is so important is a mystery to me; what’s she supposed to do, open another bakery that fails in this miserable economy? Doesn’t seem like a wise thing to do.

Not only is none of this particularly funny (the humor is completely derailed by this turn of events), it also sets Annie up as a “loser” without offering her any sensible way out of her situation. The movie keeps insisting that the problem is her, but all we see is the world constantly shitting on her. What exactly is she supposed to do? They almost reach the height of ludicrousness (but not quite, that will come later) when the blunt and crude Megan (Melissa McCarthy), the least self-aware character in the movie, suddenly turns into Dr. Phil and gives Annie a motivational speech that doesn’t seem the least bit based in reality. Again, the movie blames Annie (the ostensible victim) without offering a convincing argument for what she could have done differently to change her situation. Does Annie control the universe? If anything, she’s right to be pissed off and sad and hurt, because she’s constantly being fucked over. That’s a pretty natural reaction. It’s almost as if Wiig and co-writer Annie Mumolo suddenly want us to dislike this person that they’ve spent the entire movie building up sympathy for. The most bizarre part of it all is that the movie seems to suggest that Annie’s problems stem from her neglect to get her car’s brake lights fixed. Oh yes, if only she had gotten those tail lights fixed, she could have saved her bakery, organized Lillian’s wedding and mended her relationship with Nathan and been everyone’s hero. Are they kidding? If this is some kind of metaphor, it’s a pretty clumsy one.

Then we get the absolute worst of it (and here’s the height of ludicrousness) – they bring in 90’s pop group Wilson Phillips to sing at the wedding. Of course they perform “Hold On”, their only hit and in my opinion the worst song in the history of sound recordings, and here’s where we discover the movie’s real agenda. Like that awful song, Bridesmaids is telling us how to live our lives without offering us any logical advice on how to do so. All our problems are our own fault, no one else is responsible for their own shitty behavior, and all we have to do is “hold on” and things will somehow get better. HORSE SHIT. This is the problem with the Oprah-ization of America (besides the male-bashing, of course) – the touchy-feely idea that everyone can be exactly what they want to be, if only they try. It’s a crock. I’m sorry, but we’re not all special and unique snowflakes. Not everyone is meant to be a shining star. And that’s OK. Not everyone fits into the superficial success-driven world, and not everyone should. Annie’s only real problem is that she keeps expecting “validation” from a world that’s not inclined to give it to her. She’d be much better off not caring what people like Helen think of her in the first place. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to say, “fuck ’em” and just live your life the best you can with what you’ve got.

The sad, honest truth that movies like Bridesmaids ignore is that sometimes bad shit just happens. You don’t choose it, you don’t make it happen, it just happens. And when it does, the only thing you can do is survive it. I’m all for personal responsibility and taking charge of your own life, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. Shit gets fucked up. Just because you have dreams doesn’t mean they’re going to come true. Annie didn’t choose to lose her bakery, and it certainly didn’t happen because she didn’t fix her damn tail lights. It happened because it happened. Sometimes life lets you down, no matter how hard you try. That’s just the way it goes. Again, we’re never told exactly what Annie is supposed to do. The movie paints her into a corner and then blames her for being there. The most obvious and logical way for her to reclaim her self-esteem would be to successfully plan the wedding after all of her setbacks, then maybe discover that she’s good at it and become a wedding planner, but for some reason the movie doesn’t even attempt to go in that direction. Instead, it just kind of meanders around the idea that she should do something without giving her any option to do so. But everything turns out all right in the end, because Wilson Phillips shows up at the wedding (which Helen arranged, not Annie) and sings their terrible song and Annie and Lillian are friends again. That’s the kind of movie Bridesmaids is.

Tell me, how is this any different from the bullshit spewed out of 99% of terrible romantic comedies? Honestly, I just sat there thinking, “are they serious?” I would really like to believe that women are too smart to fall for this kind of nonsense, but the success of Bridesmaids as a “female empowerment movie” (at least that’s how it’s being interpreted) seems to suggest otherwise. The only empowerment this movie offers is to take the blame for everything that goes wrong in life, and then dance around to lousy early-’90s pop music. You want to know what would really empower women? If Bridesmaids were actually a funny movie for its entire running time, and left the life lessons to afternoon TV. Now that would be a great thing for everybody.

6 Responses to “Make Us Laugh, Dammit: Why Bridesmaids is the New Oprah (not a compliment)”

  1. Melinda said

    I completely agree with you. I loved Bridesmaids…the sick comedy and Wilson Phillips were some of its finer points. What can I say? I grew up rocking out to songs like “Hold On” and “You’re in Love”. Just classic hits that make you feel like you can do anything you set your mind to!

    But that’s part of the problem, like you said. Bridesmaids is a feel-good movie. It does have a positive, uplifting message behind it. However, I believe that Annie was being treated unfairly at every turn and her so-called “friends” didn’t care when it was obvious that she was on a downward spiral. When Megan started with her little lecture about Annie blaming the world for her problems I was like, “WTF? You’re kidding me, right?”

    I didn’t see Annie blaming anyone for her problems. I viewed her as a woman trying to be in control of her life despite all the shit she was dealing with. The other women had problems but Annie had it the worst. It seems unfair to tell her to “hold on” when her life is falling apart and her best friend has pushed her aside.

    I know that Lillian had to plan her wedding, but there is still no excuse for the way she treated Annie. Helen was a bitch and it was clear that she looked down on Annie the whole time. Annie seems like a cool chick and she deserves a better friend than Lillian. Sometimes friendships end…that’s the way it often works in real life. Sometimes you will be replaced by other people and it hurts.

    “All of our problems are our own fault, no one else is responsible for their own shitty behavior, and all we have to do is hold on and things will somehow get better. HORSE SHIT”. Amen to that! I couldn’t agree more.

    While I do like Bridesmaids, it isn’t realistic. Like you said…sometimes life lets you down, no matter what you do. I’m all for personal responsibility and having a positive attitude, but that will only take you so far in life. I know a person who believes in the whole bit about it being all your own fault if life is unhappy. Just a lot of condescending nonsense that doesn’t reflect reality. It seems like a lot of bad people receive good things that they don’t deserve but the truly good people of the world suffer the most. This is what I took away from Bridesmaids and this is what I’ve observed in my own life.

    Sure, Annie wins the guy’s heart in the end…but is she really happy? I wondered about that. It IS a good movie, but that’s really all it is. It shouldn’t be viewed as a realistic outlook on life. Some people take it seriously and they have written blogs about how “deep” it is. They’re convinced that Bridesmaids is filled with life lessons. I guess everyone sees it differently.

    Anyway, I’m sorry about this post being so long…but I really appreciate what you said because it mirrors my own feelings about the movie! ;)

  2. CinemaPsycho said

    I’ll try to get your email address removed.

    I’m obviously not a Wilson Phillips fan, so I’ll let that go. I headed for the exits as soon as the credits came on, just so I wouldn’t have to hear any more of that song. To each their own.

    I find it curious that you say you loved the film, but you seem to disagree with its message completely. I didn’t find it “positive” or “uplifting” at all, for exactly the reasons you mentioned. I generally hate romantic comedies, but I expected this to be different. I’m really tired of comedies that are out to teach us feel-good life lessons. Whatever happened to just making us LAUGH? That’s all I want from a comedy. If I want to be preached to, I’ll go to church. It seems like so many Apatow productions (even the ones he didn’t write or direct) are guilty of this. There are some seriously funny people in this movie, and I felt like most of them were wasted. The biggest disappointment for me was Ellie Kemper (who I find hysterical on The Office) only had a couple of good scenes. She’s in the background most of the time or not in the movie at all. They’re advertising this movie with the ensemble cast on the posters – why not use them?

    It probably wouldn’t bother me so much if certain critics and journalists (many of them female) weren’t rallying around this movie like it’s some kind of accomplishment for the female gender. If you like to see a female character constantly dumped on, yeah, Bridesmaids is great. The whole thing puzzles me. There’s nothing particularly amusing about watching someone’s life turn to shit. And as a male, I wouldn’t find it any funnier if the lead character were a guy (like so many of Ben Stiller’s “male humiliation” comedies, which I don’t understand the appeal of at all). Sure, she apologizes to Nathan, but then what? If I could ask the writers one thing, it would be that simple question: “what do you expect your character to DO about her situation?” This is Screenwriting 101 stuff. This really needed a rewrite.

    Anyway, thanks for reading and I hope you’ll continue checking out the site. Thanks for the comments as well.

  3. Melinda said

    Thanks for your response. ;)

    I know that what I said doesn’t really make sense…I guess what I’m trying to say is that I had very mixed feelings about it. I don’t completely disagree with its message. I simply have some critiques with certain aspects of it. I thought it was a pretty cool movie in its own way but I still took issue with some things, which you mentioned in your own post. The movie didn’t suck, IMO, but it was a bit unrealistic. So yeah…I liked it but I also agree with much of what you’re saying.

    I see what they’re trying to do here, but it kind of fails. Hopefully I’m explaining this better than I did the first time around? I think that it is a well-intentioned attempt at optimism. I can see why some people would find it positive and uplifting, especially people with a constant “look on the bright side” attitude about life. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But in a sense, Bridesmaids took it a bit too far. I guess that’s the pessimistic Scorpio in me.

    I don’t really like most romantic comedies either. I can’t relate to the characters in any way. They’re usually white people with perfect lives and all they need is that special guy/girl to make life more complete. The plot is usually cheesy and it’s the same old formula every time, nothing new. I prefer my thrillers over some dumb romantic comedy.

    What I liked about Bridesmaids is that Annie was somebody with real problems. She was being portrayed as an actual person with a tough life, not some cookie-cutter bimbo. My disappointment, like yours, is in the fact that the conclusion was a bit too pat. She isn’t really offered any logical solutions on how to put her life back together. They just tell her to “hold on” and stop blaming the world for her problems. She is clearly broken and her problems can’t be fixed overnight, so it bothered me that all the responsibility seems to fall on her shoulders. No one seems to care that her life is ruined. She is ultimately responsible for herself but their attitudes aren’t helpful in the least.

    And like I said…Lillian seems to be a crappy friend. I realize that sometimes people drift apart, but it seems like Lillian decided to push Annie aside for Helen, who has her shit together. A true friend should be there when push comes to shove, instead of bailing when a more successful person comes along. Annie might not be wealthy or sophisticated but she is more real and down to earth.

    As a woman, I also agree with your assessment of the situation…there’s nothing funny about seeing somebody turn into an emotional wreck. Maybe it’s because I’ve been there. I enjoyed some parts of this movie but other parts had me rolling my eyes. Like you, I wondered why the loose ends weren’t tied up in a more conclusive way. They should have shown Annie taking action to improve her situation. That would have been better. I don’t see this as a female empowerment movie at all. It has a few brilliant moments but there are a lot of problems with it too. You’re right about it being a bit preachy as well.

    As to Wilson Phillips, I love their music because I grew up on it. I find it catchy. My mom would play them in the car as we drove around so it’s kind of nostalgic for me. But like you said, to each their own. ;)

  4. CinemaPsycho said

    Yeah, I agree. I think it definitely needed a better ending; in fact they probably should have rewritten the whole thing. I suspect that a lot of it was improvised, which can be good but in many cases they lose track of the story. The thing is, we LIKE Annie and we want to see her succeed on her own terms. I think they could have done that in a realistic way without sacrificing the realism of her situation.

    Having said that, I did think there were a few funny scenes, especially the scene on the plane. I think Kristen Wiig is very talented and funny, and it’s to her credit that we like Annie so much despite everything that happens to her. I think this is just one of those cases where the movie people are seeing isn’t the movie that was actually made. And that just puzzles me. I guess I just don’t see any optimism here, as much as they may have intended it. Annie is still pretty much in the same place at the end of the film that she was before, unless I missed something in the end credits. Other than her relationship with Nathan, she is left with nothing. All she does at the end is show up at the wedding. Big deal.

    I tend to have a problem with Apatow-produced comedies, even the ones I like, which could probably make for a whole other post. I don’t think he likes single people very much. Most of his movies seem to end with the lead character “finding themselves” by getting married or finding a new girlfriend/boyfriend. The idea that someone could actually be happy on their own seems to confound him. The idea that someone is “messed up” because they’re not married and “stable” kind of offends me. Some people really shouldn’t be married, and are better off (and happier) by themselves. But again, that’s a subject for another time; I just think it applies here as well. The movie doesn’t seem to like Annie as much as we do, and I think that sucks. It’s her movie, after all.

  5. Melinda said

    So true!

    I was rooting for her because she is definitely a character I could relate to. Kristen Wiig is a great actress, IMO.

    Like you said, Annie is pretty much left with nothing. She has a new relationship with Nathan and that’s fine…but there’s more to life than that. I’m married and as much as I love my husband, there are times when I miss the freedom that comes with being single. Being married has opened my eyes to lots of things. There are advantages and disadvantages on both sides of the coin. Being married or in a relationship doesn’t always mean one will be happy. But when I was younger, I didn’t realize that. I can see how a single person might be offended by the notion that if you’re single, life must be unbearable. That is the issue I have with some romantic comedies. They rarely show a single woman who is actually content with being single and not desperate for a man to “complete” her.

    I also wish that Annie could have been portrayed as finding happiness on her own terms instead of jumping into a new relationship immediately. It was just too soon. Nathan seems like a wonderful guy, but Annie needs to reflect on what she wants in life before trying to make another person happy. She had poor judgment by allowing Ted to use her. I dated a guy like Ted years ago and I was cheering her on when she finally said enough is enough. Although Nathan seems to be a much better person, I felt that he doesn’t quite understand her situation either. I think he means well by encouraging her to start baking again and trying to be supportive of her passion, but like you said…it just isn’t realistic.

    Once again, the ending was just weird. I noticed that no one apologized to Annie or tried to be sensitive to what she was dealing with. There was this sense of fake sisterhood that really annoyed me. We could tell that Helen disliked Annie and the feeling was mutual. The final straw was when she stole Annie’s ideas for Lillian’s wedding and, to make matters worse, tried to make Annie’s bridal shower gift seem insignificant compared to her own (the trip to Paris). So it was odd to have them being all touchy-feely in the end.

    I wonder if Apatow is married or not? He does seem to have a slight bias toward single people. Or he could simply be very idealistic about love and that could explain having his single characters being paired up in his movies. Who knows?

    Anyway, this is a really cool blog…I look forward to reading more critiques! I loved your analysis of Black Swan.

  6. JN said

    This is a bunch of BULLCRAP!!!!!!!! Bridesmaids is the MOST funniest movie I have EVER seen! If your gonna say crap like this I’m not ever going to agree to it. That is YOUR matter of OPINION. A whole lot of people liked this movie. Your one of the few that didn’t. Your problem. =P

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