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Swallowing the Bride's Prejudice

MOVIE REVIEW
Bridesmaids (2011)

Bridesmaids-rose-byrne-maya-rudolph-kristen-wiig-ellie-kemper
Suzanne Hanover/Universal Studios

Annie (Kristen Wiig) is having a bad time. Her bakery recently folded and she lost a lot of money, so she's working an awful jewelry-store job her mom (Jill Clayburgh in her final role) got her as a favor. She lives with two weird British siblings (Matt Lucas and scene-stealing Rebel Wilson) where she's behind on the rent. Her mom is nice, but their relationship is a little fraught. And the guy she's "seeing," Ted (an uncredited — and hilarious — Jon Hamm), is a total prick.

So it's no surprise she is not entirely pleased that her best friend since childhood, Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is getting married. And she's even less pleased to learn that, through the engagement, Lillian has gained entry into a world of country-club membership, tennis matches and couture from which she has been kept away. This world is the natural home of Helen (Rose Byrne), Lillian's new best friend, whom Annie hates on sight. Annie is the maid of honor — but who is she really?

This is not the question one expects a movie, sold as a knockabout comedy for lady-people produced by Judd Apatow, to be asking. It's unexpected and really unsatisfying, mostly because the script by Ms. Wiig and Annie Mumolo completely ignores the movie's major issue: class. Annie hasn't been able to afford to replace the broken taillights on her unwashed car for more than a year. The friendly cop who pulls her over, Officer Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd, a charming Irish comedian who really should have gone to the trouble of an American accent), remembers her shop and lets her off. But she still has to give tips on how to get it started to a valet at a cocktail party to which she's not wearing a cocktail dress. She brings the bridal group to a Brazilian restaurant (more on which later) because there you get a lot for your money.

Worst of all, when the group overrides Annie's suggestions and decides to go to Vegas, she's the only one who has to fly coach. This extended airplane sequence actually has Helen and Lillian sip champagne in first class and complain about Annie's pride in refusing to let them upgrade her ticket. With friends like these, are we truly meant to believe Annie's only problem is her own attitude?

Director Paul Feig, a TV sitcom veteran, chooses to film most of the scenes in two-shots with a lot of cutting back and forth between talking heads. So even when the women are meant to be together, they are still isolated. Annie's working-class status is emphasized by the places she goes with Officer Rhodes — a convenience store, a highway lay-by, a corner bar — as compared to Ted's fancy house, Helen's stables and Lillian's country club. Helen and Annie interact by trying to one-up each other for Lillian's affections. The only other bridesmaid Annie talks with is Megan (Melissa McCarthy), Lillian’s new sister-in-law and the only other person in the movie who doesn't quite fit in. The movie wants Annie to learn her place and stay in it.

It's equally depressing that Annie is constantly patronized and dismissed by the other characters for not having a man in her life. Of the six bridesmaids, only Annie is single; Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey) is married with three awful sons, Becca (Ellie Kemper) is a blushing newlywed; and Megan is an aggressive man-eater (quite literally, during the credits). Annie's single status is emphasized and mocked, even when it's plain that all the marriages are unhappy and Lillian's fiance doesn't even get to speak. Perhaps it's churlish to complain about this in a wedding-themed movie, but surely it would have been funnier to have had a happily single person joining in with confidence that this bridezilla stuff isn't for her.

So, leaving aside the capitalist and gender-construct propaganda, is "Bridesmaids" any fun? The answer is not really. The only sequence with all six women on the poster together is at the restaurant mentioned above and then Milwaukee's finest bridal shop, where all the women but one are suddenly overcome with food poisoning. Here we see why Mses. McLendon-Covey, Kemper and McCarthy were cast, as they were willing to go to the wall in a superbly nasty gross-out sequence that ends up being a competition about how best to isolate these women from each other. Six women, one bathroom could have been a hilarious bonding experience bringing them together in adversity, but instead all of their humiliation becomes theirs to bear alone. Ms. Wiig has been a successful mainstream comedienne for years. She was in the joyous food-fight scene in "Whip It." This is the first movie in ages where the main secondary characters have been mostly women (except for the remake of "The Women," of course). But there's no getting past the fact that this movie shows, in explicit detail, female friendship will literally make you sick.

In 1980's "Private Benjamin," Goldie Hawn remembered the lessons learned from her female colleagues in the army and jilts a self-obsessed loser at the altar to rediscover her own self-worth. Susan Sarandon shot Geena Davis's rapist in 1991's "Thelma & Louise" and then the two went face the consequences together. "Muriel's Wedding" from 1994 featured a grotesque bachelorette party where a woman wearing a fruit plate lectured Toni Collette about dignity. All these years later, are we meant to be happy about the picture of friendship now which "Bridesmaids" paints? Slate's Jessica Grose calls this movie a "homance" — which is neither funny nor clever, but actually a perfect summation of how much has been lost. Shouldn't a movie about friendship actually show the people being friendly to each other? And shouldn't a movie about class actually address its subject? It's unfortunate that "Bridesmaids" does not adjust its attitude. And it's very depressing to realize that that's only part of its problem.

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