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May 15, 2011


Bridesmaids: #2!


Did you see Bridesmaids? Because it's really funny. A lot of people saw it, sure, though not enough to achieve my desired goal of it becoming the #1 movie in America. That's because Thor is the #1 movie in America, for the second week.

According to the head of distribution for the the studio that released Bridesmaids, Nikki Rocco, coming in second on opening weekend is "pretty good considering this is a picture titled Bridesmaids." Maybe a little defeatist there, Rocco, about a movie that it's your job to promote? What about a picture titled Thor? I'll tell you right now, I'm not interested in a picture titled Thor, particularly if it's directed by Kenneth Branagh. I'll see Shakespeare by Kenneth Branagh, but a Norse god comic book adaptation? I'll stick with Bridesmaids.

Also, am I just being paranoid, or is the (female) head of distribution for Universal implying that a movie primarily by and about women is inherently less watchable than a movie by and about men? She's just flat out saying that, right?

Bridesmaids is a very funny movie, and Kristen Wiig (who co-wrote, co-produced, and stars) is wildly talented, but it's most notable for two things. First, Melissa McCarthy, aka Sookie from "Gilmore Girls", as the sister of the groom. She is a comic genius, and her character is, in Manohla Dargis's words, almost radical: a fat lady whose sexual confidence and outrageously brash physical comedy aren't signs of any pathology or deeper insecurity, but are accepted as simple, hilarious fact. Sort of like a female Jack Black. Everything she says and does is funny.

Also, Bridesmaids might be the best example of the then-nonexistent movies about believable, cool women that Cynthia Heimel described in her wonderful short essay from 1992, "I'd Like to Lose it At the Movies", which you can read on Google Books:

I want to see women who are rowdy and difficult, who are not victims, who control their own destinies, who are prey to lust and confusion and unbelievable fuck-ups, who are complex, who are real, who are adventuresome, whose entire existence does not rely on the way in which their men treat them.

She then goes on to imagine her own movie studio, where she would remake every movie that stars Jack Nicholson with a woman playing his role: "Picture Five Easy Pieces with Goldie Hawn as a lapsed concert pianist who is so tortured by the ironies of life that she has to pick up Matt Dillon at a bowling alley and fuck his brains out." Yeah, it's from 1992. Still.

It's not perfect, it's heavy on the poop jokes, and it's 100% formulaic, but I think Cynthia Heimel finally got the movie she was looking for. And it's a lot funnier than Baby Mama.

categories: Books, Women
posted by amy at 11:27 PM | #

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Melissa McCarthy reminded me of Zach Galifianakis or Andy Kaufman - throwing everything she had at this totally crazy character to make it painfully believable. . .if there is another movie where a female actor pulls off a character like that, then I really need to rent it. And of course it's also nice that she's fat but that's not the joke, again like Zach Galifianikis.

I also spent a lot of the movie trying to figure out how different an Apatow-style comedy starring women would be from one starring men, and I think a major difference is that the movie encouraged you to feel sympathy toward Maya Rudolph and especially Kristen Wiig. I'm not sure there was ever really a point in 40-Year Old Virgin, Superbad, The Hangover, or Wedding Crashers where I actually felt bad for horrible things happening to the main characters. I don't know if it's because it's harder for men (at least men who aren't pigs) to laugh at terrible things happening to women, or if it's just that these two screenwriters wanted sympathetic rather than more cartoonish main characters. I would think it's the second, but I wonder if maybe it's easier to make a good drama about women, since audiences would then feel more symapthetic. Which would explain why there are so many great dramas about women starring middle-aged actresses.

But it really is a funny movie, and a lot better than Thor is likely to be. I hope it makes a lot of money.

Posted by: T-Rock at May 16, 2011 5:00 PM

I think Gilda Radner pulled off a Melissa McCarthy-level performance most weeks on SNL, but since then? How much hilarious physical comedy do we see in movies from women now?

Maybe once in a while from Anna Faris. You might wanna watch Smiley Face if you haven't seen it yet. Not the greatest movie, but it's the only female stoner movie I know of, which is worth something in itself, and she's incredible.

Posted by: amy at May 16, 2011 10:56 PM

I think Rocco isn't saying a movie about bridesmaids is less watchable, she's saying that movies by/for/about women tend to do worse at the box office (largely because kids of either gender don't like 'em). After all, she's a studio head, not a film critic; her only priority is how well movies sell, not whether they're any good. And with that in mind, she's making the right call, both in thinking it and in saying it publicly---I would love for Bridesmaids to do better than Thor, but it won't, and saying that doing better than Thor is your goal is to set yourself up for failure. The Bridesmaids campaign has been very smart about keeping expectations reasonable so they could exceed them, and this is one more volley in that battle (and thus, the battle to make upcoming Natalie Portman and Anna Ferris comedies).

I do find it interesting watching the split over the poop jokes happening on Facebook. My women friends in Fairbanks love the poop jokes, and love seeing poop jokes in a movie about women. My women friends on the East Coast cheerlead for it despite the poop jokes, and many regard those as a regrettable concession to Apatow. Which suggests that now, as always, there's a lot of unfortunate class markers getting confused with feminist principles.

Which leads to the biggest problem with Heimel's desired movie: Women would hate it. A female lead who acted like Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces would be attacked as a sexist caricature: Shakesville would condemn the portrait of a woman needing men for fulfillment, Jezebel would be angry that she gets carted away by the police instead of becoming CEO of a successful company, Redbook would be appalled by the language and suggest the whole thing was a male fantasy… T-Rock's right, too, about how differently audiences process male and female suffering---a man getting punched in the face is funny, a woman getting punched in the face is not (though the tennis-ball-to-the-boobs gag in Bridesmaids was amusing, if underdone). The really sad thing is, the movie Heimel's talking about has been made, wonderfully---it's Agnes Varda's VAGABOND. And it's great. No one's seen it, though.

Posted by: That Fuzzy Bastard at May 18, 2011 11:24 AM

I loved the poop jokes. Regarding those women who say they suffered through the poop jokes, I think this is kind of like studies about women and porn, where women say they don't like porn and claim it doesn't turn them on, but all empirical measures say they do and it does. My low-class(?) 42nd St East Coast theater was laughing its collective head off at the poop jokes.

I agree that Rocco and the rest of Universal was correct to keep expectations in check for Bridesmaids' opening box office in order to surpass them, but I don't like that the person in charge of distributing this movie publicly implies that movies about women aren't commercially successful. I know, she's right, many men don't want to see movies about women, so studios don't make many movies about women. But it doesn't help when female studio execs trash the viability of their own movies in the press. Can we get a little support, here, Rocco? We've got to start somewhere.

Is there a scene of Nicholson getting taken away by the cops in Five Easy Pieces that I'm forgetting about? I agree with Heimel that I want more movies with female characters whose identities don't begin and end with their men, something I rarely see in mainstream movies. Ideally these would be comedies, but I'll take what I can get. No surprise that Agnes Varda was already there, like, 25 years ago. Vagabond is on Netflix! Cool! Are there poop jokes?

Posted by: amy at May 18, 2011 9:58 PM

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