When I saw all the reviews for Bridesmaids calling it The 40 Year Old Virgin for ladies, I’d assumed that was just typical movie reviewer laziness, desperate to come up with a pithy one-liner. But sure enough, it is pretty much exactly what it says on the box: a Judd Apatow movie with all the genders reversed.
Which is weird, because Judd Apatow movies already struck me as kind of girly. Lots of guys chatting with their friends about their feelings before finding their soulmate and going on to a happy ending. And for all the raunchy reputation, they were predominately conservative: a story about the value of abstinence or maturing into a responsible father and husband (and avoiding abortion). They already seemed targeted at all of us guys who weren’t being properly serviced by all the Jason Statham and Vin Diesel movies. Basically: romantic comedies with all the genders reversed.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I liked 40 Year Old Virgin well enough and Knocked Up a lot. And Bridesmaids is pretty funny and enjoyable. And it’s enjoyable for exactly the same reasons: the marketing emphasizes the raunchiness, but there’s nothing remotely transgressive or subversive about any of these movies. Even with Melissa McCarthy shitting into a sink and Maya Rudolph taking a dump in the middle of the street and the other women vomiting on top of each other.
What is unusual about Bridesmaids and these other movies is that they have likable, semi-realistic characters stumbling through otherwise formulaic romantic comedies. Kristen Wiig gets plenty of opportunities to do almost all her schtick from Saturday Night Live, but there are just as many scenes where she’s having conversations that don’t sound written, with people she has a genuine chemistry with. Sure, I’ll pay to watch Wiig hang out with Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd from “The IT Crowd.” Those moments are the real appeal.
Well, those moments along with any scene with Melissa McCarthy, because she pretty much runs away with the whole movie. (I didn’t realize that her seatmate on the plane is played by her real life husband, which is kind of awesome).
You still end up with those semi-realistic moments pumping up a formulaic structure that’s threatening to collapse in on itself. I started to wonder whether they put so much emphasis on Kristen Wiig having written the script with a Groundlings colleague because if it were written by a man, it’d be laughably sexist. Granted, I’m one of the least qualified people on the planet to speak about “what women like,” but so much of the movie seems like videogame companies’ attempts to pander to female players by putting in more shopping and making everything pink. Bridesmaids has: a career woman with low self-esteem, having sex with Jon Hamm, planning her best friend’s wedding, jealous of a (ostensibly) younger and prettier woman who eventually gets her comeuppance, and finding a cute and funny cop she can fall in love with and also he has an accent.
(One of my favorite things about the movie is that they just cast the charming guy they liked and didn’t spend any more than a token attempt to explain how he could be Irish and a cop).
Of course, the romantic comedies for him show dudes getting stoned, playing videogames, spending all day at work, and going out to bars to try and get laid. So maybe at some point you’ve just got to relax and and stop getting so hung up about reinforcing stereotypes.
By the time they got to the extraordinarily conventional ending of Bridesmaids, I’d already gotten enough genuinely pleasant entertainment out of it to give the rest a pass. But after two hours (it’s really too long), plus an additional 15 minutes of trailers so clearly not directed at me that I’d considered slinking out into a cartoon or another screening of Thor, I started to wonder if I was witnessing the white dwarf-like implosion of an entire genre of movie.
All of the trailers (except for Super 8) were for interchangeable, near-indistinguishable chick movies, plus the inspiring story of a woman writer who overcomes a rich racist white woman, and a movie where womanizer Ryan Reynolds does a Freaky Friday with married man Justin Bateman after they both piss in a magic fountain. So: girly movies that are advertising themselves as being edgier than girly movies.
The worst offender was for a movie with Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake as friends-with-benefits who — gasp! — might actually be falling in love. The characters deliberately set out to defy “Hollywood romantic comedy cliches,” and the trailer even has a scene with Kunis complaining about Katherine Heigl movies and screaming at a poster of The Ugly Truth. In a movie that has exactly the same premise as No Strings Attached, a near-identical romantic comedy that came out just this year.
It’s a kind of self-loathing that pervades these movies. Bridesmaids is also being packaged and sold as an antidote to the typical chick movie, even though the most appealing scenes, the only scenes that make it feel unique, are the ones that are the girliest: two women having a genuine conversation with each other.