Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bridesmaids is a victory for... fans of comedy

Bridesmaids scored an opening-weekend box office take that exceeded expectations, and even though it only captured the number 2 slot (behind Thor) that position was considered quite the victory for those involved and, if much of the response to the film is to be believed, for women in general.

However, on the Gabfest the question was posed: "Is a movie where women shit themselves is a victory for feminism?"


That, I'd say, is putting way too much on one little comedy. I doubt that when Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo sat down to write the script they were aspiring to create a treatise on what would be a "victory for feminism"; they were trying to make something that was funny. To discuss it as part of some larger agenda is to be no longer talking about the movie but about the larger agenda only. So mentioning the movie ceases to be about the movie but its title is essentially a synecdoche for the reaction to it.

Which is more than any movie of this sort deserves.

That people felt compelled to exhort everyone to see it out of "feminist duty" makes some sort of statement about the nimrods who green-light movies, sure, but a far better endorsement would have been: Go see this because it's hilariously funny. If you're merely going to see it out of any sense of obligation then it's no victory for either gender.

Now, about the scatological components of the movie to which some have objected: To suggest that a film cannot have a scene filled with vomit and diarrhea because it's women doing it is (say it with me, kids) inherently sexist, and (from what little I pretend to understand about feminism), at least kind of anti-feminist (but, of course, I'm probably wrong). One is certainly free to think the scene's not that funny—and it certainly is far from the best or funniest part—and one can believe the tone is not in keeping with the other humor, but that should be the end point of why one dislikes it; as soon as one invokes some tacit gender barrier about who can or cannot make that joke, one has only revealed one's own sexist bias—even if it's in the ostensible pursuit of promoting feminism.

My personal take on the scene in question (I guess I should put a very mild SPOILER ALERT here): The humor is supposed to contrast the hoity-toity environment of the bridal gown store with the extraordinarily lowbrow scatology. It's also a visceral example of how when Wiig's character Annie tries to do something for the bridesmaids—taking them to a Brazilian restaurant in a shady part of town—it utterly backfires (pun intended) when they all get food poisoning which erupts when they're trying on dresses; this is furthering the contrast to the events planned by the seemingly perfect other bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne). So it's not merely there to appeal to a lowest common denominator (although, admittedly, it does also achieve that) but it can be said to contribute to the conflict that propels the plot. Could the film have succeeded without it? Sure, but it far from ruined the rest.

But just as a few years ago when the first time an African-American head coach was in the Super Bowl (in fact, both head coaches were that year) and many noted that it will be a great day when such racial distinctions are some commonplace as to be not worth mentioning, it seems a similar cultural milestone will be the time when a very funny female-led comedy doing well at the box office without any allusion to feminism will be the true great victory for feminism.

And really, won't that be a victory for us all? A dull day for the internet, but otherwise a win.

Not that it will likely come in our lifetime, but still...


  1. I'll count an asteroid striking Los Angeles as a victory for everyone. I hope you'll be on vacation far away on that day. ;-)

  2. But Marvin, it's well-established that Hollywood knows how to deal with asteroids.


So, what do you think?