Wednesday, May 18, 2011

'Bridesmaids' May Not Pass The Bechdel Test, But It Passes Mine...

My friend Jamie is always referencing the Bechdel Movie Test. This is the test in which you judge movies (or telvision shows) based on whether or not their female characters can hold a conversation based around anything other than some dude). The characters really should be leads, but some projects don't even have women in starring roles (still? In this day and age!? Don't get me started...), so really any characters who have names and actual lines will do. My friend Jamie likes the game so much she recently made a drinking game out of it for one WB-turned-CW show that shall remain nameless. Oh, and my friend Jamie is getting married in about a year. These two things may not seem related except that they were both inevitably on my mind when I went to see Bridesmaids over the weekend.

I thoroughly enjoyed Bridesmaids in a way I didn't think p
ossible. Although the marketing materials and TV spots don't do the film any favors by making it look like the female version of The Hang-Over, I was one particular audience member who was glad to see that though I didn't get what I expected, I got something better. The trailer for Bridesmaids (which I won't embed here because that would defeat the purpose) is misleading. It uses alternate takes and lines of dialogue to make the film feel a bit more raunchy and a bit more slapstick, but thankfully the actual film has much more depth than you might have been led to believe. I credit this to the fact that it had female screenwriters and that one (Kristen Wiig) actually starred in the movie, too. Being on set ensures the story gets told the way a writer wants, and often that is a luxury not afforded to all in this business. But I digress. Sure, Bridesmaids had its share of gratuitous laughs, bits that were really nothing more than mini-montages of silly ways of doing things, like dancing or trying to get someone's attention while driving, and of course there was that one big toilet humor gag (no pun intended), but all of those, including and especially the latter, served to add to the film's particular charm and flavor. Usually put off by fart jokes and always on the verge of dry-heaving myself when anyone throws up on camera, I found myself laughing so hard I cried when the girls got food poisoning but Wiig refused to admit it, the sweat starting as a dewy glow on her brow and turning into a full-on stream down her cheeks, and Maya Rudolph simply sank to a squat in the street, waving cars around her, still somehow managing to appear demure with the white of the wedding dress poofing around her like a cushion.

What I went in expecting was a tale about female rivalry that reared its ugly head during what is supposed to be the most special time in one woman (in this case Rudolph)'s life. I expected some cat-fights, some passive aggressive behavior, some debauchery. I admit it: I expected the stereotype. But what I got back was a well-rounded, fully-formed film about one woman's struggle to match up and catch up.

I also expected a buddy comedy, and Bridesmaids is not that. Bridesmaids is Wiig's story, and Wiig's vehicle to become a bigger movie star, I would imagine. And it's working. Though she is known for playing over-the-top and sometimes downright annoying sketch comedy players on Saturday Night Live, here she is subdued and grounded. So much so that even if you are not as in tune with her character for personal reasons as I am, you can't help but feel her sadness. She is a woman who should have it all figured out by now, by society's standards, by some of the other women's standards, and by her own. And though she knows that, and though she has tried, it takes her best friend from childhood getting engaged to really slap her awake to it. Suddenly it's everywhere she looks: from having no one with whom to attend the engagement party, to getting fired for telling one customer too many that love and relationships are not really "forever," to her mother telling her over and over that maybe she should just move back home. She's a woman who has been kicked in the crotch by life. And by men. But really it's because she has lost her own self-confidence and accepts the bad behavior and the negativity that comes her way. Well, maybe not "accepts" it so much as just keeps allowing it to happen. When you're feeling that low, you tend to stop trying, unable to take anymore "real" heartbreak if you were to try and fail (again). But as she's slowly slipping toward her bottom, her best friend is right there sitting pretty on top about to have the career, the home, the husband, and the new perkier best friend who has all the money.

But it is more than okay that Wiig is downplaying her comedic abilities in this film because Melissa McCarthy steps up and into the role of scene stealer, even if she's slightly out of focus or off to the side of the screen in a crowd reaction shot. She truly embodies the "there are no small parts only small actors" training; through small elements many actors don't want to think about, such as wardrobe, she has created a very specific, and of course memorable, character worthy of a weekly sketch being written around her. It gets to the point where if she's not in a scene you're waiting for that one to hurry up and end so you can get to one that does showcase her. And the tag with her and her real life husband that cuts into the credits? Worth the price of admission alone!

Admittedly, no, Bridesmaids does not pass the Bechdel Movie Test. In fact, the opening scenes alone set up the fact that it will fail that one spectacularly. But I think you know that going in: this is a film about a woman trying not to fall apart as her best friend not only gets everything she wants first but does it at a time when she herself thinks she will never be there, too. The conversations they have are always about the wedding or the guys; even when they are reminiscing about their good old times, the scenes are weighted with the fact that it will never be the same; it will never be just the two of them again. But in my experience, that's pretty true of life, so it can't bother me when a movie reflects that. When you get married-- hell, even when you're in a serious relationship-- your significant other is the one you spend the most social or otherwise free or personal time with, so all of your stories become about things he said or things the two of you did together. For me, it was just nice to see that no matter how much their lives were pulling them apart, they were still trying to find ways to relate and spend time together. I know far too many women who get into a relationship and then go AWOL from their platonic friends.

Sometimes the camera lingers too long on a site gang or director Paul Feig comes into a scene too early, when no one is talking, so it looks like those awkward moments on live TV when the actors don't realize they're on-air and need to be "on" in personality, as well. But pacing problems aside, the story is so sweet (and for some, timely!) that I couldn't help but fall in love with it. It may be getting a lot of hype in the media (and I'm not entirely convinced that a lot of it isn't from people who are still surprised women can even be funny), but it more than delivers, maybe just in different ways than you were expecting.

...though I will say that now I am even more nervous for my own duties as a member of a wedding party. I didn't realize how many events need to be planned and how much money is usually spent by the bridal party as opposed to the family paying for the actual ceremony. Like Wiig's character, I don't quite have my sh*t together in the way I always thought I would by this point in my life. But unlike Wiig's character, I'm not much of an adventurous eater, so at least I won't give anybody food poisoning! I make no promises about dueling toasts, though.


Paul said...

I just watched the movie a couple nights ago, and I loved it too. But I think you're wrong - I think it does pass the Bechdel test, and with flying colors:

1. It has to have at least two women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

#1 and #2 I take to be self-evident. As for #3 - as far as I can tell, Annie's character (Kristen Wiig) has in-depth, substantive discussions with Lillian, Megan, Helen and her (Annie's) mother.

I'll grant that the movie is nominally about a wedding, and that Annie does get the guy in the end, but I think both of those are ancillary to the development of the plot.

Saskia said...

A wedding is not a man. This movie passes with flying colors. Lillian could very well have been marrying a woman and the movie would hardly be any different - the movie was barely even about the wedding and really about the relationships between the women.

Acepincter said...

It's the "reverse" bechdel test it fails! No two men talk to each other except about a woman.