Movies about weddings are normally about finding “true love”. They are not all bad films by any means, but neither are they films I would run to the cinema to catch on their opening weekend.
So I approached with caution Bridesmaids, the new film from producer Judd Apatow.
But as I watched it I felt like I was in a parallel cinema universe. Women were allowed to be funny—as in tell jokes, not just fall over or be the butt of jokes between men—and be different shapes and sizes, and be skint.
Bridesmaids is written by two comedians, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, known in the US for their appearances on renowned TV comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live. And this is part of what makes this film different from—and better than—Apatow’s other productions.
This film is about a woman, Annie (Wiig), who feels her life is going down the pan. She lost her business in the recession and is now stuck as a sales assistant in a particularly depressing jewellery shop.
She subjects herself to a self-destructive sexual relationship with rich and handsome Ted—played by John Hamm, better known as Mad Men’s Don Draper.
This is a more real and grubby depiction of men like Draper, who never give a thought to what the women they are sleeping with might want or need.
She is living in a manky flat-share in Milwaukee with a bizarre Englishman (Matt Lucas) and his even weirder sister.
When her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), gets engaged it shines a light on Annie’s sense of failure. As maid of honour, Annie has to organise the pre-wedding events—a hen night, a “bridal shower” (apparently such things exist), and so on.
Each is more disastrous than the last and Annie begins to fear she will lose her best friend too.
Bridesmaids gently laughs at the ridiculousness of weddings, and at the insane expense of them. Annie’s already stretched-to-the-limit finances can’t cope with the demands put on her as the wedding slips out of her control and into the hands of country club member Helen.
The bridesmaids decide to fly to Las Vegas for the hen night, so Annie is stuck back in economy while the rest of the party are in first class. They all pick the $800 designer bridesmaids dresses while she desperately tries to convince them to go for the cheaper number.
I noticed that Annie had just one pair of dress shoes, which she wore at each catastrophic event.
This isn’t Sex and the City—the cast don’t spend their time discussing shoes and clothes and hair.
But there are believable, funny interactions between women who are friends. This is so rare on the big screen that it makes you look back at women in comedy.
There was a golden age of the screwball comedies in the 1930s and 1940s, when women such as Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck had the best lines, but after the war this largely dried up.
Women were either femmes fatale in the noir thrillers or suffering mothers and wives in the melodramas.
Funny women shrank down to the TV screen and stayed there for the next few decades.
And even here women who were allowed to be funny in their own right rather than through their relations to men are in a tiny minority.
Some of the best female-led comedies of recent years have a message: you don’t need a man to be happy! True enough.
For example look at Miss Congeniality 2, an excellent female buddy movie which ends with Sandra Bullock discarding the pink garb and make-up she acquired in the original film.
But perhaps the attitude is more surprising in a film produced by Apatow who brought us the so-called “slacker comedies” over the last few years.
I have to confess to being a fan of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which has a soft beating heart and gently ridicules its laddish younger characters.
But I had to turn off Superbad after 15 minutes as I couldn’t take any more grotesque teenage boy humour.
But it may be significant that director Paul Feig is better known for his work on TV in directing episodes of Arrested Development, Nurse Jackie and the US Office.
And it’s refreshing that Bridesmaids isn’t a “chick flick” trying to empower us.
It is a movie about people, who are women, who are in their 30s and have wrinkles and not enough money, and who are funny. Like people are.
Even if this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea—and if you are squeamish I would recommend covering your eyes and ears in the truly gross gown fitting scene—then at least be pleased that it exists.