Bridesmaids was marketed like a raunch-com centered on female friendship and the absurdities of weddings, but there's a whole lot more going on. The film's wide-ranging (and, to some, surprisingly cross-gender) appeal appeal is based on something far more universal.
Don't let the title or ad campaign fool you - it's about so much more than a wedding
I am not a wedding person. I have never been a bridesmaid* or a maid of honor. In fact, I have only been to three weddings in the last seven years, despite a large number of my high school and college classmates having gotten married in that time. I do watch a lot of wedding programs when I have cable, but mostly because the whole endeavor & the contemporary wedding industry seem so crazy to me ($6,000 on a wedding dress! $30,000 on a ceremony and reception! The tears! Finding the perfect chair to fit the steampunk, Tuscan fairytale theme!). Okay….I also just really like cake programs - making, decorating, judging, whatever. I love it. I guess I also like passing judgment on the couple’s choices. (Don’t judge me. You do it too.)
My point is that, while I imagine it’s very true that Bridesmaids speaks to the absurdity of the wedding/bridesmaid experience and the unique iteration of female friendship that it brings to light, that cannot account for my love for the film and its characters. Neither can it really account for the pleasure male viewers take in the film or the connection they might feel with Annie (Kristen Wiig).
But this isn’t really a movie about a wedding or being a bridesmaid - only a few scenes actually have to do with wedding preparations and I don’t think the scene from the trailer where Annie drinks and Googles “maid of honor duties” is even in the film. Annie’s unease with her best friend Lillian’s marriage isn’t about relationship status or jealousy or feeling empty as a single person - it’s about feeling stalled. It seems like Lillian’s life is moving forward, while Annie’s is not. That is an insanely frustrating feeling and can engender a lot of self-pity, especially when you have actually tried hard to move your life forward. Annie is no Ben (Seth Rogen in Knocked Up), who initially “fails” because he doesn’t try at all. Once he does apply himself (thanks to the “love of a good women” and the paternal imperative), he gets a job, grows up, and is a dorky, slightly immature “catch”. Annie did try. She opened a small business, had a “grown-up” life and a boyfriend, was good at what she did - if Officer Nathan’s (the adorable Chris O'Dowd from UK's The IT Crowd) declarations don’t convince you, there’s the framed article in Annie’s room to prove it. How much more affecting, then, to fail or be rejected for reasons at least partly outside of your control (in Annie’s case, due to the economy)?
I’d argue that this is a much more relatable situation and also a richer, more difficult one. There are times in most people’s lives when things just do not go right, despite your best and most strenuous efforts. Your life is a mess and simply hooking up with the right person (Knocked Up, countless rom-coms) or taking a trip (Eat, Pray, Love) or finding your ‘passion’ no matter how ridiculous (designing shoes? Really, P.S. I Love You?) won’t magically make it better. As I am personally learning, you have to just endure it and do your best to improve what you can: your self-image, your state of mind, your relationships. Annie’s personal journey doesn’t end in a happy resolution of all her problems. She still lives with her mom, she is still unemployed. What Annie gains (aside from an adorable Irish boyfriend) is a greater sense of self-worth and self-awareness. She is able to find joy in baking again, even if she doesn’t have her business back. She has enough self-respect to realize she’d rather be alone and feel good about herself than continue in an emotionally, psychologically and physically unsatisfying pseudo-relationship. It's true that she doesn’t have to be alone for long (thanks to Officer Nathan), but getting together with Nathan seems more the icing on the cake (pun intended) than something necessary for or the ultimate indicator of Annie's success. Annie is not ‘fixed’, but she is starting to see herself as something that is not permanently damaged. The film isn't wrapped up with a tidy little bow, but it's so much more interesting (and real?) that way.
Annie’s stalled status also isn’t necessarily a gendered experience or state of being. While much of the strength and richness of the film is based in what I feel to be a decent representation of female friendships, Annie’s feelings of self-pity, her loss of financial independence, the way she returns to a (non)relationship that is not good for her……a lot of people - men, women, trans, gay, straight - can relate to that. I have no doubts that cisgendered women like myself with at least one strong female friendship will feel more connected to the film, but Annie’s appeal is much broader than that demographic. Aside from being hysterically funny, she is also a well-drawn character with flaws and problems that are relatable across the gender spectrum - the very least of which is whether to go to Vegas or the Lake House for the bachelorette party.
Want to read some more about Bridesmaids? Check these out!
"Seeing Bridesmaids is a social responsibility" - While I may not go as far as to say it's a social responsibility to see the film, Rebecca Traister's article on the importance of the film in the current entertainment climate is a good read
*...never in my adult life. I was a bridesmaid once in high school, for my neighbor's second wedding. Her kids, my sisters, and I were all in the wedding party, but we pretty much just had to pick out the color & embellishments for our dresses and stand still during the ceremony. Fun fact: that bridesmaid dress doubled as my dress for junior prom!
I'm currently pursuing a MA Cultural Studies at Claremont Graduate University, with coursework in both media and museum studies. This return to my native environment of academia comes after two years working in the nonprofit sector.
I also tumbl over at actionreaction-film.tumblr.com and Tube at www.youtube.com/user/indiannagurl