Saturday June 4th 2011
I’m perfectly happy to join the chorus of approval for Bridesmaids. It’s consistently funny, well paced and intelligent, and while undoubtedly formulaic, it’s head and shoulders above most of Hollywood’s recent comedy output (even Gulliver’s Travels, swear down). Star and co-writer Kristen Wiig has never been better, and emerges here as a big proper comedy star, rather than just a kooky sidekick or an oddly sidelined love interest <cough>Paul</cough>. And despite its strong female ensemble cast, the film never falls into the trap of ignoring its male characters, instead providing ample space for Chris O’Dowd (also better here than in Gulliver’s Travels) to flex his muscles as a plausible, funny, complex romantic lead. In short, it’s a strong 0.81 out of 1 and the best thing Judd Apatow’s been involved in since Knocked Up.
Unfortunately, the marketing strategy thoughtlessly applied to this nuanced, good-natured comedy makes me want to knock at least 0.32 off that score. I don’t know how exactly it happened but at some point in the last six months, millions of journalists, PRs and studio execs banded together in a global effort to perpetuate one of the most patronising promotional campaigns since that TV ad telling you to care about politics if you don’t want the pub to close at 11.
There can be no doubt that Hollywood female-led comedy is in a state of disarray. For every film like this, there are a thousand Kate Hudson movies where female characters are allowed a maximum of two qualities, one of which has to be either ‘sexy’ or ‘quirky’. It’s also entirely true that male-led comedies are becoming increasingly misogynistic and condescending, seemingly casting their female characters purely on the basis of youth, appearance and willingness to undress.
But hanging all of this baggage on Bridesmaids, which makes no conscious effort to comment on any of it, only serves to polarise comedy audiences even further. After all, why should men go and see the film when millions of dollars are being spent telling them that it’s the Sheilas’ Wheels of Japatow comedies? Suddenly every broadsheet in the country is holding Bridesmaids up against Hangover 2 or Paul or whatever and declaring the start of some awful comedy-based gender war.
It occurs to me that the world might be a nicer place if the film was lauded for renouncing all of the bias and mean-spiritedness of its male-led peers, rather than being mis-sold as a kind of fight-fire-with-fire riposte — Frankee’s ‘Fuck You Right Back’ to Eamon’s ‘Fuck It’. The screening I went to was staffed by male strippers, and I know it’s only ‘for a laugh’ and not worth getting worked up about, but surely this is just gender bias of a different kind? I’m struggling to remember the last time I was served drinks by a partially naked woman at a publicity event, and I think that’s because even the most misogynistic of movies would have trouble justifying a PR move like that. Is it because male strippers are ‘a bit of fun’, while female strippers are hollow symbols of sleaze and degradation? Because last time I checked, that’s not quite the definition of feminism.
Why not go one further and have a man (preferably one who admits to having seen The Hangover) in the stocks at each and every public screening of Bridesmaids? Then the women in the audience can feel empowered while they pelt him with tomatoes, and the men can chuckle along dutifully for fear of raising any objection and being immediately branded a massive misogynist — or worse, a Kevin James fan. It’s definitely what the filmmakers would have wanted.
In the future, all comedy will be marketed exclusively at one gender, and you’ll shut up and like it because otherwise there are no more fart jokes for anyone.