I like the Carnie Wilson cameo, but Bridesmaids should have been nicer to fat ladies

Hopefully the inclusion of a certain late 80s pop trio isn’t a spoiler because you already saw Bridesmaids last weekend. Astute followers of SNL alum’s film efforts might note that it isn’t even the first time Wilson Phillips’ big hit made an appearance in one of their movies. “Hold On” is performed twice (two times) in Spring Breakdown, a movie that I maintain is a misguided mess but worth checking out because it’s nice to see Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, Missy Pyle, and Amber Tamblyn be funny in the same place. 

The bridal party; image courtesy of hitfix.com

Maybe Bridesmaids is paying homage to Spring Breakdown with their inclusion of the song like they might be recognizing Laverne and Shirley by setting it in Milwaukee. Regardless, cool that Bridesmaids actually made it into theaters. Better that it’s holding its own at the box office. Shitty that it’s getting trounced by Thor. Unsurprising that Kenneth Branagh’s foray into Aryan porn action movies is completely outside of my purview. I felt like I saw Bridesmaids several times since SXSW by the time my friend Cassandra and I caught a sneak preview last week. Bitch correspondents debated it. Dana Stevens loved it. Arianna Stern liked it. Molly Lambert was excited about it. Rebecca Traister thinks it’s our obligation to see it. LaToya Peterson wonders why Maya Rudolph is the only woman of color in it, an observation that I think has a lot of traction. In short, this one’s been blowing up my radar. 

How do I feel about Bridesmaids? I liked it fine. I didn’t love it and, like Genevieve Koski, I don’t believe it will or should save the chick flick. I’m pretty sure Roseanne is with me when I say that the chick flick is a patriarchal construct. Yes, I’m happy about the cast, Kristen Wiig’s co-writer credit, and the inclusion of Maya Rudolph in anything. I’m also happy about director Paul Feig’s involvement, as he seemed the more feminist-inclined person behind Freaks and Geeks. But at the risk of comparing apples to oranges (or popcorn comedies shepherded by men to cinematic think pieces directed by women) I’m going to see Meek’s Cutoff later this week and I’m totally planting my flag for that one. Accolades from my friend Curran, Rick Levin at the Eugene Weekly, and Caitlin at Dark Room only ramp up my excitement.

Bridesmaids itself is good. It’s a bit too long. Wendy McClendon-Covey and Ellie Kempner are underused. And echoing Annie Petersen‘s comments in a Facebook thread about the movie, the gross-out food poison scene is tacked on (and, since the culprit is Brazilian food, I think it’s also ethnically insensitive). I had a few more not-insignificant problems that I’ll outline below. But overall, I had a good time and recommend it. And Wilson Phillips is in it. Better yet, their cameo is an awesome punch line to a recurring joke about one character’s constant need to one-up Wiig’s protagonist Annie Walker by throwing money around as a means of proving herself to be a good friend. Best of all, Carnie Wilson is still harmonizing (or at least lip syncing) like a boss. Hug your friend and sing along.

I especially like that this movie isn’t about weddings so much as it is a barbed comedy about the ridiculous cultural rituals women go through when they get married. Generically speaking, it has little use for rom-com conventions and is ultimately a buddy comedy. Rudolph’s character Lillian Donovan is getting married to some guy named Doug, but Tim Heidecker (!) only has two wordless scenes with her. Wiig’s easy chemistry with Rudolph, tentative bonding with Rose Byrne, and tough love friendship with Melissa McCarthy takes focus. And unlike The Hangover, which it shouldn’t be marketed alongside, the ensemble doesn’t make it to Las Vegas.

Refreshingly, class is embedded in Bridesmaids‘ critique. Walker can’t afford a designer dress or a Vegas bachelorette party. Yet she feels pressure to spend money she doesn’t have because she wants to appease the whims of the better-off bridal party and perceives herself to be in competition for Donovan’s affections with society wife Helen Harris (played with nary a hair out of place by Byrne). Walker’s class position is drawn in detail. Her bakery recently folded and she’s working at a jewelry store because her roommate and mother (RIP Jill Clayburgh) pulled a few strings. She doesn’t even have the money to fix the broken tail light on her junker. I would have liked a bit more characterization for Donovan so that we understand how she’s more financially stable than her childhood friend, but it’s nice that there wasn’t some clumsy effort to explain her familial background. Her mom is white, her dad is black, and he is not paying for his daughter’s silly white friend’s extravagant vanity project. End of story.

The headache a dilapidated car produces certainly resonates with me. My partner and I are in the process of consolidating vehicles for our Midwest relocation and I’m pretty sure that my car has a busted transmission I can’t really afford to fix in order to sell it. To add to which, our cat has a left-field UTI and treatment is proving very costly. I know I’m less of a fuck-up than Walker and that there are far bigger problems in the world than planning a bridal shower or paying for a cat’s antibiotics. But I certainly know what it’s like to have none of my plans come together or feel like I’m disappointing friends who seem to have better lives than mine. I especially know what it’s like to get in my own way, so I appreciate that Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s script doesn’t let Walker off the hook for her less-honorable actions and gives Harris a little bit of dimension. 

McCarthy makes the most out of a potentially icky situation as Megan, the movie’s Zach Galifianakis stand-in. I do miss her as the crushworthy Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls. Though not a perfect show, it was pretty awesome that St. James was never the butt of any fat jokes. Sure, she was a chef and thus played with food. But she was awesome at her job. Also, she was a total sensualist. Sookie and her husband Jackson had three kids during the show’s run and were always obsessing about things like the integrity of their garden vegetables. You know those two were hand-feeding each other ripe fruit, exotic silks draping their nudity.

Not even exaggerating!; image courtesy of lyriquediscorde.tumblr.com

McCarthy looked like a goddess on Gilmore Girls. Bridesmaids isn’t so kind to her. For one, WB shows bathed their actors in autumnal light. Dawson’s Creek probably had a candle budget. Furthermore, McCarthy’s Megan doesn’t require it. She’s a salty broad working a high-level job in national security who seems to have as little use for make-up as she does Walker’s whining. I’m actually okay with this–or would be more okay with it if the audience I saw Bridesmaids with didn’t seem repulsed by the mere presence of a fat woman. I must give McCarthy credit for essentially walking away with the movie, because she’s very funny here. But I was annoyed that the movie ends with kinky footage of McCarthy simulating a blow job on her boyfriend with a hoagie. Ugh.

This isn’t Bridesmaids‘ only attempt at making fat women seem aberrent and gross. Before Walker moves in with her mom, she has a few scenes with her roommate Gil (Little Britain‘s Matt Lucas) and his sister Brynn (Rebel Wilson). Brynn is depicted as stupid, crass, lazy, racist, and disgusting. This tends to be a problem I have with Lucas’ show, which is often cruel to ugly people and confuses accents and costumes with characterization. These scenes are even more insulting and unnecessary than the orgiastic release of bodily fluids at the bridal shop, if because it’s kind of nice to see women shit and vomit all over bridal wear. These moments really took me out of the movie and I loathe a film industry that thinks they’re necessary to ensure a female-centered comedy’s success. At least they didn’t make Carnie eat a hoagie and I don’t remember if anyone caught the bouquet.

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5 comments

  1. RK

    I just want to say bravo. I had some qualms about Bridesmaids too but I couldn’t quite articulate why I didn’t love it. My friends were all crazy about it so I wound up seeing it twice. While your critique takes a few things a bit far for me (food poisioning as ethnically insensitive commentary? Really? All cultures are susceptible to bacteria.) I appreciated your critiques of the characterizations and plot and the notion that this is a triumphantly feminist movie. I realize this isn’t really a genre that caters to critical thinkers, but I found the film unsatisfying, and feel I was led to expect more by other reviews.
    Thanks for giving a frank appraisal.

    RK

    • Alyx Vesey

      Sure, all foods are susceptible to bacteria. But why did the food poisoning scene have to result from eating Brazilian food? It could have just as easily been in fish or burgers or steak or whatever (or pudding, for those of us who sat through Charlotte shitting her pants in Mexico during SATC1). I don’t think this was necessarily conscious ethnic insensitivity, but it was unfortunate. I couldn’t help but read Helen’s “weird meat” comment as an example of this.

      As to your compliments, thank you for reading RK.

  2. KBiz

    I just found your blog and I love it! I went to see this movie twice. The first time was because my Sister-In-Law invited me. The second was made my Dad and brother see it telling them it wasn’t just another chick flick.

    I can see where you’re coming from with the Brazilian food. I didn’t think of it that way and still don’t know if I agree. A lot of times when we eat food we don’t usually eat we get sick. It not always from bacteria. Sometimes it’s introducing new foods into our bodies. I know, the movie suggested food poisoning. I just don’t know if it was racist. The Bridesmaid’s duties are to give the Bride great lunches, foparties, and experiences up until the wedding reception. So if they are American why would the Bridesmaid take her to get steak or cheeseburgers. She wanted to do a French Bridal Shower on a budget. She wanted to give her foreign cuisine on a budget. She wanted to take her outside of their normal world but she didn’t have the budget to do much which led to the disasters that make up the film’s plot.

    The first time I saw the movie, the theater was filled to capacity. I did not notice anyone being repulsed by fat women at all. I didn’t hear gasps or rude comments just because a heavy set woman was on the screen. I only heard laughter when Megan spoke and acted in the aggressive manner that made her my favorite character. And I have known women like her. Of course the movie exagerated the personality type but that is what makes it so humorous.

    I did notice the antagonistic character saying Wiig’s character was bigger than her. That was said as an insult thus making reference to our society’s mindset that bigger sizes are less attractive. I didn’t like that but that is how people are. On the flip side the movie had the antagonist break down and show insecurities. Its the whole popular girl revealing she doesn’t have true friends and only is popular for being popular thing.

    I appreciated them not making the agressive, non-femine character a lesbian. That was a curveball. I also loved that they made her very beautiful during the wedding ceremony.

    • Misti

      I totally agree with your review. Megan had me rolling. The gun in the carry on makes me laugh at random times during the day when I think about it.

  3. Pingback: Bridesmaids and the Critical Hysteria Surrounding It | Kelli Marshall

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