"Here's the truth: There *is* an actual difference between male and female comedy writers, and I'm going to reveal it now. The men urinate in cups. And sometimes jars."
It's after midnight, and a crowd of over 1,000 people have just finished watching the premiere of Paul, the new E.T.-meets-buddy comedy from the British comedy bromance of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Some in the audience, like myself, have been watching (or waiting in lines for) films since nine in the morning. Add on to that the loss of an hour to daylight savings, and some of us were starting to feel like extras in Shaun of the Dead.
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Kristen Wiig stars in the film, and also co-wrote it with Annie Mumolo, a comedienne, TV actress, and fellow member of The Groundlings comedy troupe. The director, Paul Feig, has also mostly worked in television, directing episodes of The Office, Nurse Jackie, and Arrested Development. TV comedy actors, writers, and directors don't always have an easy transition from television into comedy features (i.e. numerous SNL skit movies, The Cable Guy), but these three make it work.
Judd Apatow produced, and while this isn't an Apatow movie in the strict sense that The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up were, it bears some of the same trademarks: a propensity for frank sexual dialogue (yes, the c-word makes an appearance); a cadre of bit characters to punch things up; and putting the characters' insecurities front and center.
Apatow—and really, the comedy genre in general—has been criticized in the past for not getting women right. The website Jezebel took Apatow to task a few years ago for under-developing his female characters. "All his movies are really guilty of is reinforcing the kind of annoying idea that women are more grown-up than men—or that they have to be," Anna North wrote. "It would...be nice to see his women get to have some "male" problems for once—like whether to save the boyfriend or the bong."
Bridesmaids is full of such "male" problems being dealt with by women—it puts its female characters and their friendships, hang-ups, and deficiencies up front. Yes, there are male characters and romantic sub-plots, but they are ancillary. This is a comedy where cattiness and jealousy create much of the humor, not ineptitude or immaturity. (Walking out of the film, I couldn't help but wonder what Knocked Up would have been like with a strong comedienne in the lead like Wiig instead of Katherine Heigl.)
There is one scene in the film that I suspect will stand out from the rest, a scatological piece concerning what happens when the two worlds of dress fittings and food poisoning collide. It's the big "Gross!" scene, and while it might end up getting all the attention, there's nothing uniquely female about it (it could just have easily been a tux fitting for groomsmen). There are several other scenes like these where women could just have easily been men, which would seem to bolster the "It's The Hangover for Women" theory. (We'll get to see how the audiences stack up in May, as Bridesmaids is currently scheduled to open the week before The Hangover 2.) Bridesmaids doesn't shy from getting just as dirty as the boys do, and by doing so runs the risk of merely aping the Apatow and Todd Philips films that came before it.
But there are uniquely female moments, where a male stand-in wouldn't do. Early on in the film, at the couple's engagement party where Kristen Wiig's character is the maid of honor, Wiig gives a toast. Her competition for top bridesmaid, played by Rose Byrne, then gets up and gives another toast, meant to one-up her predecessor. Soon the two are engaged in an epic toast-a-thon, each trying to out-do the other and becoming increasingly self-obsessed and desperate. It's the sort of situation anyone who's been to a few weddings has witnessed before, and like the rest of the film, it's hilarious regardless of gender. So, does Bridesmaids mark the advent of a new, female-led form of comedy? The better question the film raises is: If it's funny, does it matter?
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