Always the “Bridesmaid,” Never the Bride

(Ethan Gates)– I was browsing around some of my favorite Oscar blogs the other day (yes, I obsess over the Oscars pretty much year-round; don’t judge me) and came across a post running down some of the possible contenders for the Best Original Screenplay category. The writer’s branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has always had impeccable taste; while middle-brow fare like “The Blind Side,” “Crash” and “The Reader” inexplicably cruise to Best Picture nominations, the Screenplay categories are a refuge for superior taste. In the past decade alone, films like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Memento,” “Adaptation,” “Children of Men,” “Talk to Her,” “In Bruges,” “Far from Heaven,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “A History of Violence,” “The Messenger,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and even “Borat” have found sympathy with the writers when spurned by the Academy at large. In short, writers rock.

Considering this trend, this blogger was contemplating the possibility of the summer hit “Bridesmaids” squirming its way to a nomination. I’m not going to get into Oscar prognostication here, so I won’t burden you with my full thoughts on the chances of that happening (short answer: 0%). What I am more interested in was this writer’s argument: not only was “Bridesmaids” very successful financially, but it was “a turning point in feminism and comedy,” and thus worthy of extra recognition.

That’s been the narrative regarding “Bridesmaids” ever since it was released in May, and I have to say it bugged the heck out of me all summer (and apparently will continue to bug me all winter, should this Oscar campaign continue). Now, full disclosure: I still have yet to actually see “Bridesmaids.” It was released in theaters while I was still in Russia and no one has bothered to request a DVD copy at Frost yet. So the following rant may be completely made of hot air. Take that as you will.

Now, there is no doubt that the success of an all-female ensemble film is a wonderful thing – between “Bridesmaids” and “The Help,” Hollywood has been sent a pretty clear message this year that they can depict women as something other than bimbos or bitches and still make a lot of money. But I take issue with the idea that “Bridesmaids” was somehow revolutionary or an unequivocal victory for feminism in film. I side with A.O. Scott’s cautionary opinion, written in the New York Times in late May:

““Bridesmaids” has been hailed as a vindication of the rights and abilities of all women — not just those six [in the film] — to make jokes, and thus a resounding rebuttal to what is supposedly a widespread assumption otherwise. “Bridesmaids,” that is, is being congratulated for settling an argument that nobody was really having.”

The whole “Bridesmaids”-proves-that-women-can-be-funny-too plot line was one of the most outrageously absurd stories that the entertainment media has tried to shill in recent years (and these are the people who keep trying to convince me that Scarlett Johansson can act). Who exactly were these people claiming that women can’t be funny? Just in terms of film and TV history, is it possible to be completely ignorant of the work of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Jane Lynch, Diane Keaton, Whoopi Goldberg, Goldie Hawn, Elaine May, Carol Cleveland, Doris Day, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett, Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, Myrna Loy, Barbara Stanwyck, Marilyn Monroe and countless others? If by some chance there WAS someone out there with that attitude, why pay attention in any way to such a cro-magnon view?

Yes, this is one of the most powerful men in Hollywood.

The only forgivable aspect of this argument is that as of late, film studios haven’t exactly been giving female comics the chance to strut their stuff. So rather than using “Bridesmaids” to validate the comedic abilities of women (who need no such validation, I should hope), how about spinning it as a condemnation of the current brand of man-child humor that dominates every single freaking comedy out of Hollywood these days. Between Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Zack Galifianakis and the entire Judd Apatow school (Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, Russell Brand, etc.), all pumping out endless variations on the same film, it’s no wonder Hollywood has no time for women. In fact, let’s not ignore the fact that probably the only reason that “Bridesmaids” got made in the first place was that a) Apatow served as a producer, and b) it had major “crossover” appeal since it could essentially be marketed as “The Hangover” with girls.

And "with girls" is of course just code for "with boobs."

And again, I might be incorrect here because I haven’t seen the film, but it sure seemed like that while the comedy of “Bridesmaids” may have crossed certain traditional boundaries, the general plot stayed within the usual rom-com territory: oh, of course, the movie with an all-female cast has to be about a wedding. And I’m guessing that the film didn’t actually do nearly as well on the Bechdel Test as one might imagine, considering the feminist hoopla.

I don’t know. Is it truly a feminist victory when the only way female comics can gain major mainstream attention is by imitating the current, male-dominated style of humor? Have any of you seen “Bridesmaids?” Was it simply an entertaining movie that happened to star women, or should we assign any sort of greater cultural significance to its success?

Three to Think About: Comedies Where Women Steal the Show

1. The Lady Eve (1941)

2. Some Like It Hot (1959)

3. Annie Hall (1977)