Death of the Chick Flick: What ‘Bridesmaids’ Accomplishes for Women, Comedy, and Hollywood

Written for and originally posted at Gozamos.

By now, you’ve probably heard a lot about the new comedy, Bridesmaids. It’s been called The Hangover for women and there’s a hilarious but disgusting food poisoning scene that you should really look out for (as if you could miss it). Now that the movie is out in theaters and opened in second at the box office (with Thor in first), the real question is: What does this successful comedy with an all-female cast mean for women and the future of film?

It seems a shame that in 2011 this is still up for discussion, but it’s true that Hollywood has been churning out tons of successful “bro” comedies lately, and somehow leaving plenty of room for dramatic female roles and little room for good, solid female comedies. On average, the most you’re going to get in that arena in a given year is another Reese Witherspoon rom-com – not exactly gut-splitting.

Bridesmaids is not only hysterical, it’s genius both dramatically and comically. It’s not “pretty funny for a chick flick” – this time, it sets the bar. The script was co-written by Saturday Night Live star Kristen Wiig (who also stars in the film as the lead and Maid of Honor, Annie), and Annie Mumolo – an improv actor and screenwriter who makes a brief cameo during the airplane scene.

By no means is Bridesmaids a film that will be used in Women’s Studies classes, but it is definitely the first since Mean Girls (2004 film written by and starring yet another Saturday Night Live star, Tina Fey) to truly succeed as a female-led blockbuster comedy that appeals to a general audience. The latter part is the most significant: for a female comedy to land as high as second at the box office, it must have universal appeal, and it must also surpass the bemoaned stamp of “chick flick.” (Read: men won’t voluntarily and excitedly run to a “chick flick,” and many women nowadays won’t either.)

Here’s the thing: the Bridesmaids plot is exactly as the title suggests. It’s a film about women in a bridal party (the bride is Lillian, played by Maya Rudolph) going through the standard, albeit sometimes cliché motions leading up to a wedding. While sitting in the theater before the movie, I looked around and realized that yes, indeed there was a pretty equal amount of men and women in the audience – and it was packed. Tons of men were here to see a movie about a bunch of women and bridal showers and bachelorette parties, and not because their girlfriends and wives dragged them.

But how and why? While the film is about gals and girly things, the jokes in this movie are too funny for anyone not to laugh regardless of gender. Wiig and Rudolph are already regarded as a few of the funniest women in comedy today and the supporting characters and numerous conflicts only make them shine more. Wiig’s performance is one of the most impressive parts of the movie as she transitions with ease from comedy to drama throughout.

Sure, scenes like a gross but roaring-laughter-inducing food poisoning scene at a bridal store help. However, Bridesmaids works for a general audience because it doesn’t have to rely on the gross-out jokes. Additionally, while Lillian’s other best friend, the wealthy and proper Helen (played by Rose Byrne) is competing with Annie for the power over the wedding festivities throughout the whole film, there are no cat fights just for the sake of humor. Real motives and feelings propel every funny aspect of the movie. The wedding events drive Annie and Lillian apart and challenge their longtime friendship. Meanwhile, Annie is falling apart professionally and personally, it explains her actions when she, say, starts destroying the flamboyant decorations at the bridal shower thrown by Helen. In Bridesmaids, believable human emotions and the valid complexities of friendship lead to many hilarious, over-the-top, but essentially plausible outbursts, fights, and mishaps. There’s a realistic storyline to Bridesmaids that strengthens its outlandish, shocking comedy.

These women are not only funny, but they feel real – something very welcome after too many stock, shrill, unremarkable female characters in romantic comedies. The dialogue between the characters – especially Annie and Lillian – is something that most women will find true to life. Thus, the whole film feels accessible: neither women nor men will find the friendships and situations out of reach or unbelievable. (After all, men can recognize realistic women characters too, you know.)

Simply put, there is no one scene where only women “get the joke” and men are left clueless. Everyone is clued in, which is no easy feat for a movie written by and revolving around women. Bridesmaids is overall a refreshing success and a big step forward for female comedies in Hollywood. For all the boys clubs and The Hangovers in the movie business, Kristen Wiig and company have overcome the stigmas and impressed all kinds of audiences – from feminists to men who love bro-coms to the most respected of movie critics.

On the official poster for the film, the very top quote from a movie critic reads in bold, pink letters: “Chick flicks don’t have to suck!” This is undoubtedly Bridesmaids’ most important contribution to the industry and to audiences. In the past, a movie with this plot could have and did suck. But this time, with all the elements of comedy and female power combined, the opportunity was seized, and it was universally awesome.

‘Love and Other Drugs’ Feels Like a Cheap Sell

I actually went into Love and Other Drugs with an open mind. Er, more of an open mind than I normally would with this sort of movie. After viewing the trailer, I didn’t think much of it, or even care about seeing it. But then I guess it was purely Andrew O’Hehir’s review on Salon – teased as “Gyllenhaal and Hathaway’s surprisingly good comedy” – that got me curious. Point being: I was open to it being good. Now having seen it, I should have known I couldn’t enjoy a film which, in a sentence, tries entirely too hard to be the next Jerry Maguire-meets-well, any movie where the girl of the boy-meets-girl has a terminal illness. I wish it didn’t have to be that frank, but it is.

Starring Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal and directed by Edward Zwick (Legends of the Fall, thirtysomething), I expected it to be a romantic comedy that proved a little more exceptional than the others. But from what I saw, this doesn’t have the makings of a classic or a “generation definer.” The plot: Set in 1996, Jamie Randall (Gylleenhaal) is a rising Pfizer pharmaceutical sales rep who uses his “way” with women to help him rep Zoloft in doctor’s offices when he meets Maggie (Hathaway) in one said doctor’s office. The very first thing we learn about Maggie is that she has onset Parkinson’s. In short – she hates him, he lusts after her, they have sex, they try to keep having sex without attachment, they fail, they fall in love. What follows are mostly bad humming music as soundtrack, montages, cheap jokes, sex, nudity, tears, and more montages.  Oh, and also, his gross younger brother comes to live with him and is poised as “comic relief,” which makes for more awkward and drawn-out than comical scenes.

While most of the big reviews I read were less than favorable, they all seem to find some kind of “bright side” for the movie: Ebert thinks Zwick did the best he could with a bad script; most, including New York Times’ A.O. Scott, believe Hathaway did more with the character than the script called for; and Variety‘s Justin Chang says it sorta kinda works “if one can get past the calculation inherent in the drug-pushing-boy-meets-disease-stricken-girl setup.”

Maybe they’re all just a little bit more optimistic than I am, but I can’t even give the film that much credit. My bright side? Uh…Judy Greer was pretty funny? (As a receptionist Gylleenhaal seduced and then left in the dust.) And…honestly, not much else is coming to mind. Since the movie is so blunt, I feel no need to use pretty words or phrasing here: Love and Other Drugs is a bi-polar movie that can’t decide if it’s about casual sex, the evils of the pharmaceutical sales industry, or Parkinson’s. Can all of these be combined into one movie? Sure! If done correctly (see: not the way it was done here.) This film makes me wish there was another word not as overused as “formulaic,” but it really fits in this instance.

There’s no real development or investment in any of the characters. This is a true shame, honestly, given the two wonderful actors at the film’s disposal. Both the main characters feel conflicted because they have their own set of commitment issues. “Commitment issues” is just a phrase slapped onto the movie – not a lot of explanation or history required, just take it as it is. They have trouble committing but then they try to commit to one another. The whole story feels like one big cheap sell for the tearjerker ending (the ending that aches to be the next Jerry Maguire-scale ending), which then makes the Parkinson’s disease element feel more insulting and tasteless – as if it was just thrown into the pot for one big grand finale tasting.

I think Love and Others Drugs‘ biggest downfall is that it doesn’t live up to its own image of itself. It’s not as sexy, not as daring, certainly not as funny, and not as moving and deep as it seems to think it is. You know the one thing I took away from this movie? Sex. Lots and lots of sex. Everywhere sex. (And mostly in montages also.) Oh, and the throwing around of the word “pussy” by men whenever the film needed that extra oomph of “edginess.” All of that nudity and sexuality, and for what? Two undeveloped characters and a poorly thought-out story. No, it does not feel liberating or refreshing. I know it tried really hard, but in the end, Love and Other Drugs isn’t just a film about the complications of supposedly empty sex; it is empty sex.

Tweet-Sized Thoughts on Media-Related Things: p1

In honor of my recent inability to write anything of length, I felt I had to post something for my own sake. So I think I will take a cue from my friend Britt Julious and her Sunday column idea…Though with this blog, it will just be a collection of my recent tweets on Twitter that happen to be media-related. (Note: Hopefully, on another day, some of these tweet-sized bites will grow into essays or articles.)

First impressions of a commercial for Sex and the City 2.

‘Sex and the City 2′ looks like a hackneyed, slightly racist mess. #SATC 8:44 PM May 6th

Update: Solange is still cooler than you, even while singing on one of those LSD-induced kids’ shows.

Dear @solangeknowles: Will you please make a full-length song of this Yo Gabba Gabba! thing? It’s damn catchy. http://bit.ly/cHDOR6 3:45 PM May 8th

A film I revisited and found it’s still one of my all-time favorites: Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas.

“I walked around for months talking to you. Now I don’t know what to say. It was easier when I just imagined you.” Damn good film, Paris, TX 5:31 PM May 8th

Betty White hosting SNL Mother’s Day Episode. I basically live-tweeted the Betty White-hosted SNL episode…along with dozens of my friends. In a nutshell? It was glorious. Undoubtedly one of the best episodes SNL has had in a lonnnnnnng time. Because of Betty White AND the fact that they brought back a lot of the former female favorites for the Mother’s Day episode. They have to know that they can’t really make it any better than that ever again…But we’ll see with the Alec Baldwin episode tonight. (Which, in the promos for, they’ve already made fun of themselves and their one-time success with Betty White.) Key tweets include…

Betty White on #SNL! Awesome already. Just to hear her say, ‘Jay-Z is here!’ 10:40 PM May 8th

NPR ladies!! Muffin!! Betty White!! #SNL 10:49 PM May 8th

TINA!!!! #SNL 11:00 PM May 8th

Jay-Z medley!!! This is the best #SNL episode ever. 11:12 PM May 8th

Omg. Maya’s Whitney impression is always gold. #SNL 11:21 PM May 8th

Cannes Film Festival 2010 starts; French New Wave pioneer Jean-Luc Godard’s new film Socialisme.

The trailers for #Godard‘s new #film just speed up the whole movie in its entirety, instead of highlighting scenes http://bit.ly/9fSymX 10:27 AM May 10th

RT: Racialicious explores Lady Gaga and white privilege.

Great read, fascinating. RT @britticisms Racialicious on how Lady Gaga’s white privilege makes her transgressive: http://bit.ly/gagawoc 2:35 PM May 10th

RT: Salon.com on the 90s MTV show Daria finally being released on DVD.

SalonMedia Remember the old MTV? “Daria” comes out on DVD http://bit.ly/a2ruwh 8:57 AM May 12th

“‘Daria’ could have only happened at that time, during that strange, transitional period after the grunge and gangsta rap of the early ’90s” 9:11 AM May 12th

RT: A friend lets me know about a development in the Polanski case.

DrMcButtcheeks @colleenclaes http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/05/14/polanski.second.accuser/index.html Honestly. Who saw this coming? about 22 hours ago

@DrMcButtcheeks But this just reminds me how I don’t even WANNA know how many old pervo Polanski did this to… about 22 hours ago

And that’s all for now. If you see anything you’d like me to elaborate on, please let me know! (Unfortunately, I don’t think my heart/anxiety can bear doing another lengthy post on Polanski…)

Tina Fey: Victim of ‘Superior’ Feminism

Writers: Do you ever get that feeling when you read something truly spectacular – whether it be a novel, a poem, or a commentary – and think, “Damn! I wish I wrote that…” Most likely you do, and I refer to this as “Writer’s Envy.” (Surely I am not the first to dub it this, and again, I feel that self-loathing setting in…)

Well, I felt that this morning when I read Rebecca Traister’s “The Tina Fey backlash” on Salon.com. (Don’t be put off by the length – it’s totally worth the read.) It was everything I’ve been wanting to say since I read Sady Doyle’s post ripping Tina Fey and her character Liz Lemon to ideological bits and pieces. Though I can never say it better than Rebecca Traister did, I feel the need to add on/give my two cents anyhow.

Back in January, I wrote a post entitled “Liz Lemon: Feminist Icon (Havin’ It All).”Ahh, those were the days when I felt that Liz Lemon as a character on 30 Rock was a favorite amongst feminists, standing out as probably the best female role model on current-day television. Boy, was I wrong!

Turns out, some feminists in the blogosphere are displeased with Tina Fey and Liz Lemon in terms of feminist rank. Because apparently, there’s a hierarchy of feminism now, and the “superior” ones (like Doyle) know far better than the ones who are not quite up to par (like Fey).

In a nutshell: Tina Fey’s satirization of insecurities marked by the independent, career-oriented woman used to be funny and loveable, but are now offensive and non-progressive in the world of feminism. And then the Fey-hosted SNL episode happened, and online commentaries exploded with disappointment – most notably with Fey’s use of the word “whore” when taking jabs at Michelle “Bombshell” McGee. (In my opinion: totally hilarious. Is that so wrong?) If it had only just been creeping in before, the backlash was now officially solidified.

How did we get to this point? As Traister poignantly says:

“While it might be fair to argue that Fey has profited from a feminist embrace, she did not ever pretend to be a standard bearer for contemporary feminism. We’re the ones who made her that, who overidentified with her, or with Liz Lemon, or with the Weekend Update host who declared that bitch was the new black, and attached to her a passel of our highest expectations and ideals.”

Yes, WE projected this feminist role model onto her ourselves. Hence, my blog post in January. Though at the time, it was a light-hearted, short and sweet kind of post embracing Lemon’s differences from other female TV icons (i.e.: Carrie Bradshaw), as well as her relatability.

Here’s the thing though: I should not have to feel ashamed for liking Liz Lemon and being a feminist at the same time. I should also not have to be ashamed for thinking Liz is a good female character on TV right now. But most people who have the “Liz Lemon is not a true feminist” debate have this holier-than-thou attitude, thinking they possess some secret, hidden key to “real, truer” feminism – something that Tina Fey is supposedly failing at implementing.

It’s annoying. It’s also pretty insulting, because the arguer is most likely assuming that Tina Fey and her fans are too shallow or stupid to comprehend this “truer” version of feminism. It’s kind of like, “You know, even though I also watch 30 Rock regularly and probably laugh throughout the episodes, I am a distinguished feminist amongst you all for dissecting Liz Lemon and outing her as a fake.”

These feminists expect too much of Tina Fey. Realistically, how can anyone expect a comedy like 30 Rock to be politically correct and perfect in ideology when it’s whole premise is based upon calling out stereotypes by employing them comedically? Traister beautifully ponders this notion of “where to draw the line” between feminism and humor, saying point blank:

Tina Fey is a professional comedian. She is not a professional feminist.

Thank God. Someone finally said what I was thinking in two succinct sentences. Rebecca Traister, I might just start projecting a feminist role model onto you.

The last thing that bothers me about this backlash? Liz Lemon is growing as a character. Because – imagine that – most main characters grow as the show goes on! (The idea!) So why are we expecting perfection and feminist-to-a-tee behaviors and decisions from a character who is clearly still figuring her shit out in her late thirties? This is another reason why some of us women love Liz Lemon: She’s figuring it out, just like the rest of us. No one is a textbook feminist at all times. (And if you think you are, don’t kid yourself.) Liz becomes more confident as time goes on. She refuses to settle. She starts to realize her true worth. I believe the last few episodes of this season have started to point towards that.

A feminist is not just born; she is grown into throughout life. And who’s to say that by age such-and-such (late thirties, in Fey’s case), you need to have developed all capabilities of the ideal feminist? Regardless, every woman is an individual, and I think sometimes feminism forgets that. Or ceases to care, at least when trying to prove its point.

Hell, maybe I’m a bad feminist for all I know. But for me, feminism should never have hierarchies. This isn’t a goddamned hazing initiation, after all. It’s not about weeding out the bad feminists from the good ones, and it’s not about shaming other feminists for not being feminist “enough.” Let’s all learn from one another, yes. I’m glad that articles like these help me to engage in discourse on women’s issues. And trust me, it’s complicated and difficult when writing a feminist post criticizing feminists who critize women for not being feminist enough.

Last time I checked though, feminism was about equality. And one would hope that a group aspiring towards true equality would at least cheer on and support the ones who are trying – in whatever way that is their own – to break the mold in places where there was little room to make a dent in the first place.

Instead, we find part of that group tearing apart one of the few women in entertainment today who profoundly resonates with us.

And you wanna talk about progressiveness?

Why ‘Audition Day’ is One of the Best ’30 Rock’ Episodes…Ever

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ll admit it – I just got into 30 Rock. But to be fair, in about two weeks’ time, I became officially caught up with all past three seasons. And I’m currently watching the fourth one as it comes on every Thursday. In case you’re still questioning my true devotion, I’ve watched maybe half of all the episodes at least twice.

SPOILER ALERT! This post contains spoilers for anyone who has not seen “Audition Day,” episode 4 in the fourth season of 30 Rock.

'30 Rock' title card screenshot, Wikipedia Commons

I can’t think of many other shows that utilize the art of “cultural referencing” as often and as successfully as 30 Rock. One of the things that makes the show so uniquely funny is its nod to relevant pop and daily culture.

I’ve been hearing people say that the show is “not that funny” this season. Seeing as how I was doubled over with laughter while finishing the third, these comments worried me. But once I started catching up with the current season, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was laughing just as hard as I was in season three.

“Audition Day” – the fourth episode – is already a favorite of mine. I’ve watched it about five times since it aired. (Thank God for Hulu.) There are so many reasons why this particular episode makes that embarrassing snort escape from my nostrils while laughing too hard.

And trust me, I know that it’s not funny to point out why something is funny. So in the below list, I’ll try to just commentate briefly on my favorite moments:

  • The Liz Lemon audition tape from 1996: As Liz and Pete attempt to “rig” the auditioning system to get Jack to pick the actor they want, Liz expresses that she feels a little guilty using the other actors in this process. “So much rejection,” she reflects, as the flashback cuts in and we see an old audition tape of her trying out for a carpet cleaner commercial. “My name is Liz Lemon, and I am represented by Suzanne’s B+ Talent.”
  • Jack has bed bugs: And because of this, he is ostracized from the office and meetings. (“Did you just MUTE me?!”)
  • “Beat it, Grizz or Dot Com” – Jenna, to Dot Com
  • Jack on the subway, where he does the “homeless guy” speech, reworded to fit his own bed bug sufferings.
  • The whiny violin music behind all of “rejection” scenes. Very reminiscent of the sad Charlie Brown music.
  • “I’m not gay – I’m biiiiii-laarrrrrioussss!“: While gay humor does not…humor…me, I felt this was actually funny because it pointed to the ridiculousness of the “Funny Gay” stereotype. For another example, Tracy Morgan yelling, “I repeat, all funny gays into the car!”
  • The doughnut-eating woman “Hmmm-mmmmm”-ing onstage: This is the most random and nonsensically hilarious thing I’ve seen on TV in a long time.
  • And last, but certainly not least, dowdy Kathy Geiss doing the Susan Boyle “I Dreamed a Dream.” At this, I laughed so hard I cried as I watched this…on Hulu…alone in my apartment.

So there you have it. So much comedy and so many references packed into 30 (well, more like 21 with commercials) minutes. Yes, I say – 30 Rock’s still got it.