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.

New German Cinema: ‘When we behave, nobody cares, but when we are bad, nobody forgets.’

I took a class called “New German Cinema” at the end of my freshman year of college. It was designated as a “seminar” credit, and I enrolled because I knew I was interested in becoming a film major at that point. I think I saw the words “cinema” and “German” and thought I’d get a nice overview of European film, or actually, any film that was ever set in or around Germany.

Those were my naive expectations going into it. What New German Cinema turned out to be was a movement from the 1960s to the 1980s aimed at creating “quality” film, almost like a German version of the French New Wave. What constituted as quality varied, but was predominantly quieter, more challenging, more artistic-oriented, and much, much more “on the outskirts” than mainstream film.

The professor, a wickedly smart but brutally bitter and jaded man, set out to unnerve and stir us with films by Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The teacher being a a firm hater of all things Hollywood (with choice words for Spielberg), the “New German Cinema” seminar took me in as an impressionable 19-year-old who thought movies were generally cool and magical, and then spit me out as a doubtful and suspicious film school kid, scarred for life in ways good and bad, for now movies would never look the same again, would never serve the same purpose as previously believed.

Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) was the first film I ever saw of Werner Herzog’s, shown in this class. I laughed and laughed, and felt bad and crude for laughing, but kept doing so, couldn’t help it, and then there came a distinct moment where I stopped suddenly as it hit me, sucking in air to cease the laughter: Oh, wait, it’s not funny, and it never was supposed to be. In fact, it’s disturbing, fucking frightening.

I cannot think off the top of my head of another film that got this reaction out of me. Whatever you thought it was, you were wrong, and Herzog had the last laugh, as he usually does.

When we behave, nobody cares, but when we are bad, nobody forgets.

The little people in Even Dwarfs shout this during their rebellion against their ominous superiors. Perhaps the filmmakers of the New German Cinema movement were shouting this at all of Hollywood, to all mainstream audiences, trying to violently shake us awake.

Champagne in a Can

Sofia Coppola “canned champagne.” Yes, it really is the best thing in a can. Go buy it at your nearest alcoholic beverages depot now. It’s a tiny pink can filled with bubbly sparkling wine and even has a tiny pink straw attached, picnic-ready. So obviously, I drank all 4 of my 4-pack while watching the Oscars this year. Someone online said to me, “I hope it’s better than her movies.” And if you could hear a guffaw over the internet, I swore I heard one.

Susanne Bier got up there later and accepted the award for Best Foreign Film, awarded to her work, In a Better World. An intense lover of modern Danish film (it’s a specific type of love, I guess), I was shocked (thought Biutiful would win, honestly) but excited. I love all of Bier’s films and felt them all under-appreciated, so this was big. While she gave her speech, I cheered for her, alone on my couch, as everyone in the Kodak Theatre resounded in a unanimous, stiff and silent, “Who the fuck is this?”

Sometimes, I vote for someone in a petty or serious poll just because she’s one female choice out of a handful of male choices (Please note: Sarah Palin is exempt from this juvenile logic of mine). The “girl power” in me says this is not wrong at all, that it is actually 150% right, the most right I could ever be. The other part of me isn’t sure what’s so moral about blindly becoming the cheerleader for anyone with a vagina. But, sometimes, I do it anyway.

In the Barry Jenkins film Medicine for Melancholy, the main female character asks the main male character if he’s ever wondered what her t-shirt means. It reads, simply, “loden.” He shakes his head “no.” She explains to him that she does this for a living – she prints t-shirts with the last names of female directors on them. Hers in particular is a tribute to Barbara Loden, film actress and director of Wanda (1970). Mostly, this scene inspires me – women recognizing and honoring other women’s achievements, out in the open for all to see. It’s kind of cheeky, in a way. But then there’s the tail end of this whole sentiment, where I picture this young woman walking around in these t-shirts lauding lowercase last names that no passersby recognize or care about.

Jo (Tracey Heggins) and Micah (Wyatt Cenac) in Medicine for Melancholy

When Tina Fey accepted her more-than-deserved Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, she said poignantly: “I do hope that women are achieving at a rate these days that we can stop counting what number they are at things.”

Which leads me to wonder: If women’s achievements in predominantly male-dominated roles – especially in the world of entertainment – inspire and encourage a certain group of women, then does it matter if these achievements are whittled down to mere numbers or vaguely cool t-shirts to the rest?

Oh hell, let the men figure it out. Bring me some more champagne.

Woody Allen Defends Polanski, Earth is Round

With exhausted effort, I bring you, ladies and gentlemen, Woody Allen’s defense of Polanski – as given in an interview at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

“It’s something that happened many years ago…. He has suffered,” Allen told French radio station RTL. “He’s an artist, he’s a nice person, he did something wrong and he paid for it. They [his critics] are not happy unless he pays the rest of his life. They would be happy if they could execute him in a firing squad,” he said.

Yawn. What more could we really expect from Woody “I Basically Married My Stepdaughter” Allen? And no, I DON’T care that he was never “technically” the stepfather of then-wife Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi. It’s still creepy and gross.

(Many thanks to William for bringing this to my attention on Twitter.)

“Remain Silent No Longer”: Rage Against the Polanski

I’ve written a lot about Roman Polanski since he was arrested – after 30+ years – for raping a 13-year-old girl back in the 70s. So now that he chose to speak out for the first time this weekend, it just seems right to “Rage Against the Polanski” once again. Because after all, “Polanski” has become a machine in itself – made up of pompous, privileged and delusional supporters in Hollywood and Europe who seem to think Polanski is above being punished for committing rape.

The main reason? “It was so long ago!” The other reason? Well, let’s let Polanski explain that one to us:

“I can remain silent no longer because the request for my extradition addressed to the Swiss authorities is founded on a lie,” writes Polanski, who blames Marina Zenovich’s HBO documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired for stirring up career-mongering LA prosecutors into acting on his long dormant case.

Oh, of course. The Wanted and Desired documentary from 2008…Which, as illuminating as it was, didn’t exactly vilify Polanski as much as it should or could have. It was fairly balanced as far as “telling both sides” goes. And it even ended with a close friend of the director’s saying – oh so poetically – how Polanski became “wanted” in the U.S. after he fled his crime, and then “desired” in France/Europe (but particularly France, with their odd glamorization and defensiveness of him). This seemed to me as if the documentary might be ultimately glorifying Polanski as some sort of misunderstood but irresistible legend – which sounds a hell of a lot better than “pervert-turned-fugitive who fled his rape crime.”

You can download Polanski’s full statement here. It’s basically everything you’ve already heard from the “Free Polanski” crowd but with added melodrama – as Polanski highlights the “injustices” of his case with the prefaced statement in bold, “I can remain silent no longer because…”

Best part:

I can remain silent no longer because I have been placed under house
arrest in Gstaad and bailed in very large sum of money which I have
managed to raise only by mortgaging the apartment that has been my
home for over 30 years, and because I am far from my family and unable to
work.

Aside from the fact that I just don’t give a…, this heap of “boo-hoo-poor-me” B.S. completely contradicts Polanski’s opening sentences: “I have had my share of dramas and joys, as we all have, and I am not going to try to ask you to pity my lot in life.” No. That’s exactly what you’re doing. And that’s exactly what everyone in support of you has been doing since September.

And ahhh yes. The media is just “out to get” Polanski. To make an example of him. Yeah. That’s it. Sure, the media loves it. But what really happened is that the U.S. finally ARRESTED him for his RAPE CRIME. I mean, some people agree with me on this, right?!

Oh, and then this happened on indieWIRE:

While I object to people who suggest that Polanski never did anything terribly wrong—he did—I do think that at his advanced age he bears little threat to anyone and has been punished, served time, and should be able to break out of this impasse. Was he a libertine and a reprobate, did he behave criminally and break the law? Yes. I’d like to see him cop to what he did. But this case is old and cold. There must be a way to fix this.

By the way, The Ghost Writer was one of Polanski’s best, sharpest, most personal films in a long while. I want to see him make more films.

Really, Anne Thompson?

And with that, I’ve unfortunately exhausted most words that I can muster up for this argument. All I have left to say is this:

I can remain silent no longer because Roman Polanski is a rapist who never served time for raping a 13-year-old girl; because I don’t care how old he is, or how long ago it was; because as The New Yorker explored, Polanski relished girls who were minors and showed no remorse for raping or engaging in sex with them; because someone needs to put his old, perverted, privileged, “above-statused” ass in jail already; because anyone who still thinks Polanski is either innocent or should be “let go” of the case needs to seriously reevaluate themselves; and because reallywhat’s not to understand?

‘Live’ Blog: Oscars 2010 Commentary!

5:24: So, this is a “live” blog with quotation marks around it because I don’t really have somewhere important to be tonight for the Oscars. It’s not like I’m on the red carpet, or at the Vanity Fair party later. But, tune in if you are interested in hearing my running commentary (ranging anywhere, I’m assuming, from catty to insightful – but probably mostly catty), and PLEASE share your thoughts in the comments!

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Best Oscar Speeches

With the 82nd Academy Awards airing this weekend (March 7th), there’s bound to be some memorable speeches as always. Maybe James Cameron will win and make a complete egotistical jackass of himself, or surely Gabourey Sidibe will give an amazing speech if she wins (fingers crossed!) Who will get the music (everyone but Meryl Streep), and who will deliver the most noteworthy speeches of the 2010 Oscars? We’ll have to wait and see, of course. But in the meantime, here are my picks for some of the most interesting, most poignant, most ridiculous, but overall most memorable acceptance speeches.

Cuba Gooding Jr., winning in 1997 for Jerry MaguireJovial and genuinely ecstatic, Cuba Gooding Jr. is enjoyable to watch during this speech. Unfortunately for him, that year’s Oscars were heavy-handed with the rude “hint to get off the stage” music during everyone’s speeches. But Cuba? He doesn’t care – he just keeps on going. As one YouTube commenter said, “It’s almost like the music was designed to go with his speech.”

George Clooney winning in 2006 for Syriana“Alright, well I guess I’m not winning DIRECTOR,” the charming Clooney jokes. While he won for this role in Syriana, he was also nominated in the Best Director category that year for Good Night, and Good Luck. It starts off on a light note, but Clooney takes the opportunity to also give Hollywood more credit than it’s usually given – “This academy, this group of people gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when Blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters.” This probably gets the award for least “all about me with 1,000 people to thank” acceptance speech. Clooney used his time in a different way.

Tom Hanks winning in 1994 for PhiladelphiaTom Hanks gave one of the classiest, yet profoundly candid speeches with this one for Philadelphia. Since his role in the film was a gay male living with AIDS, he was very careful to speak respectfully and appreciatively of gays and people living with HIV or AIDS. This one is a tear-jerker, especially when he pays homage to his two gay theatre teachers.

Catherine Zeta-Jones winning in 2003 for ChicagoThis one’s just cute. Catherine Zeta-Jones gets up onstage – extremely pregnant, but looking gorgeous – and admits that the combination of things is too much for her hormones, which gets a laugh. The other great part is when she tells her husband, Michael Douglas, that she shares the award with him “and this one too.” Though the camera cuts away in a most untimely manner, we can only assume she’s pointing to her belly.

Dustin Lance Black winning in 2009 for MilkWhen Dustin Lance Black got onstage to accept the award for Best Original Screenplay for the biopic about gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk, the first thing I was struck by was how young and handsome he appeared. Then, I proceeded to bawl my eyes out as he gave a very touching (understatement) speech about how Harvey Milk helped him personally growing up as a gay male in a conservative family. He also shares some empowering words ensuring young gay Americans that one day they will have the federal rights they deserve. A truly beautiful and incomparable speech. It makes me cry every time I watch it.

Halle Berry winning in 2002 for Monster’s Ball - You really can’t talk about Oscar speeches without mentioning Halle Berry’s. “74 years here, I gotta take this time!” she shouted as she became the first Black woman to ever win an Academy Award for Best Actress. In her shocked and vulnerable state, she poured her heart out and made all of her fellow nominees cry along with her. This is now a historical Oscar acceptance speech, and might just be the most memorable and noteworthy of them all. Not only did she fully deserve the award for her amazing performance in Monster’s Ball, but she made history when her name was called.

Valentine’s Day & Hollywood, Sittin’ in a Tree

Let me preface this by saying I’ve never really cared about Valentine’s Day. Sure, I want to do something for the holiday, but I don’t make a big hoopla about it. Honestly, most of my excitement for a Valentine’s Day celebration goes towards the molten chocolate cake I’ll order for dessert. (No offense to the significant other.)

Like all the cynics say around this time of year, it’s a made-up holiday for the greeting card industry to profit off of. Well, Hallmark might wanna watch out – because Hollywood producers and celebrities want in on it too. Take this year’s un-creatively titled Valentine’s Day, for instance. Opening today in theaters, this film is taking the ensemble cast and multi-storyline concepts to a new level, and is almost solely designed for Valentine’s Day couples in need of a date movie.

I mean, just look at all those famous, pretty faces in that pink heart on the poster! How could people not see it?! Unfortunately for these producers and the “director of Pretty Woman,” physically dragging my boyfriend (and myself) to the theater to see this seasonal one-weekend wonder is not my idea of a good Valentine’s Day. But that’s just me. I am curious to see in the box office results how many couples felt it would make for good V-Day plans. Or, more realistically, how many people just went because they had nothing else to do and their significant other thought it would be “cute.”

Now by the trailer, I understand that I’m supposed to believe this romantic comedy with multiple plots is different. It has the cynics, the women who hate Valentine’s Day, the ones who don’t have a perfect relationship, and the ones who think they are alone on this romantic holiday. But…I’m still not buying it. For me, it looks like a much-cheapened Love Actually (a movie I thoroughly enjoy) that’s riding on the coattails of the charm from the brilliant shorts collection, Paris je’taime. (And by the way, if you really want to stay in and watch some good stories about romance, check those ones out.)

Yes, a lot of movies come out around Valentine’s Day. But this one is too narrowed to the holiday, and seems to lack the meat and guts of a good, enjoyable film. (Don’t believe me because I haven’t seen the movie myself? Just read all the bad reviews.)

I guess it’s not just the direct Valentine’s Day marketing that bugs me. Whenever I see trailers for movies like Valentine’s Day or Tooth Fairy, or some completely horrible-looking generic action film, all I can think is: That’s where the money’s going? That’s what producers spend their time on? Really?

I’ve been called a “movie snob” and someone who’s “difficult to please” when it comes to films before, but for me it comes down to the sad reality of what we’re not seeing. By releasing movies like these, funding and promotions are going to pointless projects like Valentine’s Day – a film that is only relevant and marketable for one weekend – instead of God-only-knows what brilliant screenplay is just sitting on a script reader’s desk collecting dust.

“Eh, this one’s too hard to grasp, too complicated,” I imagine them saying. Push it aside, shrug, and make Valentine’s Day with 30 famous PYTs instead. That’s what really gets me.

But hey, it’s Hollywood after all. What more should I expect? And if Valentine’s Day was really made just for profit and sales, then what better partner for it than Hollywood? This, it seems, is a perfect match.

Oscars 2010 and the Spanish Snub

Originally posted on my Open Salon blog.

When I think of the best foreign films of 2009, the very first film to come to mind is Pedro Almodovar’s Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos). Starring his muse Penelope Cruz and actor Lluis Homar, this Spanish film told the story of love and the love of film in the style of neo-noir.

Though I had a personal beef with Almodovar for being one of the first to sign the “Free Polanski” petition at the end of last year (a whole ‘nother story all in itself), I’ve been a long-time fan and have a special place in my heart for this particular film of his. The story behind my first viewing of this movie is somewhat magical: I was a senior in college studying film, and I got into this studio’s 2-week Cannes Program. Ecstatic and beyond honored, I got to stay in the South of France with ten other filmmaking kids, work on the studio’s screening, and best of all – attend some of the events at the 2009 Cannes International Film Festival.

I’ll stop the bragging here, I promise. My only reason for bringing it up is that I somehow lucked out in getting into the premiere of Broken Embraces. (And by “lucked out,” I mean “clicked refresh a hundred dozen times on the ticketing webpage.”) Anyway, the experience and the film were both glorious.  It was very Almodovar-esque in terms of beautifully ridiculous plot twists and turns, but overall it was just…scrumptious. Cruz was at her best since Volver (another recent Almodovar masterpiece), and the director himself got to really express his love for cinema and writing in this movie about a blind writer and filmmaker who gets the chance to finish his last movie from 14 years ago.

But, le sigh, this all means nothing to the Academy, seeing as how the film was completely overlooked from the nominations for the 2010 awards. Alright, alright, the snub from the Best Foreign Language category is not the Academy’s fault. It’s Spain’s. No, really. For whatever reason, Spain did not include Broken Embraces in its submissions to the Oscars in September. The writers are Incontention.com covered this and explained that “Almodovar and the Spanish Academy selectors have an on-and-off relationship.”

Okay, fine. So the Academy really had no control over the lack of nomination for Broken Embraces as Best Foreign Language Film. But what about all the other categories? The ones that would make the most sense would be, maybe, Best Original Screenplay, or Best Director, even Cinematography, or Best Actress. Oh wait! Penelope is nominated for Best Actress! But…for her role in Nine? Is that some kind of consolation prize? No one really cared about Nine this year anyway! Why not just nominate her for her brilliant performance in Broken Embraces? (Not to mention that the general opinion has been that French actress Marion Cotillard deserved it, if anyone, for that film.) Why, Oscars, why did you have to overlook Almodovar’s film completely?

I’ll start taking deep breaths now and put an end to my stream of consciousness rant. But the point is this:

Pedro Almodovar’s Broken Embraces got screwed by Spain and snubbed by the Academy. And for that, I am eternally confused and disappointed.