Guest Post: Why I’m rooting against Bridesmaids at the Oscars

By Silpa Kovvali

History will rightly view Bridesmaids as an important milestone in more ways than one. It was a female-driven comedy. It was a box office hit. And despite the ensemble of women at its center, its raunchy humor was characteristic of producer Judd Apatow. But as director Paul Feig suggested, Apatow-esque vulgarity is important for the underlying human sentiment it reveals. In buddy comedies that revolve around friendship between men, for example, characters want their friends to loosen up or to have a good time, however misguided their efforts. When a man acts in a passive-aggressive manner toward his buddy, his behavior stems from very real fears that the relationship will fade away and he’ll get left behind. Their insecurities, regardless of how unhealthily they manifest themselves, are flattering insofar as they display just how much these friendships mean to them.

In Bridesmaids, however, insecurities are presented as an inherent part of womanhood. Main character Annie (Kristen Wiig) is insecure about her relationships, she is insecure about her career, she is, of course, insecure about her weight. And apparently this insecurity is all entirely relatable, particularly when she meets a woman prettier than she is and dies a little inside. The movie was even touted as a “celebration of the bonds between women.” It’s a fascinating description, because I recognize the character of Annie as someone capable of compassion only when things have gone horribly awry,  incapable of genuinely celebrating others’ happiness or success, who views her friends solely as comrades in mutual despair. There is a term for such people. It isn’t “really good pal.”

The movie doesn’t reluctantly abide by these conventions of women as jealous and unstable so much as it relishes them. “I have to go say hi to my aunt or she’ll get mad at my aunt,” one character whispers out of the blue, before scuttling off. Annie’s mother describes her father’s current wife as a “whore” who probably greets him “beaver first.” A woman whose boyfriend is about to propose worries that he “seems distant.” The characters who have children either hate them or are hated by them. None of the women who discuss their sex lives find them remotely satisfying. We might pretend that the portrayal of the film’s men as detestable, pathetic, sexually inept, and stupid is meant to make their female counterparts shine in comparison, but then what on earth are we to think of the women whose lives revolve around relationships with them?

If we are to recognize Bridesmaids for what it is, we must underscore the importance of its commercial success. It demonstrated that progress needn’t stem from charity by succeeding on its own merits as a funny film. But we must also appreciate that culture is inseparably intertwined with social norms. Entertainment can reinforce them at its worst or challenge them at its best. Actress Anna Faris once described her particularly problematic roles as “destroying a generation of boys, who think we’ll forgive any kind of assholey behavior.” Bridesmaids was not just touted as a money maker, but celebrated as a feminist victory. I will grant that it challenged the dominant Hollywood narrative that movies made by women about women couldn’t find an audience with men. But I will not grant that it challenged the dominant Hollywood portrayal of women on screen. When asked how making of this movie changed his conception of women, Feig’s answer was telling. “It reinforced,” he replied, “everything that I thought to be true.”

Of course, a step forward is a step forward even if we haven’t reached our destination. But for all the ways this film was groundbreaking it was also, in many ways, regressive. The message of Bridesmaids seems to be that you can wrap up trite stereotypes in lewdness to make them innovative and new. Because no one is willing to sift through the proverbial river of shit to discover what’s under the surface. We can celebrate precisely what this movie did accomplish, which was to make us laugh. We can recognize the significance of that laughter on a grander scale. But to hand it an Oscar represents something else entirely. It signifies that, in this cultural moment, it is the best we can do. And a generation of girls deserves better.

Silpa Kovvali is a group blogger for The Huffington Post living in NYC. Follow her on Twitter @SilpaKov.

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7 Comments

  1. Posted February 26, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Bridesmaids is up for an Oscar?!

    Gee. I saw the film and found it dreadful: vulgar, trashy, poorly acted, with no story line, riddled with stereotypes (the rich b***h who is not so bad underneath, etc.), not innovative in any way, and worst of all, unfunny.

    No redeeming features at all. Unlike The Hangover, which was at least funny.

    I’d also add that is was Hollywood at its worst: filming by numbers. Nice gay character? Tick. Rich jerk? Tick. Big woman, nice? Tick. Idiotic husband? Tick.

    Groan. If I want social commentary, with a Feminist Year 2011 101 slant, I’ll log on to Feministing.com, thank you very much.

    It was a parody, right?

  2. Posted February 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    I have to disagree. I loved Bridesmaids and I do get a bit of an emotional attachment to movies I love so maybe I’m biased in my analysis but I’ll try to be objective.

    Like it or not, I do believe that we are told being insecure is an inherent trait of womanhood in the modern world – and for the most part, a lot of us buy into it. I think Annie’s character was a good example of someone who bought into this notion. I know many women like Annie who have low self esteem and hook up with guys like Jon Hamm’s characters – as Annie did – because they think it’s aa self esteem booster – obviously it’s not because these guys treat them horribly. Also, I don’t think Annie was merely portrayed as being jealous of Helen because she was prettier than her – she just felt more insecure because this woman appeared to have it all together and appear incredibly confident, although it was later revealed that maybe this wasn’t totally true. Annie does grow throughout the film – at the beginning she sees her best friend’s wedding as the end of her life but near the end when she stops feeling sorry for herself and truly invest herself in her friends and finds confidence in herself things begin to work out for the better.

    And then there’s Megan – she actually does have it all together and is incredibly confident even though she doesn’t fit society’s image of beauty and “ladylike” behavior – and eventually helps Annie realize her talents and feel confident in herself. I think she does challenge Hollywood’s notion of women on screen because she does not fit society’s ideal of what is beautiful yet she is confident, she is successful in work and is comfortable with her sexuality without being uptight, and she is confident without feeling jealous of other women and is pushes them to feel the same way.

    I also think it’s important that the women truly are at the forefront of the film and their friendships – rather than their romantic relationships – are given full attention. The two men in Annie’s life are given some importance, but it’s not them, but rather her relationship with her female friends, that helps her find confidence in her work and her romantic interests. One man is portrayed as a detestable jerk while the other is portrayed as a genuinely good guy who is supportive of Annie but still has insecurities of his own.

    Anyway I respect your critique and think you had interesting points – I just really loved the movie and I’m glad it’s getting recognition so I wanted to respond.

  3. Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    Annie leaves the asshole character played by Jon Hamm for the kind cop. Melissa McCarthy’s character finds love and a very sexually satisfying relationship with the man she meets on the airplane. I don’t think the movie puts the insecurities and Annie’s wallowing in self pity on a pedestal. Hey, McCarthy beats her up on the couch telling her to take control of her life.

  4. Posted February 27, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I’m with you, Courtney. I don’t think I could have said it better myself!

  5. Posted February 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    I also really loved Bridesmaids. I think the fact that a comedy starring women is so successful is really significant (and awesome). However, it is important to peel back some of the layers. I was a little sad while reading this article, but I think that despite some of the things Miriam has pointed out, it is really okay to still love it and root for it, because funny women have so much crap going against them!

  6. Posted February 27, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Are you suggesting that insecurities are NOT an inherent part of womanhood?

    To me they are an inherent part of humanhood, womanhood in particular.

    Every woman I know, literally every woman, could identify very well with the insecurities presented. Even if you don’t share all of them yourself, you certainly have friends, family members, etc. who do.

  7. Posted February 27, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    Did I miss something? I don’t remember Annie being insecure about her weight. And I thought it was refreshing to see a movie in which more than one woman is consistently really, really funny.

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