Premiere Week 2011!
This might come as a shock to those of you who regularly read this blog, but … I love TV. And although the “fall television season” is not what it used to be now that so many television series premiere in the winter and even the summer, there are still plenty of new shows to be excited about. That’s why I volunteered to write some short reviews of two particularly exciting series premieres, The CW’s Ringer and NBC’s Up All Night, over at Antenna.
My short reviews of Ringer (click here) and Up All Night (click here) are live now. If you are simply too lazy to read these 300 word reviews (and I can appreciate that kind of laziness), I will summarize for you: Ringer is a Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle about twins, mirrors, and identity theft (meh) and Up All Night is a surprising funny comedy about how babies ruin your otherwise super-awesome life (check it out!). There are no vampires in either program. Yep, that bummed me out too.
BRIDESMAIDS, Will You Be My BFF?
A few months ago I made some New Year’s resolutions. Not the kind in which I vow to be a better person or promise to call my mother more (sorry Mom). Instead, I made some popular culture New Year’s resolutions. Number 2 on my list was a promise to see more films while they are still in the theaters. I do eventually get around to seeing all of the movies that I’m interested in, once they are released on DVD. But certain films are just better when viewed in the theater: special effects-laden science fiction and action films, horror films, and comedies. The big screen and surround sound provided by the movie theater offer the ideal setting for the visual and auditory spectacle that is the raison d’être of science fiction and action films. The second two genres — horror and comedy — are all about the affect they produce in the viewer: horror films aim to horrify you and comedies aim to make you laugh. When you see these kinds of films in the theater, with an audience of excited moviegoers who are very much interested in being horrified or being amused, just like you, then the viewing experience is greatly enhanced. I scream a little bit louder and laugh a little bit harder when I share the movie experience with a group of strangers.
Although I had no one to accompany me to the Greenville Grande on Saturday night (for those keeping track, that is the Greenville movie theater that does not smell like pee), I decided that I really did need to go and see Bridesmaids. I’ll be out of town this weekend and given Greenville’s track record with films that don’t contain talking animals or exploding spaceships, I was worried that Bridesmaids might be gone before I had a chance to see it (it is a “chick flick,” after all). It was important for me to see this comedy in the theater, so I went alone. Before you start feeling bad for me, going to see a movie on a Saturday night all by myself, let me assure you: I had a great time. I am not yet in crazy cat lady territory — at least not until after the kids go to college.
When I walked into the theater, I saw that it was packed. This is key for a comedy. The more people who are in the room, the better. Also, I quickly discovered that the gentleman sitting behind me was an unapologetic movie talker. I used to really hate movie talkers. I would sit in my seat and fume away, wondering why this jerk was out to ruin my viewing experience. But now that I have two young children, going out ot the movies is a rare treat (hence the New Year’s resolution), and so I have come to appreciate all the fine nuances of the movie-going experience. And this young man was a real pro. He didn’t modulate his voice at all — his comments were as loud and clear as if he were sitting at home, watching the movie on DVD. And his commentary was completely banal. During the scene in which Annie’s (Kristen Wiig) nutty roommate, Brynn (Rebel Wilson), begins pouring frozen peas over her sore tattoo (as opposed to placing the entire bag on the swollen area), he declared “That chick’s so dumb, man!” Later, when Annie’s crappy little car finally breaks down, he informed the theater, “That car’s a beater!” Yes, Movie Talker, that car sure was a beater. Thanks for the head’s up!
With a comedy I think it’s important to set the tone early, so the audience knows what to expect. So it was fitting that Bridesmaids opened with Annie and her rich, emotionally unavailable “fucky buddy,” Ted (Jon Hamm), having very active, very unsexy, sex. I think it’s a testament to both Kristen Wiig’s and Jon Hamm’s comedic abilities that they were able to take something so inherently sexy — naked Jon Hamm having sex — and make it cringe-worthy and awful. The next morning Annie asks Ted if he wants to start dating. He shoots her down (and the tone of the conversation implies that the subject has come up before) and tells her to head home. The scene culminates with Annie leaving Ted’s opulent home and scaling the large gate at the end of his driveway (she is too much of a doormat to go in and ask him to open it for her). Once she reaches the top of the gate, straddling it like a big, white pony, it begins to move — Ted’s cleaning lady has opened it from the other side. So Annie is forced to ride the gate, in what has to be the ultimate “walk/ride of shame.” As this scene built to this wonderful visual gag, the audience was roaring, and I knew I was in for a good night.
What I liked best about Bridesmaids was the way that it mixed together different kinds of humor. Yes, it gives us Annie straddling an electronic gate, shame and humiliation radiating from her small frame. Yes, it gives us Megan (Melissa McCarthy) making fat jokes at her own expense, inviting us to laugh at her body and the possibility of its sexuality (I had some problems with this character). And yes, we see Lillian (Maya Rudolph), the beautiful bride-to-be, decked out in a gorgeous vintage wedding gown, just so that its many layers can hide her uncontrollable diarrhea. Which she makes in the middle of the street.
Beyond this easy humor (for the record, I loved the vomit/shit scene), the movie also offers humor based on the realities of women’s lives. As a mother, I enjoyed hearing bridesmaid Rita (Wendi McClendon-Covey) deflate bridesmaid Becca’s (Ellie Kemper) rosy illusions about motherhood. When Becca, a newlywed, gushes about how s “beautiful” motherhood must be, Rita enlightens her: “The other night I was making a lovely dinner for my family, and my youngest son came in and said he wanted to order a pizza. I said ‘No, we are not ordering a pizza,’ and he said ‘Mom why don’t you go fuck yourself.’ He’s 9.” Later in the film, Rita begs for a bachelorette party in Las Vegas so that she can get away from her children and wear her new “tube top.” I too have a tube top in my closet that never gets worn. Yes, this movie was definitely written by women. By funny women.
I also loved this film because it offered a great protrait of the friendships of women in their thirties — friendships that have endured so many of life’s successes and failures. In particular, the first scene between Annie and Lillian, where they sit eating brunch post-workout, reminded me of so many of my female friendships. These friendships are loud, funny, and often a bit crass. While I was a huge fan of Sex and the City and its brand of “loud/funny/crass” women, their conversations usually just reminded me that I was way less fabulous than Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda. I could covet their clothes and their apartments, but I was not one of them. But in their brunch scene, Annie and Lillian imitate a penis (brilliant!) and spread black cake on their teeth to make each other laugh. They also confide in each other and offer good, reassurring advice.
I loved this friendship and that’s what made Annie’s increasingly bizarre behavior throughout the film make sense. Annie has lost her business, her boyfriend, and her self esteem — her friendship with Lillian is the only great thing she has left. No wonder she becomes threatened when Helen (Rose Byrne) tries to step in as Lillian’s maid of honor and new best friend. I’m not saying that her freak out at Helen’s Parisian-themed bridal shower wasn’t over the top: but it was a little bit cathartic for anyone in the audience who has looked around at a wedding celebration and thought “Seriously?”
A few more highlights:
* We learn, early in the film, that Annie hasn’t really baked anything since her cake shop closed down. But we get one scene in which she painstakingly creates a cupcake masterpeice. We see her rolling out the marzipan, cutting and fashioning it into delicate petals, and then painting each leaf. The finished product, a single, perfect, flower-topped gem, is gorgeous. Annie stares at her masterpiece, without any sense of triumph or passion … and then shoves it in her mouth.
* While I was a little frustrated with the character of Megan (why must the plus size woman play the most buffoonish role?), I did adore the scene on the plane in which she interrogates a man (Ben Falcone) whom she believes to be a federal marshall. It’s not that their conversation was all that funny — they were discussing the pros and cons of concealing a weapon in one’s butt — but I loved that the man (played by McCarthy’s real life husband) was clearly amused, rather than annoyed, by Megan’s paranoid theories. Rather than angrily dismissing her, he engages her and asks questions about how a gun concealed in the butt could actually be practical. The scene could have been absurd, but it was playful instead. Someone could have actually had that conversation on a plane.
*Finally, Annie’s love interest, Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd), was just wonderful. I believed that a girl like Annie would fall for a guy like him (and if she didn’t, well, that would be okay too. The movie’s success does not depend on Annie’s heterosexual coupling). When Rhodes and Annie finally get to make out, after lots of sexual tension, he is so delighted that he declares, mid-kiss, “I’m so glad this is happening!” That scene made me feel happy for Annie.
In conclusion, it is very clear not just that women wrote this movie, but that jokes based on the specific experiences of women, are funny. So go fuck yourself, Christopher Hitchens. No really, go fuck yourself Christopher Hitchens. The reason why there aren’t more great, funny, female-focused films out there has nothing to do with the inherent unfunniness of women. It has to do with fears within the industry that a female-centered comedy will die at the box office. So I beg you, people: go see this movie. Show Hollywood that this is the kind of film that everyone, not just women, wants to see.
For more great reasons to see this film, check out Annie Petersen’s post here.
I’m also interested in hearing your thoughts: did you enjoy Bridesmaids and why? Or do you feel its overrated? What are some other female-centered comedies or female comedians who make you laugh?