Bridesmaids. Content-wise, pretty typical as far as standard chick-flicks go; not particularly feminist, despite the hype.
Or was it? I will now make the argument for how Bridesmaids can be read as a feminist film, although you’ll have to read on to see what my final ruling is.
The bridesmaids are:
- Protagonist Annie, maid of honor. We covered her in ¶2 of the last post.
- Antagonist Helen, trophy wife of rich man whose children from the first despise her. Crushed under the weight of perfection. Poor little rich girl grows up and gets bitchy.
- Becca, naive newlywed whose suggestion for a bridal shower theme is Pixar and went to Disneyworld for her honeymoon. Husband is the only man she’s slept with, and was probably a virgin when they married.
- Rita, jaded wife of a sexist sex-fiend and mother to three pre-teen/teen boys. She’s the one who is one more glass of white wine away from Cougarville.
- Then, Megan. The fat one. Inappropriate. Awkward. Sexually adventurous. If you’ve seen the trailers, she’s the one on the plane in the white Kangol cap, lewdly propositioning a man on his way back from the bathroom. Sister of the groom, so she’s not really a friend, but has to be included for the sake of future family harmony.
One reading of her character is that she’s bat-shit crazy. She suggests a Fight Club theme for the bridal shower, after all. But was she being serious, or just trying to provoke a reaction from a group of women, and the larger community, that essentially ignore her?
The feminist take is that she’s the only one secure enough in her own self to say and do what she wants. She understands that because everyone else has written her off, ignoring her because she doesn’t conform to conventional expectations of womanhood, she can say or do pretty much anything.
Fat girls are used to being invisible. Some use that invisibility like a cloak, hoping to avoid shame and humiliation. Some, like Megan in this movie, use it like a ninja weapon, landing punches no one ever expected, daring everyone to acknowledge their presence, and often getting what they want because they were the only ones bold enough to ask for it.
One subtext of the movie is the space each woman inhabits and how confined or free she is in that space. Rita bemoans the fact that she sees only the kitchen (where she’s the madonna) and bedroom (where she’s the whore). Becca confesses that before her husband will have sex with her, they have to scrub themselves completely clean in separate showers, and sometimes, he’s just too tired after all of the preparation to actually have sex with her. Helen lives in a grand estate with an absentee husband and step-children who openly despise her, surrounded by people she believes are her friends only because she throws great parties. Annie repeatedly sleeps with a piggish guy she admits makes her feel awful every time she sees him who reveals that she’s just number 3 on his list of booty call partners, and gets kicked out by a brother-sister roommate duo. Even the bride-to-be has a cold feet moment when she realizes she’ll be giving up her own space, her own tub, bed, and couch, to move in with her husband.
None of these women are comfortable in their own homes, and by extension, their own skin.
Except Megan. And too few people are comfortable with fat girls who are comfortable in their own skin.
Here’s a transcript from the Movie Date podcast, featuring movie producer Kristen Meinzer and Newsday film critic Rafer Guzman. Their review’s title? Is Bridesmaids a Breakthrough Feminist Movie?
K is Kristen, a woman; R is Rafer, a man. You can listen to their conversation here, but I’ve transcribed the Megan discussion so you can see I’m not the only one who chooses to read Megan as fiercely feminist instead of just crazy:
R: The socially-awkward, bizarr-o role went to Melissa McCarthy in this movie, the one who plays the kind of, the one who’s the overweight, kind of crass …
K: Oh, I loved her.
R: Yeah, she’s very funn—now wait a minute, you loved her?
R: You loved her, but you’re still … you’re
K: She was strong, and she said you don’t get rescued, you rescue yourself, lady.
R: That’s true!
K: And that was the most feminist thing about the film, to me—
R: That’s a very good scene (continues sputtering … talking over K) that scene was very good.
K: –was her character. That was the most feminist thing in the whole film.
R: But she’s also the grossest, crassest character.
K: You know, I don’t think she’s gross and more crass than anybody else there.
R incredulously: When she comes on to the air marshal on the plane?
K: That’s crass?
R: Talking about that steam heat? laughs
K: Isn’t anybody … what … what … that’s crass?
R: I can’t … I can’t explain that, I can’t explain that line any further.
K: That might just be a case of your considering it crass because she’s not a beautiful woman.
R: I think even if a beautiful woman had said that, to me, that would send some alarm bells ringing in my head.
K: I think when a woman comes on to a man and she looks like a Playboy model, well, it’s fine, but when a woman comes on to a man, and she looks, kind of, in this movie, like a man …
R: OK, yeah yeah yeah.
K: I think that’s where you’re finding it crass.
R: I think you have a fair point there, but—
K: Yeah, but, I think—
R: I concede.
K: But I do think that she was the most feminist thing about the film.
R: OK, that’s interesting.
K: Not the poo-ing and the vomiting and …
K: … and all that stuff. I mean, I think that’s fine and good, but, I mean, and, I think there’s a tiny part of me that’s just a little tiny bit irritated about the whole hullabaloo around this film—this could be a breakthrough, we could get male audiences into an all-women’s film, this could be a movie that men see without their girlfriends—it kind of bugs me that everyone’s trying so hard to get men into the theatre without women. Why not cater to the women once in a while? Women make up 55% of film audiences, according to the MPAA. Why don’t we let women have films that are for them, just as so many films are just for men. Why don’t we just let that happen?
R: (Who has been trying to interject throughout K’s comment) As a professional movie critic who is forced to see pretty much every Hollywood release, I am going to say: you guys have plenty of movies to go see. And I see them all. I see It’s Complicated, I see Something Borrowed, I see 27 Dresses, I see all these movies. There are plenty of movies out there for women. And here’s the thing. Most of the movies that I see that are oriented toward women strike me as kind of bad for women. Right? Sex and the City, right? Women have plenty of movies, and I would much rather see them, you know, kind of, humanized, as you were saying, in this movie, than to see them going through the usual, you know, oh, my boyfriend this, and oh, what’s going to happen to my wedding, and will I get married. I would much rather see a movie like Bridesmaids than a movie like Something Borrowed.
K: I can see where you’re coming from. And, that being said, I enjoyed it, I just didn’t think it was a feminist breakthrough.
R: OK, that’s interesting. So let me ask you this: are there any other movies in the past few years that you think were more along the lines of a female empowering movie, a movie that you felt really spoke to women in a non-condescending, non-pandering way?
K: Hmmmm. Oh, gosh. I bet you’re not going to let me choose Will & Kate: A Royal Romance, on Lifetime TV, are you?
R: A-hahaha! Kristen, I think, I think, I think you and I are at an impasse.
K: So it goes.
This is getting to be painfully long, but bear with me. The meatiest part of this dialogue is when Kristen gives her long comment about the fact that movies seem to be geared toward getting men to watch them when women make up 55% of the audience. Why, she wonders, aren’t more films made with women in mind? Why are we trying so hard to celebrate this nondescript film as a feminist milestone instead of making films that are actually feminist milestones?
Rafer, playing the perfect foil, lapses into mansplaining:
- States his credentials. He is a professional film critic.
- Assures Kristen that he’s the expert, as he’s seen all of the movies that come out. He can assure her that plenty of movies are made for women, because he’s seen them.
- And, as a professional man who watches movies, he can assure her that most of them are bad for women, but not this one.
- He’d rather watch Bridesmaids than any of the other chick-flicks that have come out lately. So somehow, his logic is that there are plenty of movies for women, but he likes this one, so what? exactly? is? his? point? There should be more movies for women that he likes? WTF?
Kristen, by the way, is both a woman and a movie industry professional. In other words, she has just as much of a right to claim expertise as Rafer. But she doesn’t. She hems and hedges. She starts off her winning argument paragraph (because women holding 55% of the economic power over movie purchases seems to be a winning argument in a capitalist society, wouldn’t you think?) by hedging. I think … a tiny part of me is a tiny bit irritated …
Learn Megan’s lesson, Kristen! TAKE UP SPACE! Let your ideas and winning arguments elbow Rafer’s out of the way. And while you’re at it, tell him to stop talking over you and interrupting you.
As I was walking to my car after the movie, two women in front of me were rehashing some of Megan’s funnier (to me) moments. Their conclusion was that she was a really scary character. That made me sad. The one self-aware character who refused to go through life as a victim, who got what she wanted in life and in bed, and the two young woman in front of me found her to be scary.
Had the movie succeeded as a feminist film, those two young women would have had their worldview challenged just a bit. They would have felt empowered, not scared. I got in my car and pulled out of my space. They were about to pull out of theirs, but I didn’t yield. It was kind of a towanda moment.
This movie frustrated me the way smart women who end their sentences with a question frustrate me. I’m not willing to give it the feminist breakthrough stamp of approval.