Bridesmaids (Dir. Paul Feig, 2011)

Industry: Film

Bridesmaids is a comedy film that can be further categorised as a ‘buddy’ film because it focuses on friendships. It has also been described as a ‘gross out’ comedy, which aims to shock audiences through inclusion of ‘toilet humour’.  Toilet humour originally referred to comedy derived from our embarrassment about bodily functions, particularly defecation. However, its meaning has widened to include sexual humour, nudity or any other content used to generate laughs that would be considered impolite or indecent.  Other examples of ‘gross out’ films might be There’s Something About Mary (1998) or The Hangover (2009).

Of course, what makes Bridesmaids unconventional in relation to these comedic types is the gender of the performers. This is a film featuring an ensemble female cast. Women are often marginalised in these types of comedies, often featuring as the romantic goal or as a reminder to the male protagonists of responsibility and the everyday. The dominant type of comedy that actively caters for a female audience is the romantic comedy, and although Bridesmaids has a romantic sub-plot, it is not a rom-com.

The narrative follows Annie, an unlucky 30 something whose life is turned upside down when her best friend, Lillian, gets engaged. Annie struggles to support her best friend in preparing for the wedding and instead is drawn into a competition for Lillian’s affections with rival bridesmaid, Helen. 

Industry

Business and Release  

Bridesmaids was made for an estimated budget of $32.5 million. It was released in the US on 13th May and in the UK on 24th June 2011.  The release was scheduled for a summer release – a profitable time for comedies to make money. They feed into and can add to the sense of general well-being and positivity that the summer can bring for audiences. In addition, the summer months are a traditional time for weddings. The distributors were likely banking on the increased relatability of the subject matter with the audience that a summer release would allow.

It went on to make just over $288 million worldwide, making a clear profit. As a comparison, The Hangover was made for around $35 million and made a little over $467 million globally. Perhaps the difference in box office takings might be explained by the willingness of an audience of both genders to see a male-orientated film like The Hangover, where are male audiences were perhaps alienated by the clear female gender bias in Bridesmaids.

Key Companies

The two principal production companies who financed the production of Bridesmaids are Relativity Media and Apatow Productions. The film’s distributor is Universal Pictures.

Relativity Media are an American independent film production and investment company. Founded in 2004, it is often engaged in producing films as part of a production partnership with other companies. Its most notable successes include: The Change Up (2011), The Fighter (2010), The Social Network (2010), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), Zombieland (2009) and Seven Pounds (2008). Relativity Media, as well as being involved in film production, is now developing into different media platforms including Pay TV and digital media.

Apatow Productions was founded in 1999 by Judd Apatow (see below). It was founded as the production company for teen television show Freaks and Geeks. However, it is best known for its successful comedy films . These include Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004),  The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005), Knocked Up (2007), Superbad (2007), Pineapple Express (2008) and Get Him to the Greek (2010). This stable of films is united by a masculine comedy that often includes elements of both the buddy film and the gross-out comedy. Bridesmaids, however has been the best performing Apatow Production so far, surpassing Knocked Up for the amount of profit made.

The ‘Key Creatives’

Unlike other genres of cinema, comedy places more emphasis the writers and performers than on the director. Perhaps it’s because comedy relies on the script and the performances to make us laugh. When viewing a comedy, audience gauge the success of a film based on how much they laughed, not how aesthetically pleasing or engaged they were by the film’s visuals or narrative. It is therefore more important to consider who has had input into the creation of any comedy. In the case of Bridesmaids, they are:

Jud Appatow  – Producer

Apatow is an American writer, director and producer, best known for his comedy. From 2005, his name has become synonymous for successful comedies for adult audiences. He’s been praised for his ability to balance gross-out comedy with sentiment. Regardless of his involvement with a production, either through directing, producing or writing (or, indeed, a combination), Apatow seems to have cultivated an individual style and tone that unites his movies. He explores themes such as coming-of-age, settling down, social isolation and surrogate familial relationships.  Apatow has developed relationships with several comedic actors, such as Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell, Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen, who often appear in his films. Apatow will often work closely with such actors to develop ideas for films. This is how The 40 Year Old Virgin was born.

Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo – Writers & Co-producers

Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, like a lot of comedy writers, are also comedy performers. Having met through participation in an improvisational comedy group, Wiig and Mumolo formed a performing and writing relationship, initially writing sketches together. They decided to develop Bridesmaids into a feature script after Apatow recognised Wiig’s comedic talent in her supporting role in Knocked Up. It’s likely that Apatow specifically wanted to develop an idea with Wiig that could showcase her comedic talents. In the film industry, these types of films are often known as ‘vehicles’. The role of co-producer can be important for writers. It allows them to retain some input into how a script is realised in production. The fact that Wiig and Mumolo were also given co-producer status suggests that Apatow valued their contributions.

Paul Feig – Director

Paul Feig is an American actor, author and film and television director. He also created the TV show Freaks and Geeks, which was produced by Apatow Productions. This suggests that Feig has a long standing creative relationship with Judd Apatow. Bridesmaids marks his feature film directing debut. However, Feig has a proven track record in directing television comedy, having fulfilled the role on successful comedies like The Office: An American Workplace, 30 Rock and Arrested Development.

The Cast

Kristen Wiig (Annie)

Wiig gained attention in the US for being a cast member on the iconic comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live. SNL has a history of launching the careers of comedy performers, who then go onto  become huge comedy film stars. This list includes Chevy Chase, Dan Ackroyd, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell. Wiig is still a serving cast member, but has made a number of feature film appearances in films such as Ghost Town (2008), Adventureland (2009), Whip It (2009) and Paul (2011) . In all of these films she has appeared as a supporting cast member, Bridesmaids marks her first film as the lead actor.  

Rose Byrne  (Helen)

Byrne is an Australian film and television actor who appeared opposite Glen Close in Damages, a critically successful television legal drama. She has since made appearances a variety of films ranging from horror Insidious (2011) to superhero franchise instalment X-men: First Class (2011). Both of these films played to Byrne’s dramatic strengths. However, it was her role as Russell Brand’s Lady Gaga-esque pop princess ex-wife in Get Him to the Greek (2010), which first showcased her comedic talents to a wider audience.

The Supporting Cast

Bridesmaids is predominantly an ensemble piece. Although the narrative is driven by the conflict between Annie and Helen, the supporting cast offer performances that enhance the audience’s enjoyment of the film. They are a broad range of comedy performers, who mostly come from television.  Maya Rudolph (Lillian) was a fellow cast member on SNL with Wiig. Chris O’Dowd plays  Officer Rhodes is obviously known to UK audiences from The I.T. Crowd, however, this is not O’Dowd’s first Hollywood role, having previously starred in Dinner for Schmucks (2010) and Gulliver’s Travels (2010).  Matt Lucas as Annie’s  landlord & roommate, is another recognisable  but somewhat unexpected face. He’s paired with Australian stand-up and comedic actor, Rebel Wilson. Melissa McCarthy shines as Megan, but is a popular US sit-com actress, starring as Molly in Mike and Molly. Wendi McLendon-Covey (Rita) is known for her work in television comedies such as Reno-911. Jon Hamm, best known as the lead actor in Mad Men plays Annie’s not-really-boyfriend, Ted. He is not credited for the role, and so his appearance would have been a pleasing to surprise to a significant proportion of the audience. 

Audience

Demographic Profile

Age: 20-40. The BBFC gave Bridesmaids a 15 rating, so it certainly contains content that is not suitable for children and younger teenagers. However, the ages of the characters suggests a 20-40 demographic. The protagonist is in the middle of this range, as she is in her 30s. The narrative also contains elements of a rites-of-passage narrative, and the 20-40 age group is also likely to be near to their own marriage.

Gender: Despite attempts to attract an audience of both genders, undoubtedly this film was perceived by mainstream audiences as a ‘woman’s film’.

Socio-economic groups: Because of the type of broad comedy that Bridesmaids includes, we can deduce that the socio-economic groups targeted are C1, C2 & D. However, a secondary audience of A/B viewers may find interest in evaluating the representation of gender and considering the film’s wider importance. It might also be worth noting that males in A, B and C1 are also those more likely to be less put off by the film’s gender bias.

Critical Reviews and Audience Reaction

“A good deal has now been written about Bridesmaids being at the vanguard of a new feminist revolution in Hollywood comedy – a sorpack to go with the fratpack – and how, before this, women were marginalised or treated as second-class turns in Hollywood, a theory that holds up if you discount the colossal commercial success of the Sex and the City movies. It’s certainly true the comedy of Rogen, Ferrell, Carell et al has been very laddish.

So there is something in Bridesmaids that is particularly interesting: how it offers a male, or male-seeming dimension that is not featured in all the other sugary girly-romcommy treatments of engagements, bridal showers, wedding ceremonies, etc: the world of status-envy and career-disappointment. It is the women’s relationship with each other, and not with men, that is central. So what is dramatised in these characters is not the traditional single-girl qualities of vivacity or demureness, comically flavoured with man-pleasing sexiness or anxious self-doubt, but the bridesmaids’ competitive sense of themselves as successful or otherwise: at home, in business and in the wider world. And what’s important to social success is not romance, exactly, but marriage.”Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian. Read the full review here.

“It chafes a bit that Annie has such a ladylike, nonthreatening ambition: What’s sweeter than a cupcake? But her vocation is also in keeping with the times, given how many women made it big in the past decade practicing the domestic arts (Rachael Ray, Ina Garten, Giada De Laurentiis). And Bridesmaids is liberally laced with a feminist sensibility, most notably in poking fun at women’s wedding fantasies. (Lillian’s groom is so much on the sidelines that I’d be hard pressed to find him in a lineup.) A lovely touch: in her last screen role before passing away last November, Jill Clayburgh, the star of 1978′s An Unmarried Woman, plays Annie’s mother, who — like her character in that ode to liberation — is indignant over being left for a younger woman. One of the bridesmaids, brassy Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), serves primarily to voice outrage at the drudgery of stay-at-home motherhood, while the one who’s most comfortable in her own skin, Megan (Melissa McCarthy from Mike & Molly), is heavyset and a little butch.” Mary Pols, Time Magazine. Read the full review here

“What could easily be dismissed as “Hangover for girls” is actually much more than that. First of all, the movie is a lot sweeter but also deeper than the trailer suggested. It’s also refreshing to see that the best laughs didn’t get spoiled already. The humor is aiming below the belt a couple of times but overall much more intelligent than you’d expect. The cast makes sure that every joke works, Kristen Wiig is the heart of the film and much more the protagonist than you’d expect. Her lovable, ditzy and hilarious character carries the film even through a couple of slow parts that could have used some trimming. Two hours running time is pushing it for a comedy, but overall it’s a pleasure to watch this ensemble embarrass themselves while winning our hearts at the same time. The wedding finale and end credits are particularly sweet and funny. What a pleasant surprise!” Jens. S. (audience reviewer, rottentomatoes.com)

“This movie is totally mistitled and misleading. It should have been titled “The Bridesmaid” singular. There was no strong female clique as advertising would suggest. Nothing like “The Hangover” ensemble. No, this is a movie focused on the Maid of Honor/Bridesmaid, which totally gives it a different tone than expected. You feel trapped in an emotional rollercoaster rather than a comedy. So, yeah, for a “Bridesmaids” movie, as it is, this movie was overall boring and long and only seldom humorous. And for a rated R movie, it should have had more suggestive/sexual content to be frank and hotter guys (and this is coming from a guy’s perspective).” AaronM (user reviewer metacritic.com)

Bridesmaids,  Representation and The Bechdel Test

With any media text, it’s important to consider the representation of the types of people depicted. The notable group being represented in Bridesmaids is obviously women. Representations of either gender group by the mainstream media (e.g. Hollywood) are often assessed and evaluated with reference to the messages that these representations offer in terms of qualities or behaviours associated with represented group.  Bridesmaids offers on, the whole, some quite stereotypical representations of women. However, because of the ensemble cast, we get a variety of these stereotypical representations and some non-stereotypical ones too. In the film, women are portrayed as the daughter, the mother, the single girl, the wife, the bride, the fiancé, the cook, the bridesmaid, the best friend, the wise woman, the bitch, the woman-rejected-for-someone-younger, the employee, the failed entrepreneur, the rebel, the butch, the good girl and the sexual adventurer.

The fact that there are such a variety of female representations present is undoubtedly positive. This is especially true as women are often irrelevant or less relevant to mainstream cinema narratives than male characters. Males are more likely to be cast in the role of hero or villain with women often included as the damsel in distress or as the reward for the hero.

To demonstrate how often female characters are marginalised in mainstream narratives,  American cartoonist Alison Bechdel developed a simple test in her 1985 comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. The Bechdel Test, as it has become known, assesses the gender bias in films based on three simple questions:

  1. Does the movie have two or more named female characters?
  2. Do these women talk to each other in a scene?
  3. Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?

If you can look at a film and answer yes to all three question, the film is judged to be more gender balanced than the majority of mainstream films. Bridesmaids passes the Bechdel test as the characters talk to each other about a variety of subjects. This contributes to a wider representation of women that doesn’t solely rely on their relationship with men.

Poster Analysis

  • The colour palette – pink & white – suggests femininity. The shocking pink, however suggests an unapologetic and aggressive female identity. The white is used here as part of the symbolic code of weddings.
  • There are no ‘above-the-title’ stars. However, the line ‘From the producer of Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin’ anchors the idea that Apatow’s previous successes will help attract audiences.
  •  The typography is black and capitalised, with larger text used for the film names. These elements help draw the audience’s eyes to this information.
  • The films mentioned – Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin – are two of Apatow’s films that target both a male and female audience, unlike other films he’s produced such as Anchorman and Get Him to the Greek.
  • The film’s title is placed towards the top of the poster, capitalised and in the largest font. This prioritisation allows the audience to quickly recognise it as the film title.
  • To the right, and in smaller font, is the certification information. This is a conventional placement of this feature on film poster.
  • The photographic image, a group shot, tells the audience that this film features an ensemble cast. This is anchored by the title. The plural ‘bridesmaids’ denotes a group of women.
  • The gender of the performers depicted suggests the film’s primary target audience.
  • The performers are posing in a way that is part of the recognised iconography of the wedding; a picture of the bride with her bridesmaids.
  • However the usual presentation (bride and bridesmaids smiling whilst adopting soft, feminine poses) is subverted here. None of the women are smiling; instead differing powerful and serious expressions are used.
  • Their body language suggests unity, as they are all physically connected. In addition their physical positions connote rebelliousness and are almost gang-like.
  • This subversion of the conventional image of bride and bridesmaids connotes a representation of women that is different from the norm.
  • The placement of the bride off-centre tells the audience that she is not the protagonist.
  • In fact, Lillian (Maya Rudolf) is placed with Annie (Kristen Wiig) on one side and Helen (Rose Byrne) on the other, mirroring the importance of this ‘triangle’ in the film. Annie is placed in a more central position to suggest her importance in the narrative.
  • Either side of the image, endorsements are used. Two quotations from reviews are employed, positioned symmetrically to give graphic balance to the poster.
  • The endorsements are from Cosmopolitan, More, Red Magazine (suggesting the targeting of a female audience), The News of the World and Total Film (suggesting the targeting of an audience that includes both men and women).
  • In one quotation, The Hangover is used as a comparable film. The genre is conveyed through the association with this successful comedy. It’s inclusion on this poster also tells us that the distributors hope that this comparison will help encourage audiences to see the film, hoping for a similar experience.
  • Alliteration is used as a way to anchor the film’s characteristics -‘Hilarious and heartfelt.’
  • The phrase ‘must see’ connotes a film that should not be missed – another technique designed to entice the audience.
  • Five sets of five stars are used to connote that Bridesmaids is a high quality film that should be seen. This is part of the symbolic code for film posters.
  • The conventional poster film credit information is located below the feature image. Again, its position and format is a convention of the film poster.
  • Underneath this we see the company logos for the key companies involved, as well as link to a Facebook page and an advert for the soundtrack.  These elements suggest the brand synergy and opportunities for audience interaction.
  • Finally, in a banner across the bottom of the poster gives us the release date. It is visually contrasted with the rest of the poster, as the banner is pink and the text is white. This approach helps this information stand out. The phrase ‘Save the date’ is one associated with weddings. The poster uses part of the discourse of weddings to convey meaning to the audience.  
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