Bridesmaids: Once a bridesmaid, then a soon-to-be bride

Oppositional Gaze Blog

The popular movie Bridesmaids depicts women as inherently fickle and incapable of trusting or loving men while trying to pass as an empowering movie with an almost exclusively female cast.  The main character, Annie, repeatedly pushes away “nice guy” Officer Rhodes while desperately attempting to have a relationship with “player” Ted whose only interests seem to be sex and himself.  She does this because her previous loser of a lover ran out on her when her baking business went bankrupt, thus losing her ability to ever trust men again.  The only person we can truly depend on is ourselves, right?  Finally, Annie manages to push away gallant Officer Rhodes by repeatedly yelling at him emotionally (Nice guys always finish last, right?) and only then realizes that she needs a “nice guy” like him to be in a respectable relationship with.  This movie clearly intends to demonstrate the “struggles” that “nice guys” like Rhodes face with women.  It portrays women as not knowing what they want or supposedly “need” in a relationship, the poor “nice guy” struggling to gain her affection, and then her moment of realization that she needs her knight in shining armor after all.  In this movie Annie repeatedly chooses the “bad boys” that all women supposedly are attracted to; first, the ex that ditched her when her business went under and then Ted, who appears to only want sex from Annie and nothing more.  As bell hooks writes in The Oppositional Gaze:  Black Female Spectators, “…the only location for the female is as a victim” (129).  This idea is continuously demonstrated throughout the film as Annie struggles with her problems with men and other women.

We can’t stop there though, we have to portray all the different kinds of fickle, white (did I forget to mention that everyone with a story of any kind in this movie is white?) women in all stages of their heteronormative relationships with men.  Annie’s best friend, Lillian, soon to be married, is portrayed as the most rational member of the group, but even she has her flaws.  When her boyfriend is preparing to propose to her she thinks he’s avoiding her because he’s going to break up with her and immediately begins to distance herself.  Then, when he pops the question she’s overjoyed and her earlier fears are disregarded.  There’s no problems with a relationship where your partner avoids you for weeks and then you never talk about it, right?  Actually, marriage just solves everything, it fixes all those communication problems right up.  Then we get to Lillian’s girlfriend drama.  Lillian and Annie have been besties since they were kids, but as soon as Lillian gets engaged she meets Dougie’s (her fiancés) bosses’ wife, Helen and distances herself from poor, confused Annie to be with rich, extravagant, composed Helen.  Annie is tossed to the curb to figure out all of her many problems surrounding men and being a financially independent woman (which she does rather unsuccessfully) by herself.

Next we have Lillian’s cousin Rita.  Rita is portrayed as a cynical, sex-deprived mother who has few morals and is looking for an escape from the “prison” of married life with teenage sons.  She frequently alludes to the horrors of living in a home with “hormone-crazed” teenage boys where there is “semen on everything”.  She’s the “ideal” mother while at home, cooking for her family and cleaning up after her sons, but when you get her out of her domestic role watch out!  As soon as she leaves the domestic sphere Rita is a party girl at heart wanting nothing more than to drink and get up close and personal with some young, attractive male strippers.  She’s bossy, loud and inappropriate and definitely doesn’t fit the typical image of “mother”.

Becca, another of Lillian’s friends is the ditsy, idealistic newlywed who hasn’t fully “grown up” and lost her childlike innocence.  Even though Becca is married she is portrayed with very childlike tendencies, and watching her behave it really makes you wonder how she’s able to live without parental supervision.  Becca and her new husband have the traditional marriage:  sex is reserved for marriage only, and even then rarely happens.  Only when Rita gets her drunk (showing off her loose morals again) do we really find out that Becca is dissatisfied with her practically absent sex-life, and that she’s really not as happy with her husband as she seems.

Megan, Dougie’s sister, is portrayed as raunchy, sex-crazed, highly inappropriate and relatively unintelligent.  She is also the only one of the women to not be thin and shapely which unlocks a whole new host of problems around the representation of larger women as being less appropriate, and sex-crazed since men rarely take notice of them sexually in these movies.  Megan is also the most boyish of the women knowing very little about fashion, and wearing clothing more for comfort than looks.  Her hair is unkempt, face free of makeup and overall she is portrayed as the opposite of the “ideal” woman.

Finally we get to Helen, Dougie’s bosses’ wife.  Helen is portrayed as a cookie cutter “ideal” woman, albeit not very intelligent (her soft spoken voice further dehumanizes her).  She’s got the hair, body, fashion-sense, not the mention the rich, older husband (because women are just gold-diggers, right?).  Helen is literally “perfect” minus her lack of female friends that she has to ball about at the end of the film to justify her “stealing” Lillian away from Annie.

The whole movie is a big catfight between Annie and Helen demonstrating the frivolity of women and their jealousy towards other women.  Annie is jealous of Helen for her seemingly perfect life, and spends the whole movie resenting her for it.

All the women in the film are white as well, where, as bell hooks writes, “There was clearly no place for black women” (120).  White, middle class, heterosexual, largely stereotypical women.

If you ignore the obvious “nice guy” problem in the film and all of the negative portrayals of various kinds of women it’s actually a refreshing take on women’s sexuality.  It’s one of the few films where a woman is actually shown to have a casual sexual relationship with a guy and not be portrayed as a “slut”.  Yeah, the film makes her look stupid because she wants more from Ted who is obviously not willing to give more, but overall it’s just nice to finally see another form of relationship even if only for a minute.  This whole film, however, is entirely heteronormative.  All of the women are either married to a man, or are in pursuit of a man in some form.  Megan doesn’t seem to be, but then at the very end of the film she finds her “true love” just like Annie does with Officer Rhodes.  It’s a fairytale, magical dream come true!  All it’s missing is a ride off into the sunset on a majestic white steed (I guess a ride in a cop car is the same thing?).  There is a kiss between two women though in a moment of extreme confusion on the plane to Vegas.  So, representation?  Kind of?

Another positive aspect of the film to focus on is the lackluster image of married life.  Even though all of the single women are in pursuit of a husband the married women show the less-than-perfect side of marriage.  Helen is largely ignored by her husband who’s constantly travelling for work.  Becca has a practically nonexistent sex life with her new husband, and Rita, while having a sex life has less-than-satisfying sex with her husband that she actually describes as a nuisance.  For once marriage isn’t portrayed as the most perfect kind of relationship.

Even though this movie is chockfull of flaws it is impressive that the cast is almost exclusively composed of women.  The protagonist is female, and, while she’s represented less than perfectly she is still represented as the obvious protagonist which is a baby step in the right direction.  Bridesmaids makes fun of the women throughout the film for comedic effect reinforcing stereotypes about how women view relationships and further perpetuating the belief that “nice guys finish last”.  They always seem to get the girl in the end though, once she finally “comes to her senses” and realizes his true worth as a partner and provider.

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