Battling It Out Over ‘Bridesmaids’

Film reviewer Kimberley Jones jumps into the fray

Maya Rudolph (left) and Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids
Maya Rudolph (left) and Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids

I don’t usually reply to comments about my film reviews – I’ve had my say, now it’s the readers’ turn – but the ongoing fracas on our comments board over Bridesmaids has raised some interesting issues. So I’m jumping into the fray.

It began with a letter from a reader, Stephen Rodi, who felt deceived by my 4-star review of Bridesmaids, which he called a “bit of cinematic trash” and walked out of around the middle mark. There’s since been some back and forth online in response to Mr. Rodi’s letter, and it’s gotten a little heated.

Firstly, I’m heartened to hear that a just-shy-of-71 year old is not only a dedicated reader, but is eager to continue the discussion online. But I do think – and this is meant in no way to alienate Mr. Rodi – that an alternative weekly perhaps offers a different slant on the current cultural climate than, say, a daily newspaper does. Because of that, and also in part because of the limited word count I have to work with for any given review, I presuppose an understanding of what an R-rated comedy means in this day and age. In “gross-out” terms, Bridesmaids isn’t going anywhere that a Farrelly Brothers or Apatow film hasn’t already gone.

But I think the context here is worth considering. In the weeks leading up to Bridesmaids’ release, there was a deluge of stories that all seemed to revolve around the same question: Would viewers cotton to the idea of women behaving badly? I’m a little surprised that Mr. Rodi, who’s clearly web-savvy, didn’t pick up on it, too. The noise was deafening, and it was all saying the same thing – sure, boys can headline raunchy comedies, but can girls? And will it sell?

It was RANKLING, I tell ya – contemporary Hollywood simply doesn’t trust the female viewership, which is why it caters to 14-year-old boys (no shortage of gross-out comedies pitched to that crowd). Because that question was a non-issue for me, I intentionally did not address it in my review, save an acknowledgement that the film was being marketed as "The Hangover for girls.” I did, however, make non-gender-specific reference to the film’s outré material, by using the words “vulgarity,” “ribald,” and  “raunch.” (And, of course, the allusion to The Hangover assumed an awareness of its hard-R material.)

But let’s talk specifics. In an early scene between Kristen Wiig (who co-wrote the film) and Maya Rudolph, in which they meet for coffee and talk about Wiig’s character’s fraught non-relationship with an unabashed jerk (played by Jon Hamm), Mr. Rodi took offense at her character “admitting that she ‘took it’ in her mouth after he kept dangling it under her nose.”

My take-away from that scene? What a marvelous sight it was – familiar to me in my own life, but hardly ever seen in a Hollywood production – of two thirtysomething women speaking with candor and grinning self-effacement about sex and relationships and their disappointments with both. In my mind, the bond established in that first scene between the women – evoked in their ease with one another, their short-hand speech and I-get-you looks, ending in an endearing mock-proposal between two friends already bound together for life – was the more relevant take-away than the earthy language they used. But let’s not shrink away from what they’re talking about: While it may be handled comically, there’s real truth to the way Bridesmaids tackles – with frankness and, yes, real “finesse” – the emotionally complex situation of casual sex and uneven expectations.  

Further: You’re absolutely right, Mr. Rodi – you walked out just shy of Rudolph’s character defecating in the street (you don’t actually see it, by the way). Here’s what you missed: a sublime bit of physical comedy as Rudolph, in flouncy wedding-white, darts across traffic and then, helpless to her intestinal distress, finally puddles to the asphalt, defeated. That moment marks the hardest I’ve laughed at the movies all year – not in small part because it tapped so many emotions all at once. Yes, it was vulgar, but also thick with mortification – the kind anyone ever publicly humiliated can commiserate with. It was also expertly acted and narratively crucial in terms of establishing the growing rift between these two best friends.

I stand by my original reaction: That Bridesmaids is that rare picture that accommodates both hard-R humor and a sensitive exploration of shifting dynamics for women over 30.

Finally: I have the great gift of working at a paper that doesn’t think of movie reviews as a kind of consumer report. I’m tasked to give my personal take – one that is informed, certainly, by both a formal and an informal, ongoing film education. Ideally, regular readers come to know reviewers – know with whom they feel simpatico and with whom they'll always disagree. I count it a real pleasure, as a film fan, to get to know other film critics through their writing. Some I read because I trust their opinion; others I read because I know, whatever they endorse, I’ll detest; and many I read just because I get a kick out of their writing.

At the end of the day, what I write for the Chronicle is just my take. While I bring careful consideration to every film I review for the Chron, this film hit especially close to home. Bridesmaids is an imperfect picture, which I addressed in my review, but one I still wholeheartedly endorse. It spoke to me in a way that studio films rarely do, and that was the focus of my review, not some evaluation of the gradation of gross-out it served up to the public.

So, yup, it’s just my opinion, one I’m lucky to get paid to put out there. At the very least, I hope that opinion starts a conversation, and I’m gladdened that that’s exactly what’s happened here. Mr. Rodi: Keep reading, keep going to the movies, and keep talking back to us. Your comments are always welcome here.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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Bridesmaids, Stephen Rodi, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph

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