Monday, October 3, 2011

Bridesmaids Revisited: The Female Hangover?

I saw Bridesmaids in the theater as one of my first baby-free post-pregnancy outings. Last night, I rewatched it in a much different setting: folding laundry and trying to keep my 10-month-old daughter content. It was enjoyable both times, and I'm glad to see dynamic characterization in any comedy, but especially a female-centered one.

There have been many comparisons between Bridesmaids and The Hangover. For the record, I like The Hangover a lot. I think it's aesthetically a lot like a Magic Eye poster, in that it appears to be a big blurry mess on the surface, but when you look closer it clearly took a lot of work and planning. The scenes are attentive to detail, the lines are timely and delivered with skill, and the characters are interesting enough to keep the audience engaged.

Despite my thorough enjoyment of The Hangover, I take some issue with the comparison. It reminds me a little of the controversy surrounding the marketing for Tangled. See, Disney changed the name of the film from  Rapunzel to Tangled and re-tooled the trailer in order to make it more appealing to boys. Girls will watch "boy" films (like Aladdin or The Lion King), it seems, but boys are reluctant to watch "girl" films (like Cinderella or The Princess and the Frog).

I think that this same kind of marketing is in play with the comparisons between Bridesmaids and The Hangover. See, I know a lot of women who enjoyed The Hangover and quote it right along with the men in their lives. Men are much more reluctant to admit to enjoying a romantic comedy, however, so it was important that Bridesmaids get billed as something else.

The thing is, though, is it is a romantic comedy, it just so happens to be a fantastic one. (It even got a positive abridged script over at The Editing Room, which is a hilarious site you should go check out. Go ahead, I'll wait.)

While there are some similarities between the two films--like the wedding theme, for instance, or the use of oddball character tropes (played by McCarthy and Galifinakas, respectively)--the themes are very different.

The Hangover's plot is a set up for the comedy; the comedy of Bridesmaids is a set up for the theme. What I mean by that is the message of Bridesmaids is much clearer and more important than the message, if there is one, in The Hangover.

Also, the characters in The Hangover are not that dynamic. In fact, they change so little from the beginning of the movie to the end that they are able to completely relive their characterizations in The Hangover II. Many of the Bridesmaids characters, however, undergo drastic personality changes. Our protagonist, Annie, pulls herself out of a spiraling depression, learns how to be a good friend, and practices the art of forgiveness in a way cat-fight-happy Hollywood rarely demonstrates. Maya Rudolph's character Lillian turns the bridezilla trope on its head by displaying a woman overwhelmed by the pressures of a wedding and someone who is willing to fight through some craziness to maintain a decades-old friendship. Rose Byrne's character Helen starts out as the stereotypical two-faced, catty knockout, but is complicated when her weaknesses are illuminated. She eventually breaks down, recognizing her own flaws and working to correct them.

Can you imagine that happening (successfully) in The Hangover? While we do see Ed Helm's character break off his unhealthy relationship and Bradley Cooper's character show a tenderness to his family he didn't project throughout the film, this is more about seeing them in a different context than it is watching them actually undergo changes in character.

Finally, Bridesmaids culminates in a stereotypical moment of reconciliation between the two characters you knew should be together all along. This is, despite the importance of the theme of friendship, the main plot of the film. Lillian and Annie rekindle their long-term friendship, but Lillian gets married and goes off into the sunset (or at least the limo). Annie's newfound happiness is to be realized through a relationship with her new boyfriend, not relived in her adolescent friendships.

Bridesmaids, whether the marketing team likes it or not, is a romantic comedy. It just so happens to be funny, well-written, and full of characters most of us don't hate, and that's rare for most of the romantic comedies we've seen as of late. We should be embracing the fact that a romantic comedy doesn't have to be horrible, not running away from the label to make sure the guys want to play, too.

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