Bridesmaids and the Rom-Com
Female work: check. Friendship: check. Romance: check. So far so good according to Helen Warner. Bridesmaids seems to draw on those traditional ‘feminine’ themes typical of the rom-com (aka romantic comedy), or chick-flick, like in this case. Rom-com is commonly linked to the cinema of the woman, the one that smells of wedding roses and paints the screen in pink. Paul Feig’s 2011 hugely (historically?) chatted about Bridesmaids takes the rom-com to a whole new dimension, a ‘male-seeming dimension’, using the search for femininity as Macguffin of the entire narrative but depicting the struggle to meet societal behaviour expectations through the gross-out, the grotesque, visual unpleasantness so widely linked to the kind of maleness that reigns the comedy world.
Kristen Wiig is Annie, a thirtysomething struggling to come to terms with her bakery’s recent shutdown due to the pains of the recession and the unsatisfying shallow sex-centred relationship with hyper-masculine Ted (Jon Hamm). When her best friend Lilian (Maya Rudolph) becomes engaged, Annie is made Maid of Honour, and, together with bridesmaids Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), Becca (Ellie Kemper), Megan (Melissa McCarthy) and Helen (Rose Byrne), they will make the run up to Lilian’s wedding as hard as possible through rivalry, arguments and extreme raunchy anecdotes.
Feminine tropes are here mixed with the bawdy and raunchy, which seem to negate and negotiate the idea of femininity as perfection, purity and submission, by fictionalizing day-to-day situations not only to the extreme, but by mixing ‘the feminine themes of the chick flick with the male (and therefore more legitimate) aspects of the comedy.’ The most representative scene is undoubtedly the food poisoning scene. While in the search for the ideal dress for the bridesmaids, they visit a high-end boutique after having eaten Mexican food in a cheap restaurant as suggested by our leading character Annie. In fact, with the exception of Helen, all the bridesmaids are literally sick and ruin their extremely prestigious and expensive dresses in most unpleasant ways. See Figure 1 and 2 for a more detailed visual explanation.
Fig. 1 Food poisoning scene and the gross-out.
Fig. 2 As gross-out moments get worse, viewers’ expectation of feminine performativity are thwarted.
Indeed, the all-female cast served female writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo to, to a certain extent, play with audience expectations of gender performativity, and here it lies the innovation brought about in the rom-com world. Gross-out moments encourage the viewer to question femininity and its meaning, its façade and ultimate ‘truth’. This kind of physical comedy is nonetheless devaluing of the woman as psychological identity, by defining femininity ‘as a bodily property rather than (say) a social structural or psychological one.’ By developing the female characters of Bridesmaids according to long-established male traits linked to gross-out clichés, the text fails to be read as feminist because it desperately tries to ‘prove that girls can play on the same conventional comic field as boys.’ Bridesmaids’ underlying statement seems to be that women can be funny only when they act like shallow men, which it is not a particularly reassuring statement in a male-dominated world such as Hollywood.
Moreover, Annie’s foolish bickering with rich Helen for who is Lilian’s best friend reinforces the idea that women are insecure and need a guide, which, in point of fact, is embodied by the Annie’s relentless quest for love and Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd). Rhodes is the awkward policeman in which Annie will find ‘true love’ by the end of the film, whose establishment as Annie’s lover comes as silver lining and brings about peace amongst the bridesmaids. ‘True love’ seems to be the ultimate truth that fulfil a woman’s life. Although Bridesmaids is not as an easy fit in the rom-com genre as expected, the gross-out moments only reinforces reliability on discourses around men’s comedic tropes to make women funny, while conventional themes of love and cheap rivalry between females mirrors the inability of the Hollywood film industry to produce appealing comic films in which artificial social constructs are not used as life dreams of the woman.
 Helen Warner, “ ‘A New Feminist Revolution in Hollywood Comedy’?: Postfeminism Discourses and the Critical Reception of Bridesmaids”, in Postfeminism and Contemporary Hollywood, ed. by Joel Gwynne and Nadine Muller, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), pp.222-237 (p.222).
 Werner, p.223.
 Helen Warner, “ ‘A New Feminist Revolution in Hollywood Comedy’?: Postfeminism Discourses and the Critical Reception of Bridesmaids”, in Postfeminism and Contemporary Hollywood, edited by Joel Gwynne and Nadine Muller, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), pp.222-237 (p.228).
 Helen Warner, “ ‘A New Feminist Revolution in Hollywood Comedy’?: Postfeminism Discourses and the Critical Reception of Bridesmaids”, in Postfeminism and Contemporary Hollywood, edited by Joel Gwynne and Nadine Muller, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), pp.222-237 (p.230).
 Warner, p.234.