Having Their Cake, Eating It, Too

Female ensemble comedies have always been the box office bridesmaid, never the bride … until now

Are women funny?

This moronic, myopic, unabashedly misogynist question has been bandied about by (mostly male) writers, comedians and pundits for decades, as if the Y chromosome carries with it not only genes for testicles and back hair but also for innate wit. Nothing seems to quiet these misguided naysayers, who have never, apparently, seen I Love Lucy or 30 Rock (or, for that matter, Bethenny Ever After). Some argue that, since women are blessed with hips and breasts, they don’t need a sense of humor in order to further the species. (“They already appeal to men, if you catch my drift,” wrote Christopher Hitchens in a provocative January 2007 Vanity Fair essay, “Why Women Aren’t Funny.”). A related view is that no one wants to see “the weaker sex” engaging in blowjob and fart jokes, locker-room staples that have oft served as bricks in the male comedian’s road to stardom (ahem, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen, Steve Carrell … ). Well, hopefully Bridesmaids will shut all of these stupid pricks up. The riotous screwball, co-written by star Kristen Wiig, directed by Paul Feig (Arrested Development) and produced by comic geek deity Judd Apatow, proves not only that women are funny, but that they don’t need to show us their dicks to do it.

Wiig, undoubtedly one of the breakout stars of Saturday Night Live’s past decade and a big part of the reason for its recent renaissance, plays Annie, a woman in her mid-30s who’s facing a serious existential crisis. She’s a failure at work, having recently shuttered her passion project bakery to work a thankless job in jewelry retail; a failure at love, falling into bed against her better judgment with a selfish playboy (Jon Hamm) who won’t even let her sleep over; and a failure at autonomy, reduced to sharing an apartment with a judgmental Brit and his shiftless, slovenly sister just to avoid moving back in with her mother. Her only source of happiness is her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), and when Lillian gets engaged, Annie is thrilled. Then she meets the rest of the bridal party.

There’s Rita (Wendy McLendon-Covey), a bitter, borderline-alcoholic mother of three; Becca (Ellie Kemper), an impossibly chipper newlywed whose idea of a dream honeymoon is Disney World; and Megan (Melissa McCarthy), the groom-to-be’s indelicate sister. But it’s Helen (Rose Byrne), a rich, gorgeous socialite and the wife of Lillian’s fiancé’s boss, who poses the biggest threat to Annie. Within five minutes of meeting, the two engage in a hilariously awkward battle to see who can give the most touching toast (after Rita delivers an elegant ode to Lillian in a foreign tongue, Annie unleashes her best third-grade level Spanish). As wedding preparations get under way, Rita undermines Annie at every turn, threatening her relationship with Lillian and forcing her to confront her unhappiness head-on.

That may sound like a downer, but it’s also the genius of Bridesmaids: What could have been nothing more than a slapstick, gross-out comedy trying desperately to ape the antics of the boys club (I’m looking at you, The Sweetest Thing) is instead imbued with a heart-rending core that speaks directly to women, exploring both the selfless support and the insecure competition ever-present in their relationships with one another. The slapstick is there, too—most notably in a scene in which the bridal party tries on expensive gowns after eating questionable ethnic cuisine—and the dialogue crackles with Wiig’s signature awkward humor. But Bridesmaids isn’t just The Hangover in heels—it has real emotional intelligence, which, ironically, makes it even funnier. On SNL, Wiig has proven herself to be a gifted comic with a particular knack for playing nervous oddballs, but in Bridesmaids she comes out of the closet as a real actress.

McCarthy, perhaps best known as Lorelai’s klutzy friend Sookie on Gilmore Girls, nearly steals the movie as the brash, butch-y Megan. Each member of the ensemble more than holds her own, and the men aren’t treated as throw-aways, either. Annie’s burgeoning relationship with a compassionate cop (Chris O’Dowd) is three-dimensional—funny and sweet and painful and messy, just like real life!—and the best part about it may be that it’s not the movie’s endgame. No, that honor is saved for a Wilson Phillips reunion concert, which is exactly the way any female-driven comedy worth its estrogen should end.

Maybe one day we can stop comparing women comedians, actresses and writers to their male counterparts. In the meantime, at least, we have Bridesmaids, which should put an end to the inane speculation that fallopian tubes and funny bones are mutually exclusive.

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