Film & TV

10 Years Since Bridesmaids: Exploring Womanhood Through Comedy

Image credits: IndieWire | Universal Pictures

By Sophie Revell 

Paul Feig’s 2011 comedy Bridesmaids proves that comedy can be used to highlight more serious social issues, without really lightening it either. Writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo blend hilarious moments of cringe and vulgarity with touching conversations about female friendships and other important social dynamics. 

Bridesmaids follows single Annie Walker (Wiig) in her mid-thirties whose life is in a bit of a rut after her bakery business closes due to recession. When her lifelong best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces her engagement to her boyfriend Doug (Tim Heidecker), what ensues is a power struggle between Annie and fellow bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne) and an emotional journey of sorts where Annie heals herself and her relationships with the women around her. The film received a rating of 76% on Rotten Tomatoes, where the review aggregator website describes Bridesmaids as “A marriage of genuine characters… a female-driven comedy that refuses to be boxed in as Kristen Wiig emerges as a real star.”  Bridesmaids also surpassed Knocked Up as the top grossing Judd Apatow production to date. 

What made Bridesmaids so successful? Is it the fact that Wiig and Mumolo’s writing and Feig’s direction created honest and relatable characters, as well as discuss important social issues whilst staying entertaining? Or how it’s a fresh exploration of womanhood and a mainstream reminder that women can be and are funny. 

Despite being well into the 21st Century now, many of contemporary comedy’s biggest titles don’t pass the Bechdel Test. Movies released around the same time as Bridesmaids which also achieved public acclaim, such as Four Lions (2010) and 21 Jump Street (2012), barely included female characters with much substance, let alone allow those women to explore meaningful relationships with each other and have insightful conversation about something other than men. Even comedies led by women have historically concerned themselves primarily with their identities in relation to men. 

The Bechdel Test is often regarded as a staunch way of analysing film, especially comedy which is so relative to the viewer. However, Wiig and Mumolo prove that comedy can be popular and successful with critics whilst checking off all its requirements. Bridesmaids also goes one step further than just passing the test. Wiig and Mumolo shove men aside and shine the spotlight on female friendships. The male characters like Rhodes and Gil take a backseat, only swooping in to support. Unlike many other comedies with female leads, Rhodes and Annie’s romance was only a tiny piece of the action.

Maya Rudolph said: “[it’s] not a wedding movie… the wedding is the backdrop. I have a girlfriend who says that every woman needs a wife. That’s how important it is to have other females in your life. That’s what we wanted to talk about.”

All the women in Bridesmaids are depicted to have some pretty low moments throughout the movie. Upon introduction, Annie’s living with two difficult housemates and is in a self-deprecating friends-with-benefits situation with a narcissist, to name a few of her problems. Despite seeming perfect, Helen is also struggling with her self-esteem as a new young wife who is despised by her step-children. The friendships that these women build with each other act as buoys in the choppy waters of womanhood.

This is a contrast from many of Bridesmaids predecessors: My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) follows Jules (Julia Roberts) sabotaging her lifelong friend Michael’s (Dermot Mulroney) wedding and attempting to steal him away from bride-to-be Kimmy (Cameron Diaz). Bride Wars (2009) also features competition and sabotage between two best friends who want their wedding in the same venue on the same day. Whilst these are amusing plotlines, they prove that women have been the butt of the joke in comedy, sacrificing meaningful relationships with each other in the name of comedy. 

This is what makes Bridesmaids such a refreshing comedy – particularly from a female perspective.  When Lillian gets cold feet and disappears on the morning of her wedding, Helen and Annie put aside their animosity to find and comfort her; Wendi McLendon-Covey’s character Rita often uses the group as a place to unload her struggles as a mother of adolescent boys; Lillian expresses her disapproval of how Annie is treated by her boyfriend-who-isn’t-her-boyfriend Ted (Jon Hamm). These are somewhat wholesome whilst also seamlessly injected with humour by Wiig and Mumolo.

The movie’s relatable and refreshing stance on female relationships has also proved what a “game changer” it was in such a male dominated genre:  It was reported by Universal that the film’s audience was 33% male and 63% of the audience was over the age of 30, demonstrating that female-led comedy can be a hit and invite more women to the comedic space. Hopefully this will inspire more female comedy writers, directors and actors to step up and show that, in Mumolo’s own words, ‘[women’s] hard work CAN pay off.’