Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bridesmaids (2011), Vulgarity, and The Case of the Laughing Theater Audience

Poirot is too busy buying a new mustache comb and Marple has found herself tangled in yards of yarn. But I’ve read enough Agatha Christie mysteries to know when something is amiss, and have decided to tackle this investigation myself.

The Facts Were These.

Weekday nights the local Cineplex becomes a ghost town. Empty packets of sour patch kids flutter across the floor like tumbleweed as one lone hombre mans the concessions, waiting for customers that will likely never come.

But this is only a stage trick, and as 9:30pm nears our theater begins to fill. The audience for the evening consists of those old enough to see an R rated movie without having to sneak in, but not old enough to have milk bottles holstered at the hip. A theatergoers dream where crying children dance like sugarplums in sleep deprived heads, mercifully out of our earshot.

The lights dim for Bridesmaids, a new comedy garnering attention for its strong female cast.

But I wasn’t laughing.

Why wasn’t I laughing?

The plot thickens.

I did enjoy Bridesmaids (and speaking of plot the title more or less speaks for itself). I too grant praise to its strong female cast, notably Kristen Wiig (who also co-wrote the script) and Melissa McCarthy, who almost steals the show.

But my enjoyment remained largely confined to the occasional smile where everyone else seemed to roar. It felt like being the last kid picked for kickball all over again.

I just don’t find projectile vomit funny. Did I not go to enough frat parties (aka any) in college to find the concept of throwing up in another girls hair entertaining? Possibly.

To keep this from turning into commentary on ‘whatever happened to class,’ it is worth noting that this sort of physical comedy has been present in films since the beginnings. As has a brand of ‘bad taste’ criticism, notably in relation to early Chaplin comedies that were criticized for their vulgarity by the newly minted middle class movie audience. A famous example of this form of comedy is the opening of The Immigrant (1917) where Chaplin leans over the side of a boat, giving the impression that the tramp is seasick and hurling. But when he comes up he reveals that he is actually fishing.

Of course the difference here is that the joke works because of the power of suggestion and misdirection. The effect would be quite different if Chaplin had actually blown chunks all over Edna Purviance.

And that’s why I left the theater largely disappointed. Wiig and the rest of the cast proved capable of what I’ll call a different kind of comedy as using the words ‘intelligent’ or ‘sophisticated’ might make me hurl. A hilarious airplane scene where Wiig uses her body with the same goofy grace and ease as Lucille Ball, or a sequence where she struggles to get the attention of a cop with each gag topped infinitum.

Such comedy is planned. Timed. Vomiting is involuntary. A passive action defined by lack of control. And it feels like a cop out.

Differences in taste aside I can’t knock the feeling that the crass humor (not confined to vomiting) is disingenuous. Yes, SNL has featured waterfalls of vomit for years, and yes, I love that the film tackles female stereotypes and presents a picture of women who are allowed to take part in acts entirely ‘unfeminine.’ What bothers me is that in promotion and execution it seems less a statement of ‘girls will be girls,' but rather ‘girls will be boys.’ Basically I won't be happy until I see a movie poster with promotion reading 'not another dumb action movie.'

I praise Bridesmaids for its challenge of form, but in the end the film can’t escape one of the chick flicks ultimate clichés. Maybe this is just a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.”

But I don’t want to be the stereotypical deadbeat boyfriend. Gender aside I’ll settle for awkward guy friend standing on the sidelines, knowing the film can do better.


  1. I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one who doesn't subscribe wholeheartedly (or at all, in my case) to crude comedy. I mean, I haven't seen Bridesmaids so I can't fairly judge, but comedy-wise it seems easily classifiable as a girl-version of I Love You, Man - projectile vomiting included. (And that scene in I Love You, Man was just plain nasty.) At this point I'll give very little attention to R-rated American comedies because I get the feeling they'll all fall into that same niche and it's just not my thing. I'm glad to know Melissa McCarthy was so good, though! I adored her on Gilmore Girls, and I grew up in her hometown which is totally irrelevant but still kind of cool. Haha.

  2. althought i liked Bridesmaides i have to agree with you on the whole "it's not you it's me" thing. my brother was rolling on the floor in certian parts and i just did not find a lot of it funny. i'm glad to see females doing something a bit tasteless where guys are always doing it but sometime it was just taken a bit too far and the jokes were not funny.

  3. Just not my thing either. Which is kind of unfortunate since it is a common strain of comedy these days. That IS so cool! And Gilmore Girls is what I originally know her from as well. What's great about Bridesmaids is that in GG she was largely relegated to supporting the main cast members where here she is allowed to shine a bit more.

    Agreed! In terms of the principle of the thing I like the idea, I simply just don't find it funny. That's the all important key.

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