Saturday, May 21, 2011

Holy Matrimony!

It's almost summertime and that means the increased push of romantic comedies.  I know a lot of people don't like romantic comedies, but I have always had a soft spot for them.  Of course, it depends on the movie itself.  People always write off romantic comedies because they're cheesy and often times stupid, but I think that the popularity indicates that whether or not we want to admit this, they are significant in some way or else they wouldn't be so popular.  I guess the new trend might be wedding-themed movies, to my disappointment (since I've always found weddings to be quite a dull topic).  I recently went out and saw two wedding-themed movies, Bridesmaids and Something Borrowed, and was astonished to see how differently they were executed and the implications thereof.

Bridesmaids was directed by Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks RIP, The Office) and was written by Kristen Wiig of SNL fame.  Something Borrowed was directed by Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door), based on a novel by Emily Giffin and adapted for the screen by Jennie Snyder.

They have some very basic similarities, starting with the protagonist being the maid of honor/best friend to the bride.  Both movies consist almost entirely of the events taking place before the wedding occurs.  Both of the friendships were founded in childhood.  In both movies I was struck by the selfishness of the protagonist during the time when it should be her best friend's wedding (Maid of Honor-zilla?), although I ended up feeling like Bridesmaids was aware of this and Something Borrowed was not.

The summary of Bridesmaids, as according to IMDB is this:

Picked as her best friend's maid of honor, lovelorn and broke Annie looks to bluff her way through the expensive and bizarre rituals with an oddball group of bridesmaids.

The summary of Something Borrowed:

Friendships are tested and secrets come to the surface when terminally single Rachel falls for Dex, her best friend Darcy's fiancé.

Right off the bat, Bridesmaids is already more interesting because it's about a friendship, something very overlooked.  It's also more complicated.  While the love triangle in Something Borrowed is fairly straight-forward, the one in Bridesmaids is actually a platonic love triangle.  Annie (Kristen Wiig), Maid of Honor to Lillian (Maya Rudolph), feels threatened when Lillian becomes friends with Helen (Rose Byrne), the wealthy, beautiful symbol of married life.  Annie and Lillian grew up as best friends, and the audience feels Annie's anxiety that Lillian's slipping away from her.  It's also more complicated because Helen is played in such a way that you hate her on Annie's behalf, but also entirely understand why Lillian wants to be friends with her.  

This is not the case in Something Borrowed.  In Something Borrowed, there are very similar dynamics in an entirely different kind of relationship.  Ginnifer Goodwin plays Rachel, 30 year old lawyer who has always been the underdog in relation to her best friend Darcy, played by Kate Hudson.  Rachel befriended Dex (played by Colin Egglesfield) in law school and was always in love with him.  In entirely unnecessary flashback sequences, it is shown how they meet, and how they were heading in the direction of Hollywood-approved true love, only for it to be derailed by his meeting of Darcy.  In one of these annoying flashbacks, Darcy actually asks permission to date Dex and Rachel gives it--SHE GIVES PERMISSION.  The only remote relief in this movie is John Krasinski, named Ethan in the movie, who does his normal charismatic John Krasinski schtick.  Seriously, the names in this movie irritated the living fuck out of me.  It reminded me of what someone who doesn't know a lot of people or have any friends would name their imaginary friends.  

The styles of these movies also differ in terms of romanticized versus realism.  Romanticized movies I think of as most romantic comedies are--pretty people named improbable things, in equally pretty places, doing overly-sweeping gestures.  More realistic movies (and yes, I know romantic comedies aren't really the places to be hunting for realism) I think of as more simple, less inexplicable splurging by characters you know can't afford things, a variety of different kinds of people.  Bridesmaids definitely takes place in a post-recession time, when Annie has lost her baking business and is contemplating having to move back in with her mother.  She drives a beat-up car around, trying to be there for her friend on her wedding day but not knowing how she is going to pay for all of the expenses of being a part of her wedding.  The bridesmaid brigade includes mousy/adorable Ellie Kemper, plus-sized Melissa McCarthy, who plays the sister of Lillian's future husband, Wendi McLendon-Covey, who is constantly talking about how disgusting having boys are, and Helen (Rose Byrne), who plays the beautiful bridesmaid who Annie is threatened by.  

Something Borrowed feels kind of like an extended Pacsun commercial, especially after they all go to the Hamptons together.  Again, it's more like a fantasy of what someone wants for their life, not a reflection of how people act or how life actually is.  

I think that we're supposed to sympathize with Ginnifer Goodwin's character because her best friend is a bitch, like it somehow makes it okay to sleep with her fiance.  Instead, it made you hate Ginnifer Goodwin's character for two reasons:

1) No one likes watching doormats.  If you're friends with someone that doesn't respect you, it reflects poorly on you.
2) It brought her down to Kate Hudson's level, when Kate Hudson was very one-dimensionally written in as a the bridezilla you're supposed to hate.

Bridesmaids, even though it probably falls on the "girlier" side of the gender spectrum (and no, I don't think life or gender is this simple but I'm oversimplifying for the sake of argument) translates well to both genders.  This is probably because it is actually funny, something which is generally hard to find for movies about women.  However, Something Borrowed was a film I doubt men would find any interest in, and that's okay as long as it hits its niche. I don't believe it hit its niche, though.  The ultimate failure of Something Borrowed I found was this: I went and saw this movie with my female friend, which is precisely the kind of audience I think the movie was intended for.  This movie invalidated platonic relationships and put more emphasis on the romantic relationship.  It was like watching a two hour cat fight unfold between people I didn't even remotely like.  It made both of us uncomfortable, and I don't think that was its intention.

Bridesmaids was hilarious, and possibly the first nearly-all female cast comedy film I've seen.  It's touching and relevant.  Though it had a romantic story line in it, that was clearly not the point of the movie.  My favorite scene in the movie was in the beginning, when Lillian and Annie are eating lunch together.  They start smearing food on their teeth and make faces and funny voices at each other.  In this moment you know precisely why they are friends.  This kind of closeness and goofiness is what derives from years upon years of friendship.  This scene is truthful.  And in a genre where women are nearly always the straight man, it's nice to see them goof around once in a while.