''Bridesmaids'' proved that racy humor isn't just for dudes. So why do many female-driven comedies struggle to find the right raucous tone?
Years from now, I predict, Hollywood history books will look upon Bridesmaids with astonishment. Chroniclers will cite the movie’s wise observations about friendship, competition, insecurity, desire, and the importance of keeping automobile taillights in good working order. Admiring attention will be paid to the script’s elegant comedic structure, to the ensemble generosity of the cast, and to the rousing success with which an essentially feminine sensibility so seamlessly blends with the unisex appeal of well-made raunch. Scholars will talk with awe about the scene in which one of the title ladies, felled by food poisoning, poops in a sink while the bride herself stops traffic to do her business in the street, bedecked in a tulle cloud of a wedding gown and crumpling like a shot swan. And how audiences of women and men alike crumpled with laughter at the sight, swept into a brand-new comedy world.
While that book is being written, however, let’s talk about the challenge faced by all the other female-driven comedies arriving in Bridesmaids‘ wake, including Friends With Kids (in theaters March 9; more on this one in a moment). Here’s the dilemma: On the one hand, Bridesmaids expanded the reach of toilet jokes — along with sex jokes, genitalia jokes, and slob jokes — from strictly male undertakings (Dumb and Dumber, The Hangover, a hundred boys-will-be-boys titles in between) to woman-oriented comedies. On the other hand, the movie’s mood is unique. Even golden coscreenwriter and star Kristen Wiig is not yet committed to making follow-up magic, despite studio interest.
We’re seeing just how uncharted this fertile, booby-trapped new territory of dirty-lady comedy is as kindred filmmakers and screenwriters blaze their own paths through raunch with mixed results.
For a cautionary tale, consider the failure of What’s Your Number?, also released last year. The great comedian Anna Faris, who has perfected the subversive notion of the smart-funny sex kitten with a touch of blithe skankiness in her DNA, brings her cartoon blondness to the party, just as she did in the stealth-radical 2008 comedy The House Bunny. But this time she plays a self-described ”jobless whore who’s slept with 20 guys,” and who’s now looking for a mate among her discarded exes. Wearing the description ”jobless whore” as a badge of bawdy honor sums up everything atonally vulgar and alienating about the project — well, that and the script’s incessant genital references. Minors, please leave the page while I offer a takeaway sermon: Too many vagina jokes spoken by women are as tedious as too many penis jokes shared among men. Soon enough, everyone sounds like an infantile South Park dropout.
Meanwhile, at Sundance this year the caustic comedy Bachelorette (due in August), written and directed by Leslye Headland, reveled — or was it wallowed? — in hard-edged naughty behavior among yet another bridal party, this one populated by foulmouthed, drug-fueled bad girls (Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan). Why today’s chick-ish flicks (yes, including Bridesmaids) still promote the stale notion that impending weddings turn otherwise self-actualized young women into crazy ladies ought to be the subject of some smart young person’s graduate thesis. Conversely, there’s little point in analyzing why another Sundance comedy, That’s What She Said (currently without a release date), written and directed by, respectively, actresses Kellie Overbey and Carrie Preston, devotes so much comedic time to the discussion of one woman’s yeast infection. That’s just one of many off-putting points in a story about an unlikely trio of terminally screwed-up ladies (played with abandon by Anne Heche, Marcia DeBonis, and Alia Shawkat) and how they spread their flamboyant neuroses around town.
The women in Friends With Kids, written and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt, are more functional than that. Westfeldt, along with Bridesmaids alumni Wiig and Maya Rudolph, grapples with identifiable issues related to parenting and its discontents, not only among mothers and their romantic partners but also among women ambivalent about the miracle of child rearing. I’ll write more about the movie when it comes out next week — and also about the vagina talk involved. Apparently, that’s what’s happening now that the Bridesmaids bouquet has been thrown.