‘Bridesmaids,’ Class, and Confronting Idealized Womanhood

We examine how relatability makes this raunchy comedy stand the test of time.
Bridesmaids Wiig

This article is part of our One Perfect Archive project, a series of deep dives that explore the filmmaking craft behind some of our favorite shots. In this entry, we explore the themes in Bridesmaids.

Eight years ago, a glowing team of established comedians — namely actor-writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, director Paul Feig, and producer Judd Apatow — unleashed Bridesmaids onto the world. Initially, the film was figured to be little more than an inconsequential fun-filled romp. “Something like The House Bunny or Baby Mama,” Apatow once considered.

However, Bridesmaids eventually, and thankfully, turned out to be more of a lasting cultural phenomenon. Wiig and Mumolo took the joint comedy prowess they’ve honed since their time with The Groundlings and made their first big-screen collaboration a rousing hit. This then inspired what is popularly known as the “Bridesmaids effect:” the hearty influx of similarly crude comedic endeavors toplined by women.

The filmic landscape within the genre has only continued to develop since. These days, we’ve got the likes of Girls Trip and Blockers to satiate our raunchy comedy needs. Still, even in 2019, when revisiting Bridesmaids, its original impact actually seems more relevant than ever.

Notably, Wiig and Mumolo’s long-awaited creative reunion is finally happening. The two have co-written the screenplay for Lionsgate’s Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, in which they are also expected to star.

The premise of this latest Wiig/Mumolo team-up is pretty straightforward. The eponymous Barb (Wiig) and Star (Mumolo) are best friends who go on a trip to Florida. Unfortunately, they get tangled up in a villain’s murderous plot in the process.

Despite this brief and potentially generic premise, knowing that Wiig and Mumolo are involved in Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar allows me to anticipate something profound from the film. Because what really made Bridesmaids stand out in 2011 and remain a solid piece of feminist fiction many years later is its remarkable impression of normalcy and relatability. Yes, it’s there even amid the numerous gross-out antics peppered throughout the film.

In fact, I would argue that such down-to-earth energy saves Bridesmaids from completely going off the rails. Of course, the more extreme tomfoolery of the movie — like shitting oneself in the middle of a gown fitting, for instance — certainly incites the biggest reactions.

Nonetheless, the true feat pulled off by Wiig and Mumolo is evidenced when the film gets unnervingly close to dissecting women’s inner lives and social dynamics, particularly how they perceive personal successes. Be it in the realm of relationships, goals, and lifestyles, this profound throughline enhances the Bridesmaids narrative, especially its explicitness.

The film unabashedly begins on a very uncomfortable sex scene between Wiig’s protagonist Annie and a presumably well-to-do, self-absorbed man named Ted (Jon Hamm). Set in the latter’s lush modern abode and underscored by a multitude of Annie’s insecurities, this decidedly unpretty, overtly sexual introductory montage already has some sobering connotations.

Annie is caught in the middle in virtually every aspect of her life. Her no-strings-attached trysts with Ted don’t actually make her happy. As hopeless he is at being a reliable long-term partner, she can’t help but yearn for more with him.

It doesn’t take long for us to realize what Annie’s motivations (or lack thereof) stem from. We find out that the bakery she opened and ran alongside a then-boyfriend went belly-up thanks to the recession. Annie is now single and with all her savings have been depleted, she works in retail as a way to make ends meet. Her relationships aren’t going very well, either, given that she is at odds with both her mother and her eccentric British roommates. Now, Annie rarely bakes despite having such a strong affinity for the skill.

Annie’s life is stagnant for the most part, but at least she takes solace in living five minutes away from her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph). Between sneakily freeloading on exercises classes in the park and oversharing across easygoing lunches together, the two personify a quirky, lowkey dynamic. Their amiable, long-time bond establishes that they don’t need that much to make each other happy.

That said, some disconcerting truths inadvertently surface once something threatens to disrupt this comfortable pair. Lillian’s sudden engagement to her wealthy significant other starts to chip away at her relationship with Annie, as the latter continuously feels inadequate in the wake of the ostentatious lifestyle that her friend is marrying into.

Lillian asks Annie to be her maid of honor but planning any of the wedding festivities hardly goes smoothly. Annie’s ideas for the impending bachelorette party and bridal shower are seen as charming at best. Sadly, they apparently don’t hold a candle next to the pretentious preparations overseen by another member of Lillian’s bridal party, the beautiful elite Helen (Rose Byrne). At least, not when everyone else in the film goes completely googly-eyed in the face of that kind of generosity.

This class divide is one of the main driving forces behind Bridesmaids‘ pathos. Annie can barely make enough to pay her rent on time, let alone shell out $800 for a bridesmaid dress. And flying first class to Las Vegas for a supposedly epic bachelorette getaway is basically out of the question for her.

Annie can’t help but feel Helen’s efforts to impress Lillian with her party-planning skills are less-than-genuine either. After all, Helen has only been in the picture for several months compared to the years-long bond that Annie and Lillian have shared. So, when Helen decides to take credit for Annie’s original concept of a Parisian-themed bridal shower — and makes it uber-moneyed and luxurious for good measure — an explosive breaking point is reached.

Sure, this involves Annie losing her shoes and flinging chocolate around Helen’s impeccably decorated garden. That kind of intensely fearless physical comedy (next to the poop-in-a-bridal-gown thing) breaks up these varying instances of tension multiple times. Nevertheless, the levity doesn’t erase the discomfiting realness of Annie’s self-destructive behavior and what it means for her journey through adulthood.

Bridesmaids‘ portrayal of financial privilege and class externalizes plenty of Annie’s existing doubts about her self-worth, as well as compounds her fears about the future. These elements gnaw at her self-esteem, keeping her in a toxic relationship and preventing her from taking pride in her true talents.

Her self-serving gaffes work against Annie’s most genuine and important relationships, too. They drive a wedge between her and Lillian and get in the way of a kinder romantic interest who actually cares about Annie’s desires and abilities.

Luckily for Annie, she has Megan (Melissa McCarthy) to sort her out. The latter becomes far more than off-kilter comic relief as the film progresses. Megan is, essentially, that happy medium of class difference that the film is centered on. Her oftentimes strange antics and one-liners don’t erase the sheer toughness of her work ethic. This allows this bubbly side character to be one of the most successful bridesmaids from the outset while ensuring that she is always unequivocally herself. Hence, although Annie faces her fear of the inevitability of change, she does so by slowly finding new constants such as Megan, who keep her grounded.

Of course, it is important to acknowledge that Bridesmaids is by no means a perfect representation of class. The film is glossy throughout, but especially saccharine by its concluding quarter. Bridesmaids is also far more oblique when depicting intersectionalities like race and culture. That’s how ill-advised moments like the “authentic churrascaria” scene can come about.

Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder how Bridesmaids‘ message of female nuance could have come across even better without these distracting factors. Thankfully, in the end, the film’s analysis of idealized womanhood is still worth taking note of. Nearly a decade since Bridesmaids released, Wiig and Mumolo’s endearingly witty and crass script still feels like a great encapsulation of the fundamentally deep-seated anxieties surrounding success and failure. Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar has some big shoes to fill.

Sheryl Oh: Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)