I didn't say it to Guy Raz when we talked for today's All Things Considered (you'll be able to hear the interview with that "Listen Now" button up there), but I blame it on My Big Fat Greek Wedding. That winsome little bridal blockbuster hit its stride in May of '02 and played straight through to Labor Day, establishing that 15-year-old boys weren't the only audience who'd go to summer films. Since then, wedding comedies have been a reliable -– and reliably annoying — hot-weather staple, almost always playing predominantly to women, with men attending dutifully as dates, much as they do at weddings themselves.
This year as May arrived, Hollywood tossed a whole bouquet of bridal comedies at the multiplex — Something Borrowed, Jumping the Broom, and Bridesmaids all opening in the space of eight days. And surprise of surprises, this time, one of them actually turns out to be amusing enough — or at any rate, calculated enough — to appeal to folks with y chromosomes.
The quasi-official narrative is that that's because — unlike Something Borrowed in which bride and maid of honor compete for the groom, and Jumping the Broom in which the mothers of bride and groom trade glares for two hours –- the ensemble flick Bridesmaids is essentially a raucous male comedy that just happens to star women. The studio is selling it as a boisterous farce with the occasional gross-out –- the sort of thing that would usually star a Seth Rogen or a Zack Galifinakis. Think The Hangover, basically, but with a distaff cast.
This girls-acting-like-boys notion has mostly been communicated by citing Judd Apatow's name as producer, and hyping the film's wedding-dress-interruptus sequence, wherein the bridesmaids realize they're suffering from food poisoning just as the bride's trying on a blazing white gown in an all-white salon. Digestive tract gurgles emanate from spots not usually referenced in all-girl comedies, there's a rush for the salon's bathroom, and when it proves not to have enough splashable areas, for a bathroom across the street. Things don't end prettily.
Which is more or less how things would go in a frat-boy comedy, right? ... poop and vomit equaling laughs in post-Three Stooges raunch-coms.
The thing is, what sets Bridesmaids apart from other films of its wedding-themed ilk isn't so much that the women in it behave grotesquely (don't want to spoil any advertising buzz, but raunch delivers a relatively small proportion of Bridesmaids' laughs), or that they behave like men. What sets the film apart is that its women are allowed — for once — to behave like human beings.
Most bridal comedies are characterized by an almost relentless degree of womanly support, whether observed in practice or in the breach. Bridezillas are tolerated when they snarl, and coddled when they — inevitably — break down. Their female friends, mothers, cousins, sisters, and even rivals fuss and fume, but eventually exhibit levels of affection and understanding as the big event approaches that many men would regard as excessive even at funerals. Earnestness is everywhere, and nobody appears to be having much fun. In fact, there's generally very little evidence that the women involved could ever have been friends. In Something Borrowed it's almost inconceivable that the leading characters would have tolerated each other since childhood, let alone regarded each other as best buds. Small wonder laughs curdle.
In Bridesmaids, there's understanding and affection, but it reads differently, possibly because the performers are a kind of dream team of contemporary femme comics –- Maya Rudolph as radiant bride, Kristin Wiig as reluctant maid of honor, Rose Byrne as insecure upper-crusty rival, Melissa McCarthy as randy nuclear engineer, Ellie Kemper as blithering naif, and Wendi McLendon-Covey as bored housewife with kids.
With these women, you sense real camaraderie and very little earnestness. Yes, they're supportive, but in ways that jibe with real life, not with a screenwriter's whim. And they're not only clearly having a ball, they're having a believable ball. I know these women. You know these women. They seem plausible, no matter how crazy their comic scrapes and spats, and yes, digestive tract problems. And that's why they're funny.
W: Bob Mondello is in the studio with me. Bob, Christopher Hitchens wrote that in 2007, women aren't funny.
BOB MONDELLO: That's craziness. Oh, my god. I - what about Carol Burnett? What about...
: She was funny.
MONDELLO: And Lucille Ball...
: She was funny.
MONDELLO: ...and Tina Fey...
: Very funny.
MONDELLO: ...and oh, my god. No. We have lots of funny women.
: I am asking you this question, Bob, because there are three films out right now, "Jumping the Broom," "Something Borrowed" and "Bridesmaids," all written by women, all starring women. They are female comedies, and they all take place against the backdrop of weddings.
MONDELLO: Yes, they are. And two of them are what you would call conventional women's comedies.
: This "Jumping the Broom" and "Something Borrowed."
MONDELLO: That's right.
: Conventional, you mean...
MONDELLO: Well, that they feature women in the way that we're accustomed to seeing women featured in pictures. To some extent, women are put on pedestals in bridal comedies. You know, they wear the pretty dresses and everything.
: So a lot of tears, hugs.
MONDELLO: Yes, exactly. And much caring, enormous amounts of caring.
: So let's hear a clip from the film "Something Borrowed." This is a scene with Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin, and they're talking about their friendship.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SOMETHING BORROWED")
KATE HUDSON: (As Darcy) I don't think there's anybody who knows me like you. It's like you totally accept me.
GINNIFER GOODWIN: (As Rachel) Darcy, why are you saying all this?
HUDSON: (As Darcy) I don't know.
: Oh. So tender.
MONDELLO: Yeah. I don't, either.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
: That's a comedy?
MONDELLO: Well, it's part of a comedy. It's the night before the wedding, and they're having this chat. And I have to say I imagine that people do have that kind of chats before weddings.
MONDELLO: And if you have a comedy with women in it, and one of them has stolen the other one's boyfriend, you would expect them to scream at each other. And they kind of don't through the whole movie because they have to be supportive of each other. This is how women are portrayed in pictures with women.
: So this is a - by the way, is it funny? Did you think it was funny?
MONDELLO: I loathed it.
MONDELLO: I just couldn't stand it.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MONDELLO: Oh, my. This drove me crazy. But that isn't why I think it's a conventional comedy. I think it's conventional comedy because I didn't recognize those characters. I don't know people like those women.
MONDELLO: I don't believe it.
: Let me ask you about the film "Something Borrowed" because the character played by Ginnifer Goodwin is supposed to be kind of frumpy and...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
: ...and she's not. I mean, she...
MONDELLO: I don't know who decided...
MONDELLO: ...that poor woman. Ginnifer Goodwin is frequently cast as the frump. She's adorable.
: And she's cute, yeah. Absolutely.
MONDELLO: Absolutely adorable. I have no idea who made that decision about her career. But she should play somebody willowy and gorgeous.
: I mean, is it easier, this idea that, you know, really stunning female actors cannot do comedy because it's too distracting, or...
MONDELLO: Oh, gee. I guess, and really stunning men can't, either, right?
MONDELLO: If you're really good-looking, it's harder to do comedy. I suppose...
: But I mean, there aren't - I mean, George Clooney can pull it off. But, I mean, some of these...
MONDELLO: I don't know. Lucy. Go back to Lucy. Lucy...
: Oh, yes. Lucille Ball, right. Yeah.
MONDELLO: Lucille Ball was - before she became a comedienne was regarded as a showgirl. And she was just beautiful. You always saw her in movies. She was wearing an evening gown. She was gorgeous. They had to make her look frumpy in "I Love Lucy" because otherwise, I guess people wouldn't feel as comfortable laughing at her.
: Okay. Here is a clip from another film. It's called "Bridesmaids." And the producer is Judd Apatow, famous for "Superbad" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." He didn't write it. It was written by Kristin Wiig from "Saturday Night Live." And here is a clip from the film. It is - just a warning to people listening, it's gross.
MONDELLO: Oh, you're playing that one.
: We're going to play that one. Okay. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BRIDESMAIDS")
KRISTIN WIIG: (As Annie) I don't know what to say. You look - Megan, are you okay?
MELISSA MCCARTHY: (As Megan) My dress is probably just tight.
ROSE BYRNE: (As Helen) Oh, my god. You got food poisoning from that restaurant, didn't you?
WIIG: (As Annie) No. I had the same thing that she had, and I feel fine.
(SOUNDBITE OF FARTING)
: All right. This is a bomb.
MONDELLO: And you can't even imagine where that goes because they're not showing the rest of that clip.
: This is a pretty gross scene. And there are a lot of these kinds of gross moments in this movie. People are talking about this as being the first, you know, female gross-out film ever made.
MONDELLO: Yeah. Well, it's not that. But I - it is different, though. What is different about it is that these women are human. They have the same frailties that men do.
: There are flatulence jokes in this movie.
MONDELLO: The way that this is being portrayed in the press in general is that it's women acting like men.
MONDELLO: And I think the difference is not that women are now acting like men but that women are getting the same privilege that men do to act like human beings in these movies. I think that's the big difference.
: So it is groundbreaking, in a sense.
MONDELLO: But I think it is doing one thing that I think you can - you and I, two men, are on the radio today talking about women comics, and I think as long as that conversation goes on, that's a game-changer.
: Bob, thanks so much for coming in.
MONDELLO: It's always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.