The Common Good
August 2011

Life's Pathos and Slapstick

by Gareth Higgins | August 2011

The award for most surprisingly profound film of 2011 might go to Bridesmaids. This story of a woman trying to figure out her path in the midst of ...

The award for most surprisingly profound film of 2011 might go to Bridesmaids. This story of a woman trying to figure out her path in the midst of witnessing her friend's happiness is a deeply funny, smart film, with stylized characters who live in a recognizably real world: unhappy people who are struggling financially; eccentric people who may remind us of college roommates; people living in envy of the economic resources of others. Bridesmaids is a comforting, intelligent film about one of the most important lacks in our world: the lack of honest connection.

There are so many well-rounded characters: Maya Rudolph as the bride who conveys the challenge of having two best friends at once; Rose Byrne as a privileged ice queen trying to mask her own vulnerability; and the late, great Jill Clayburgh in an hysterically funny supporting role as Kristin Wiig's mother. And perhaps most of all, Melissa McCarthy, playing a significantly overweight woman who could easily have become a scapegoat for fat jokes but, in one of the film's many subversive charms, turns out to be the character most comfortable in her own skin.

It’s not just in the reversal of cultural norms about body image that Bridesmaids transcends the traditional limitations of its genre -- there are subtle references to the way we have accommodated ourselves to the absurd inconveniences of life in the post-9/11 era, along with a thoughtful and honest questioning of the place of sex and sexuality in how to get ahead in life, and in love itself.

But most of all, Bridesmaids defeats the received wisdom that a contemporary comedy needs to be cynical to be funny or realistic. This film upends that norm by telling a story about ordinary people who sometimes behave well, sometimes poorly, and ultimately start to learn lessons about life that each of us face. Bridesmaids ended up reminding me of Tootsie, the 1982 comedy drama (one of the best ever made) in which Dustin Hoffman impersonates a woman in order to get a role on a soap opera. That was a film about men written by men; Bridesmaids is a film about women, written by women. Tootsie was a myth that spoke to the ache each of us has for community and purpose. So does Bridesmaids, which manages the very tricky challenge of doing slapstick and pathos at the same time. It knows that life is both funny and sad. We live between the steeple and the gargoyle, and Bridesmaids wants to remind us to take responsibility for ourselves and to see beyond surfaces. And, ultimately, to love each other.

Gareth Higgins, a Sojourners contributing editor, is executive director of the Wild Goose Festival. Originally from Northern Ireland, he lives in Carrboro, North Carolina.

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