Between the Lines is a monthly column discussing everything around the craft of screenwriting: from in-depth breakdowns of screenplays to interviews with screenwriters.
The film industry has a huge issue with male-led genre films dominating cinemas and TV’s at home, and that of course includes comedies. The numbers pale in comparison, with a report from the University of Southern California from 2018 stating that only 37.5 per cent of speaking characters in comedies were female. We have, however, been gifted with some classic female-led comedies over the last couple of decades: Mean Girls, Clueless, Legally Blonde, Juno, and more recently Booksmart, are all truly funny films with iconic characters and heartfelt stories. Notably they’re all written by women, which seems like no coincidence as to why they’re all so loved even to this day. Next month Bridesmaids will be celebrating its ten year anniversary, a modern commercial and critical hit that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the other films previously mentioned.
For a lot of audiences Bridesmaids was a water shed moment, seeing a cast of hilarious women dropping F-bombs, getting intoxicated on flights to Vegas and using public sinks as toilets. This sort of thing wasn’t exactly new in the realm of comedy, but for many it was revelatory to see women act this way on the big screen. As a result, Bridesmaids paved the way for similar female-led, raunchy comedies on the big screen, however, none would have the same impact as the 2011 classic as they seemed to miss the point on what made the film work. It wasn’t just because women were being crass on screen, but because the (Oscar nominated!) screenplay written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo is full of heart and great character work.
The film sees Annie (Wiig), a thirty-something year old hitting rock bottom: her bakery failed and financially ruined her, her boyfriend left, she works in a crappy jewellery store, she lives with two strange siblings and has casual sex with misogynistic Ted (Jon Hamm). The only good thing in Annie’s life is her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph), but when Lillian announces that she’s getting married and asks Annie to be the maid of honour, it pushes Annie to reflect on her own life that isn’t going as well compared to Lillian’s. On top of that, Annie has to contend with fellow bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne), a ‘perfect’ woman who threatens to take over Annie’s role as maid of honour and as Lillian’s best friend.
It’s surprising that not much actually happens in terms of the plot. Bridesmaids is very much a micro story – so much so that we hardly see the actual wedding happen – that is firmly centred on Annie’s character arc. However, even when reading through this ten-year-old screenplay, it still feels refreshing to see a female lead who is, as crude bridesmaid Megan (Melissa McCarthy) states, an asshole. Annie berates her customers at work, pushes people away who show signs of affection, and blames everyone else for the problems she herself has caused. After the opening few pages where Annie has sex with Ted, she tells Lillian about their night. Lillian’s response explains why Annie acts the way she does, but also sets up the main conflict of the story:
The screenplay’s conflict is centred around self-destruction and self-hatred, and the question of whether Annie can recognise that she is the problem – but also the solution. Just like any good story, the protagonist needs to be put through the ringer in order to change, and in Annie’s case she needs to hit “rock bottom”. Annie thought that after losing her job, getting kicked out of her apartment and ruining her best friend’s bachelorette party was her rock bottom, but really it was when Lillian uninvited her from the wedding. Even at her lowest point, and after some painfully obvious metaphors from nice guy Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd) about how she needs to put the work in to change, Annie still hasn’t learnt the lesson. That is until Megan arrives and (physically) shakes Annie up:
It would be too easy to have Annie miraculously fix everything and organise an amazing wedding at the last minute, but thankfully Wiig and Mumolo are much smarter than that. Yes, Annie is reinstated as the maid of honour and shares a kiss with Rhodes, but she isn’t suddenly a new and improved person. Annie has actively begun the journey of bettering herself. Helen and Annie aren’t best friends all of a sudden, but instead have mutual respect for each other and what could be the start of some sort of friendship. Likewise with Rhodes, he and Annie aren’t suddenly in love but are spending time together to develop their relationship.
The marketing focused on the gross-out comedy somewhat does a disservice to the story actually being told. The food poisoning set piece is often the most talked about aspect of the film but, as wild and hilarious as it is on its own, it detracts from what is still a hilarious story that has a relatable and engaging narrative. Bridesmaids proves that it isn’t just men that can be self-destructive characters that the audience root for, and perfectly showcases that women are just as crass and just as funny as men too. We’re still a long way off to seeing more inclusive stories being told, but Wiig and Mumolo undeniably helped pave the way towards more female-led comedy screenplays being produced.
The Bridesmaids screenplay can be read here.
Header image courtesy of Universal Pictures