Monday, July 18, 2011

"A Belated 'Bridesmaids' Report"

“Belated” in that the movie opened two months ago, and I’m just getting around to seeing it now. I’d be a terrible news reporter, wouldn’t I? “There was a huge traffic tie-up two months ago. I would suggest taking an alternate route.”

“POMERANTZ! YOU’RE FIRED!”

The good news? It’s my blog. And I’m keeping myself on.

The thing I liked best about Bridesmaids is that, as party favors for a way over-the-top bridal shower, all of the guests received puppies.

The thing I liked second best was the core of the movie, a touching and believable relationship between “Annie” and “Lillian”, two longtime best pals, whose relationship is tested by Lillian’s impending marriage, and an interloping third party, determined to usurp Annie’s primary-pal position with Lillian. When the movie occasionally goes off the rails, it is this sturdy foundation that retains my good will.

The thing I liked third best about Bridesmaids was “Officer Nathan Rhodes” the Irish-American policeman, played by Chris O’Dowd, who pursues Annie and ultimately…well, I mean, after two months, you’ve probably already seen it if you’re going to, so what am I spoiling? – they end up together. (Plus, it’s a romantic comedy. How else were they going to end up?)

Two months after the fact, new insights about Bridesmaids are hard to come by, and, surprisingly, I don’t have any. The movie rises above “summer movie fare”, because of its savvy understanding of the mechanics of female relationships, some scene-staling supporting performances, and many, though by no means all, of its characters’ balancing – to the outrageous comedy – self-awareness.

This latter element, combined with the no-holds-barred raunchiness, is the signature recipe in the Judd Apatow oeuvre, Judd, in the case of Bridesmaids, being the movie’s producer. It’s interesting how a producer can put his stamp on a picture, even if he didn’t write it. Although I remember a TV interview with the Bridemaids writers, indicating Apatow’s encouragement to the writers to “take things a little further.”

My criticisms are likely to be longer than my praise. But I want to point some stuff out to you, and I want to explain why that stuff bothers me, and doing that takes longer than “I liked it”, which only takes three words. Just remember. I liked it.

Okay.

There are three – count ‘em – three extended scenes in which Annie humiliates herself – a one-upwomanship “toasting of the bride-to-be” sequence with her arch-rival, one on an airplane, and one final “shame-a-thon” at the engagement party – which, for me, is two humiliation scenes too many, and all of them are painful for me to watch, rather than the, intended, I would imagine, funny. Women writers (in this case, Kristin Wiig and Annie Mumolo) play for keeps. These scenes are just brutal.

But – and here I go bragging – from a professional standpoint, the comedy – by which I mean, not its funniness, which is a matter of taste, but its effectiveness – can be evaluated by certain objective comedic standards. These standards involve, for me, at least – and regular readers will not be surprised to hear this – logic.

My issue here is not “Why isn’t that funny?” The question, for me, is, why isn’t that funnier? Sometimes, the answer is that the comedy went too far. Over over-the-top. In sitcoms, we would label these moments “eggy.” The writers unwisely tried to top themselves, and failed, leaving the poor actor, tagged with the execution of the disaster, with egg on their face.

Examples. After a post-sleepover fight with Officer Rhodes, Annie, who regrets her behavior, bakes a cake for the police officer, and leaves it outside his door. Rhodes, still angry, refuses to bring the cake inside. Annie’s subsequent passes by his house reveal that the cake is still out there. On her third pass, raccoons are eating it.

The “raccoon moment” made me laugh. It’s believable (we ourselves are troubled by raccoons), and I wasn’t expecting it. That’s where the “ha-ha” comes from. However, towards the end of the movie, after the officer and Annie have made up, he “calls back” the cake, mentioning that he’d tasted it.

No, he did not!

Nobody eats cake that has been slobbered over by raccoons. Nobody! What am I saying here? They should not have done the raccoons? No. The raccoons were funny. They went too far by having him mention that he sampled the cake. There was no need to bring the cake back up; it added very little. And it made me go, “No, you didn’t!” right there in the theater, when he said he’d tasted it. (This is a case of the writers wanting their cake (joke) and eating it too.)

A considerably bigger gripe:

The cardinal sin, for me, is when a joke is, particularly a major comedy sequence, not adequately set up. In this example, the comedy sequence was not set up at all, making the result funny enough – for those who are tickled by diarrhea and projectile vomiting – but not as funny as it could have been.

Annie recommends that the bridesmaids lunch at a favorite restaurant of hers and Lillian’s, which features Brazilian cuisine. The women ultimately end up with food poisoning, whose symptoms erupt during a fitting session for bridesmaids’ dresses.

Okay, fine.

Except…

How is it that this restaurant, which Annie and Lillian have frequented on multiple occasions, has suddenly started poisoning its customers?

It's understandable what happened here. The writers want to do the pooping-and-vomiting-at-the-“high-end” dress-store scene. They believe it's funny. But they never bother to explain why a consistently reliable eatery is suddenly a health hazard.

Rule Number One: Validate the Moment. Justify how this restaurant went "Bad meat." “Under New Management.” Anything! Silent movies. Laurel and Hardy. They go in the backyard, missing the sign that says, “Beware Of Dog!” The situation is set up. We know what they don’t know. And the fun is about to begin.

This is just, “It’s funny; we’re doing it!” The result? Instead of laughing as hard as you should be at people spewing out both ends, you're laughing a little, while simultaneously wondering, "How did that happen?"

By the way, the “eggy” actor in this situation is Lillian, pooping in a wedding gown in the middle of the street. Her expression may read, “I just pooped.” But it is really saying, “A joke too far.”

Okay, I’m criticizing a movie, which, as of July 10, has grossed almost a hundred and sixty million dollars, domestic. And I really like the movie. I just hate it when moments are sloppy, and they’re incredibly easy to fix.

My complaints remind me once again of a situation involving my stepdaughter Rachel when she was young, when I complained that the sitcom she was enjoying didn’t make sense.

“It doesn’t have to make sense,” she replied. “It’s funny.”

Bridesmaids is funny, but there are places – and I have selected only two – where it doesn’t make sense.

It would be even funnier if it did.

5 comments:

Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; you've summed up one of my complaints about movies and Tv - it doesn't make sense! Nothing is more jarring than than, particularly when the scene is cruel to the character. Embarrassment can bring a laugh, but the eggier the scene the more likely it won't - at least not from me.

-z

Ezekiel Zesses said...

I've got one for you that didn't make sense and it came from your show: Major Dad. During the first season, there were several opportunities to peer beyond the living room scenes and observe in the adjoining room, there was a bird cage. But never a bird. I didn't particularly care - it bothered me a little - where's the darn bird?!?! But I let it go. Then, mid-way-or-so thru the season, suddenly there is an episode about a dead bird. Now (then) it did not make sense. Where had that bird been? In the freezer? Is that considered a bird's-egg-in-the-face? And I always wondered, what happened to Peggy Cass? She was in the pilot, then ditched, apparently in favor of the young, hot secretary.

Mac said...

Interesting analysis. I also think you have to earn a crude/embarrassing scene through plotting, otherwise it's too easy. In "Dumb and Dumber" there's a spectacular diarrhoea scene which comes about through one of them being lied to, and the other one seeking revenge. If he'd just got it through food poisoning, it would have been a lazy way of going for a cheap laugh. Depending on your view of the Farrelly Bros, you might think it's cheap anyway, but they did at least build a back-story into it.
Anyway, there was also much that was good about "Bridesmaids." I'm sure they'll go on to make as good and better films in the future.

Harkaway said...

Thanks so much for this analysis of what was overall a funny movie. I also just got a chance to see it. As part of the school of Apatow, it did not at first attract me, but the reviews persuaded me this might be good for a few laughs. As I live in the UK, most of the cast was unknown to me which meant if they were dependent on personas developed elsewhere they wouldn't pay off for me (or the rest of the audience). All this aside I found it to be warm and generally funny about women and their relationships.

But your comments revealed to me how one more pass at the script might have improved just a bit more. Please keep the masterclasses coming!

Jonah Davenport said...

Hey Earl,
I really enjoyed your analysis of Bridesmaid's. I did watch the movie but totally overlooked the apparent inconsistencies (I had assumed, that the cake had been out of the box and replaced with some other food item).

I was wondering, with all the "hands" that a script goes through from first draft to production, how were these discrepancies overlooked? Any ideas?