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Laughing away the summer
June 29, 2011 - Rick Chatenever
According to my latest market research, “Bridesmaids” is this summer’s runaway smash hit.
Actually, it was Entertainment Weekly’s market research. My market research happens when a friend sees a movie, then tells me about it. “Bridesmaids” is the one that keeps coming up.
When it comes to runaway smash hits, it helps if the movie didn’t cost much to make. If there aren’t hundreds of millions in special effects, or stars with a $20 million paychecks, or armies of animators, it doesn’t have to go as far to make its money back. A breakout hit —they used to be called “sleepers” —is usually a confluence of a smart script, endearing performances … and a right place, right time coincidence of cultural connection.
A couple of summers ago, “The Hangover” was the runaway smash hit. This summer, its sequel is more like a hangover itself —a bloated, lazy, gross belch of a movie. “Bridemaids” is the opposite — fresh and funny, although not without its own gross parts. Both its smart script and endearing performance come in the form of Kristen Wiig, but the fine supporting cast helps a lot.
The funny thing is, when friends tell me about “Bridesmaids,” they lower their voices and look over their shoulders. There’s a hint of naughtiness. That’s because most of them are women. They’re a little embarrassed by the film’s raunchiness —a trademark of producer Judd Apatow laugh factory.
They blush over those parts of the comedy that earned its R-rating and can’t be talked about in a family newspaper without euphemisms. (Just say the words “wedding dress” to anyone who’s seen the film and they’ll bust up on the spot, guaranteed.)
Target audiences for previous Apatow hits like “Knocked Up” or “Superbad” didn’t have a problem with potty jokes or potty mouths. Apatow’s philosophical underpinning —that manhood is actually a permanent state of arrested development — is largely lost on his mostly male audience, for whom laughter is just another way to expel wind.
Apatow’s films have reshaped screen comedy for a new century with the crass suggestion that foul mouths and good hearts are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the cruder the talk coming out of the mouths of his man-child characters, the more it belies the desperate, sweet insecurity underneath.
With “Bridesmaids,” he expands the equation — it’s not just for guys anymore. The fears, doubts, insecurities and jealousies that fall under the heading of “friendship” among women are just as funny, with the same good heartedness underneath. And when women do dumb, they’re not nearly as dumb as guys.
Maybe “Bridesmaids” has finally broken down that most dreaded of genres, chick flick. Laughter, it turns out, is a great way to overcome differences in brain wiring between men and women. Laughing is one thing all sexes can do together freely, without having to worry about consequences later.
Most of the friends who liked “Bridesmaids” said they saw it based on the “Recommended” tag in the Scene movie pages. It always makes me nervous when people take those recommendations to heart, or worse, tell me they always agree with what I say.
“Not so fast,” I want to reply, remembering all the times I’ve looked back over something I wrote with the simple question: What were you thinking … ?
Especially when, as in the case of “Bridemaids,” what I’m recommending comes with an R-rating. Considering that some Maui News readers took offense at Olivia Wilde’s plunging neckline at the Maui Film Festival a few weeks ago, I know I’m on the thinnest ice here. But here’s another one:
There’s something about Cameron Diaz that makes her the perfect choice for the starring role in “Bad Teacher.” It earns its own R-rating for bad attitude as much as its central character’s flagrant self-absorption and law-breaking tendencies to overdose on anything available: alcohol, drugs and/or sex.
Diaz’s Elizath Halsey doesn’t bother to learn her students’ names, and thinks showing movies of inspiring teachers like “Stand and Deliver” and “Dangerous Minds” passes for actually teaching. She doesn’t try to hide the fact that she’s only in it for enough money to get a boob job in order to land a fiancee as rich as the one who dumped her.
Her middle-school colleagues could be auditioning for parts in “Glee”: rah-rah across-the-hall teacher Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), underachieving gym coach (Jason Segal), mousy plump sidekick (Phyllis Smith) and reluctant dreamboat (Justin Timberlake, playing hilariously against type.)
What makes them all — but especially the fearless Diaz — so much fun is seeing authority figures like teachers being so anti-authority themselves. With Jake Kasdan directing from a cynical but relentlessly clever script, you can’t escape noticing she’s the good guy, bad attitude or not, as you cheer her on.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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