In January 2007, Christopher Hitchens wrote a controversial article in Vanity Fair entitled, “Why Women Aren’t Funny” and proceeded to peddle various inanities about why he doesn’t find one half of the human species as amusing as the other. A little more than a year later, a New York Times’ TV critic, Alessandra Stanley, had a response published in the same magazine under the headline, “Who Says Women Aren’t Funny?” where Saturday Night Live‘s Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Tina Fey were prominently profiled.
Let’s say that you don’t agree with Hitchens and that you think women can indeed be funny. Even among those folks there have been questions about whether “funny” women can draw an audience. As the flick Bridesmaids, starring and co-written by Wiig, neared its opening day, critics and fans debated if the female-centric movie would or could be a success.
Its director, Paul Feig, told the New York Times that he was concerned about whether the movie would be a success, saying he worried that, “If I blow this, I’m going to ruin it for these women for years and years.”
A blogger from the feminist web site Jezebel chimed in saying: “The stakes were high … for women-focused comedies [and] for other women working in Hollywood, several of whom have been told to hold off until Bridesmaids opening weekend numbers were in.”
For her part, Women and Hollywood blogger Melissa Silverstein didn’t seem worried about the success of the movie, written by two female screenwriters. “Women will go and see a movie if they believe it will be good and worth their time,” Silverstein wrote. “Not rocket science. And more news is that women can make a film a hit.” Which women did with Bridesmaids which raked in $26.2 million over the weekend and came in second in box office receipts.
Despite the overall grim statistics about how women fare in the film industry — in the top 100 films in 2009, a University of California study found that of the 4,400 speaking roles, only 30 percent went to women — Bridesmaids is an exception. It stars six women. No men appear in the movie poster. The males are largely in the background and hardly appear in the film trailers. The movie, after all, wasn’t really about them as it was about what marriage and differences in socio-economic levels can do to adversely affect a friendship.
Though the film was widely advertised as being produced by Knocked Up’s Judd Apatow, and, in spite of the now-infamous food poisoning scene at the bridal shop, it was not overloaded with jokes about bodily functions and naughty bits. It was funny because Wiig’s character Annie was well-rounded, not a cardboard cut-out sent from a bland rom-com Central Casting unit. The focus of the film was Annie’s reaction to the fact that her best friend was not only getting married, but had a new, rich friend whom Annie feared was replacing her.
The laughs Bridesmaids elicited felt authentic, as Wiig and Melissa McCarthy (from Mike & Molly and the Gilmore Girls) absolutely killed. The movie wasn’t some low-quality, vacuous confection that women reluctantly go to see because there’s nothing else out there featuring women characters which appeals to them or reflects their life. Women have been heading out to the theaters and plunking down cold hard cash, like I did with two friends, because they heard this movie was funny.
So if you want to see more than 30 percent of speaking movie roles go to women (even though 55 percent of those buying tickets are female), if you’d like to tell the Hitchens of the world that they’re full of it when it comes to women and comedy, let your actions speak louder than your words. Go see Bridesmaids. Your funny bone will be glad that you did.