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Reflections on Frances Ha and Bridesmaids

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B-E-C-H-D-E-L*

Coloured Crochet

A snippet of the crochet I’m working on

September 10th. Yesterday it rained. All day. I left the flat once to go to the shop for dinner supplies (if you are desperate to know the minutiae of my life, I bought lardons for a risotto, milk for yoghurt making, and chocolate chip cookies.) Apart from that I hid myself from the weather change and had a productive house day.

In the evening I settled down with an ongoing crochet project and sometimes I find it necessary to either listen to the radio or watch a film whilst I crochet. I do find the repetitive stitching to be very relaxing but at times it can get quite tedious.

As my eyes would have to be quite often focused on the project at hand, I chose a film I had already seen a few times: Bridesmaids.

I love Bridesmaids, and every time I watch it I spot things I have missed before.

The opening sequence is funny and spot on, relatable for probably most sexually active heterosexual women as Annie (Kristen Wiig) spends, as she calls it, an adult sleepover (a night of seemingly not so pleasurable sex on her account) with the hilarious Jon Hamm.

The next day her best friend, Lillian, gives us a insight into Annie’s psyche when she analyses her almost masochistic habit of seeing her sex buddy. Her low self-esteem at the time and the fact that she feels stuck in a rut lead her to seek solace in the sexy but self-centered and unemotional Hamm, in turn making her feel worse about herself.

My favourite scene is very amusing and heartfelt and could well be Melissa McCarthy’s best moment of the film, though there are many to choose from. After ruining the engagement party, the dress fitting, the hen do, and finally trashing the bridal shower (Hollywood likes weddings with lots of events), Annie is fired from her Maid of Honor duties leading her to mope at home crying over Wilson’s departure in Castaway (we’ve all been there.) This is the great moment when Megan (Melissa McCarthy) gives her a physical wake up call, forcing her to fight for her ‘shitty life’ and to realize that even though she and Lillian aren’t speaking, she has a new great friend.

Bridesmaids Melissa McCarthy Kristen Wiig fight

Megan makes Annie fight for her life

Whilst watching it this time around, I was reminded of one of my favourite recent releases, Frances Ha. Another comedy featuring female roles, Frances Ha differs greatly in style from Bridesmaids, but shares many of the same themes and context.

Frances Ha centres around the eponymous protagonist (played by cowriter Greta Gerwig)  and her best friend/flatmate, Sophie. I saw it in the cinema a few weeks ago with my friend and flatmate and, though the characters in the film are too complex to be able to say “Yes, I’m the Frances you’re the Sophie character”, we were amused by the amount of times aspects of our friendship were played out, which really highlights the richness and depth of the writing. I laughed especially loud at Sophie instructing Frances to stop picking her spots, there was such perfect intimacy between the two!

image of Frances Ha film

Frances and Sophie

I had thought from the trailer that it looked like a pretentious film as it is shot in black and white and has an incredibly cool soundtrack, but I was completely wrong and completely glad I went to see it.

Looking back I noticed many similarities between these two films. Of course, the main link between the two movies is the central theme of friendship, in particular at a time when one friend seems to be moving forward (settling into a serious relationship and career) and the other is seemingly stuck, unsure of where her life is meant to be going.

What is also interesting in both films is the lack of central male characters. Annie and Frances date and at the end of Bridesmaids we are left with a promise of a possible new relationship for Annie with the extremely likeable cop (Chris O’Dowd), similarly Frances has a veiled proposition from a male friend, but these are merely asides, parallel stories running alongside the main plots of the films. Neither movie could be labelled a Rom-Com. But what is this? A film with a largely female cast that isn’t based around the getting of or holding on to a man?

Also Annie and Frances alike are trying to figure things out and find their way. They both have suffered failures in their chosen career paths and often find themselves feeling isolated, surrounded by groups of grown up, affluent, seemingly perfect adults. And though these films are comedies, and the strength of the friendships pulls the women and us through, we do experience many touching, infuriating, and sad moments. In fact, right near the end of Bridesmaids and Frances Ha, we are reminded of the importance of friendship in the exact same way. As Lillian is leaving her wedding with her husband, she takes time to glance back to Annie and they exchange a knowing smile. We witness this shared moment, the look to a loved one in a crowded room, between Frances and Sophie too.

I can’t mention the similarities in these films without touching on the issue of Paris. Ahh, la belle Paris, city of lights, love and eternal happiness. If Paris were a hollywood movie, it would be a sickeningly sweet Rom-Com. But for those in the know it is more real than that: dirty, funny, hopeless, heartbreaking. Both Bridesmaids and Frances Ha use the romanticised idea of Paris to once again subvert the norms of the female driven film. They turn it on its head and Paris becomes the bringer of downfall and the breaker of relationships.

There need to be more films like these made, with diverse female characters who have fully formed personalities and are not simply over-repeated tropes. In recent interviews with BBC Radio 4’s The Film Programme, both Paul Heig (the director of Bridesmaids and the freshly released The Heat) and Greta Gerwig discuss this issue. Heig discusses the fact that Hollywood is dragging its feet in this matter, stating that “There should be more with women in strong roles that aren’t necessarily romantic comedies or a woman trying to beat a man, ‘cos there’s so many funny women out there…” Gerwig explains that in the past “All women do in movies is fall in love, or not fall in love.” She was keen to explore friendship and so had to work outside the studio model: “If we don’t make them ourselves, there’s not a place for it.”

I am keen to see The Heat, and hope that we will be seeing more great films with fully rounded female characters who are not there only to sit at the side of a strong man. Maybe more than two in three years.

* The Bechdel Test: A movie has to:
1. Have at least two [named] women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

I heard about this a long time ago but Olivia A. Cole brought it to my attention again (read her post here, discussing a different inequality in the media-the token black character.)

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