Bridesmaids 5 Years Later: The Movie's Secret to Becoming a Cultural (and Feminist) Sensation

This movie catapulted straight into the hearts of millions.

By Seija Rankin May 13, 2016 11:00 AMTags
E! Placeholder Image

We all remember the condescending comparisons: It's just going to be another Hangover. But with women.

When director Paul Feig first brought Bridesmaids to the world way back in the spring of 2011, no one had any idea what was about to happen to movies. It wasn't like it was a comedy that no one believed in, but let's just say expectations were tepid. 

Of course, questionable marketing decisions by the studio aside—remind us again why they chose to feature that Vegas bachelorette party so prominently in the trailers?—Bridesmaids went on to be a box office hit. On top of a hugely surprising opening weekend, the flick went on to cross the $100 million mark in just 23 days and surpass the now-venerable Knocked Up as producer Judd Apatow's highest-grossing movie. (And, it's worth mentioning, it remains Feig's highest-grossing flick over The Heat and even Spy. Not too shabby).

What's more, it because a cultural phenomenon. Women everywhere saw something about themselves in the comedy, and it was a something they really loved. Groups of girlfriends everywhere were adopting the movie's signature pose (just ask every wedding photographer who worked a job between the years of 2011 and 2014) and the flick's one-liners were quickly becoming classic catchphrases. Help me, I'm poor!

But it wasn't always this easy—to understand how Bridesmaids became the biggest female comedy of the decade, we have to go back to the beginning. 

Everything You Need to Know About Kristen Wiig's New Man Avi Rothman

When the blockbuster hit got its start, star and screenwriter Kristen Wiig had just had her (sort of) big break by playing an executive with attitude in Knocked Up. Apatow liked what he saw (snark recognizes snark, after all) and he tasked the SNL castmember, along with her friend Annie Mumolo, with writing a movie of their choice. It's a tall order, for sure, but Wiig and Mumolo knew just where to start. 

"We knew we wanted to write a funny ensemble comedy with women," Wiig told Los Angeles' KCRW radio station back in 2011. "Because we knew so many funny women. But it wasn't an intentional statement."

Script in hand, Apatow reached out to his friend and Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig, who, as he explained to E!, had been dying to make just that, thanks to a very large flaw in the industry.

"I always liked hanging out with women and found them really funny, and that would bump up against portrayals that I was seeing on the big screen and in comedy," said Feig. "You would see these women who you knew were funny and you would go, why aren't they being funny? [Movies] turned them into being mean or bitchy or personality-less."

And almost worse than the parts for women were the actual plots (sorry, rom-coms). "The structure of so many scripts was a group of guys who are going out to do something," Feig told E!. "One guy's the awkward guy, but his friend's the p---y hound. I couldn't relate to it. As a result I tried to put together a few projects with a female lead and I'd just be shot down by every studio executive I talked to."

How Clarissa Explains It All Started TV's Girl-Power Movement

Enter Bridesmaids, the little comedy that could. With Feig's enthusiasm, Wiig's wit and Apatow's Hollywood power it was pretty much a match made in female-led movie heaven. But despite all that, it was never their intention to start a movement or turn the industry on its face. As Kristen told KCRW, "The fact that a movie with six women on the poster was a big deal, that was surprising to us."

It wasn't just the fact that the comedy barely even listed men on its IMDB page or its box office success that cemented Bridesmaids as an instant classic, but rather that it so subtly broke all the boundaries that we didn't even know we had.

Let's start with the fact that the relationship at the center of the story was (gasp!) between two women, and not a woman and a man t(a man who won't be tied down!). Or the fact that when the two women do fight, it isn't (gasp!) cattiness over a man, but because of sincere and emotionally complicated reasons. When Annie (Wiig) goes apes--t at that Godforsaken Parisian bridal shower—and rips that Godforsaken giant cookie in half, natch—it stuck with us because every single woman has felt that left out before. 

Sentimental moments aside, the laughs are the true selling point. The movie broke so many bounds because it wasn't afraid to go R-rated—but instead of following in its predecessors footsteps and turning the women into men, endless talk of getting laid, bro and all, it played off of what's funny about...wait for it...being a woman. And it turns out that's funny to...wait for it...everyone.

There were so many pivotal moments, like the plane ride rife with pain pills and colonial women on the wing or the image of Annie riding the automatic garage door out of her hookup's house, but the scene that will go down in history is the dress shop...let's just call it a massacre. According to Feig, it was all borne out of embarrassment, and not about going for the raunchiest moment possible.

"It wasn't like we were trying to get a bunch of women s--tting and farting, that wasn't the goal at all," he prefaced. "It was, we're all sick in the worst place possible, a fancy all-white room, and how does Kristin's character maintain her dignity in front of someone she's trying to impress? And what's the funniest, most horrific way we can tell that?"

It turns out that the answer was having Maya Rudolph, for lack of a better phrase, shittin' in the street. And even though Kristen was, understandably, a bit worried about filming a scene that featured projectile vomiting (among other eliminations), it killed. "We did the first test screening and the women were screaming with laughter, and especially when Maya sinks down into the street," said Paul. 

Women of America, welcome to raunch that works for you.

Ghostbusters Releases First Trailer and Already Kristen Wiig Is Getting Slimed
Courtesy Universal

One can't talk about Bridesmaids without talking about its legacy, and one can't talk about Bridesmaids' legacy without talking about Paul Feig—if you'd like a shortcut on what the flick has done for female comedians, just take a look at his IMDB page. He's the director in charge of the all-female Ghostbusters remake, for goodness sakes. But in all seriousness, so many movies have been borne of Bridesmaids' success; movies able to convince studios to take a chance on them by pointing to those box office results. But this legacy didn't come easily. (Does anything, when it comes to gender parity in Hollywood?)

"Tension came when we were making the movie, because the industry was hyper-focused on whether it was going to do well," explains Feig. "Writers I know were inspired by the movie and were pitching similar things, and all the executives said they had to wait to see how Bridesmaids did. And that's really not cool to make us the test case; you never know how movies are gonna go, and if we screwed it up that's it for women? It's really unfair."

But for better or worse, they didn't screw up, and we now have comedy classics like The Heat, Spy, Trainwreck, The Boss and, on July 15, Ghostbusters. Would Amy Schumer still be a hugely popular A-list celebrity if Bridesmaids had bombed or never been made? Of course. Would she and Judd Apatow have been able to usher Trainwreck, in all its female-fronted, R-rated, penis joke glory, through the studio system so quickly? Maybe not.

And then there's Melissa McCarthy. She might be the movie's greatest legacy. The comedian had toiled away on improv shows (and on Gilmore Girls, of course) before she got her big screen break, and then managed to straight-up steal the screen away from Kristen Wiig—a feat that is anything but easy. 

"I knew she was going to be big the minute I started working with her," Feig told E!. "When she started to audition I didn't even quite know what she was doing because it was so different, and then I went, oh my god, that's the funniest thing I've ever seen."

Most of us remember the first time we realized that McCarthy was the funniest thing since really funny sliced bread—some Bridesmaids fan cite the engagement scene when she pledges to "Climb that like a tree," others prefer the sight gag of her driving down the highway while wrangling a litter of puppies. For the filmmakers, it was her emotional come-to-Jesus talk with Annie—and it was one that almost didn't see the light of day.

What Angelina Jolie's New Movie Can Tell Us About the Fate of Female Directors in Hollywood

"That scene was originally supposed to feature a woman from a call center in Mumbai who was trying to collect some debts from Annie and reads her the riot act about her life," said Feig. "But I remember saying to Judd, why are we giving away this big cathartic moment to someone we barely know, versus this big powerhouse actress [McCarthy] we have?"

Now, cut to five years later and McCarthy and Feig are an unstoppable duo, working to keep the Bridesmaids fever alive. But Feig himself is hoping for something a little more altruistic when choosing the flick's legacy: That everyone realize the only secret was that it treated women as real people.

"It showed women in all their states and sides of their personalities," he stressed. "It wasn't trying to make them better or worse than they are, it was just trying to portray them as human beings."

Human beings who poop their pants in the street, that is.

Melissa McCarthy's Best Roles