What happens when you replace the boys in a Judd Apatow movie with Bridesmaids?
If you've seen either of the two trailers for the darkly hilarious comedy Bridesmaids, you might think that it was just another bawdy bromance, like The Hangover or Knocked Up, but with women boozing and projectile barfing instead of men. The movie's marketing emphasizes a graphic food-poisoning scene in a fancy bridal boutique and a bachelorette flight to Vegas during which co-writer and star Kristen Wiig's character, the downtrodden Annie, gets so wasted on pills that she ends up partying in the aisles.
But the trailers' focus on moments of slapstick, some of which didn't even make it into the final cut, is probably just an attempt to get men (especially that coveted 18-35 demographic) to buy tickets to a movie that is primarily about a woman's painful struggle to grow up and secondarily about the shifting terrain of old female friendships. Because while Bridesmaids does share some core DNA with bromances, particularly the ones directed, written or produced by Judd Apatow (who was also a producer of this film), it is ultimately a different—and more original—animal: Let's call it a homance.
Besides the gender of the main character, what distinguishes a homance from a bromance? Herewith, a primer. (Warning: Spoilers abound.)
The Hot Mess Heroine
One of the hallmarks of a bromance is that the guys get to have all the fun, and the women are maternal sourpusses. Knocked Up is the definitive example: At the beginning of that movie, the hero, Ben, is a perma-stoner who lives in happy squalor with a bunch of his buddies. The emphasis here is on happy. Contrast him with Debbie, the married sister of Ben's love interest, Allison. While Ben blithely smokes away his days, Debbie spends hers sniping at her husband and worrying about the number of child molesters in her Zip code.
As in the bromance, the homance's hero—make that heroine—is having trouble navigating adulthood (such difficulties are an Apatovian hallmark). When we meet her, her love life consists of an emotionally unsatisfying series of hookups with a hunky jerk named Ted (Jon Hamm), she lives with a couple of British weirdoes, and—her baking business having tanked—she works as a jewelry store clerk. She isn't anything like the dismally grown-up Debbie, but unlike Ben in Knocked Up, who is surrounded by a bunch of merry fools, Annie is miserable about how her life is stalled and is ultimately alone. She can't even enjoy a cupcake she painstakingly makes for herself—as Susan Dominus wrote in her recent New York Times Magazine profile of Wiig, taking a bite from that cake is an "act of self-destructive defeat rather than of indulgence."
The Fraught Friendships
And what of those merry fools? Ben's friendships are his respite from the real world; his buddies, with whom he stages American Gladiators-type games in the yard, are playmates. Or take The-40-Year Old Virgin, in which the guys spend their time bonding over video games and raucous nights out. In the homance, by contrast, friendship is far less soothing and considerably more complicated. When Annie's best friend, Lillian (a lovely Maya Rudolph) gets engaged, Annie miserably compares her lot with Lillian's. "Her life is going off and getting perfect, and mine is just …" she laments. Exacerbating the problem is Lillian's new pal, Helen (a brilliantly passive-aggressive Rose Byrne), who brazenly tries to supplant Annie as Lillian's BFF. Measuring herself against Rose—who is "more successful and richer and skinnier" than Annie—is what really sends Annie down the road to crazytown.
The One-Dimensional Dudes
Much has been made of the allegedly stereotypical female characters in Judd Apatow's bromances. When the Onion AV Club recently asked Bridesmaids director Paul Feig if Bridesmaids was an intentional corrective, Feig said the criticism of Apatow was unfair, in part because "those movies were about guys." Just as some of the female characters in bromances can be a little underwritten, the male characters in Bridesmaids are not quite fleshed out. Lillian's husband barely utters a word; Annie's second love interest—a kindly Irish cop—is not exactly Mr. Personality, though he's quite charming. Jon Hamm's character, Ted, provides comic relief, but he's a familiar Porsche-driving douchebag type.