After an opening sequence introducing its protagonist, Annie, in what we presume to be the latest in a series of humiliating moments in her life, Bridesmaids kick starts with Blondie’s “Rip Her to Shreds.” Privately, I groaned when I first heard the song choice. Its lyrics seemed to be a little on-the-nose in terms of characterization (with lines like “Oh, you know her/Would ya look at that hair … Check out those shoes … she’s so dull” that speak to Annie’s dire existence). Moreover, it was the same opening soundtrack pick from the last comedy about jealous, catty women written by a female cast member from SNL, Mean Girls, written and featuring Tina Fey. Yeah, you know her.
I wondered to myself, sitting there in the very front row of a movie theater last May, how could star and co-writer Kristin Wiig have been so unoriginal? Was it a prerogative of hers to purposefully lend even further comparison to her SNL counterpart Fey’s film also about the machinations of being a young woman in 21st-century America?
Skimming Facebook (as I do now and again), it occurs to me that today’s millennials share more in common culturally than of us would probably like to admit. Furthermore, female millennials have more feminist icons to look up to than any generation of women ever in the history of the world. From Thatcher to Hillary, Beyonce to the trending “Girls” (lest we forget “Sex in the City” or, hmm, Gloria Steinem), there’s a lot to be proud of ... and even more to Tweet about.
Right at the center of this are the films Mean Girls and Bridesmaids, cultural touchstones for today’s young ladies and spiritual cousins. They capture the zeitgeist for a generation of young American women in a way few films have had the ability to do. Ever.
So, at the risk of talking about ‘zeitgeist’ anymore (does embellishment fuel our purpose in writing? I digress…), I decided to go straight to the source, providing my thesis to a few female friends of mine. My thinking went, there is a cluster of girls who were in high school when Mean Girls first came out in 2004, and now, having graduated and started lives … only to discuss that sometimes friendships dissolve and real life intervenes as time goes on, the same issues at the heart of Bridesmaids. I wanted their take on the meaning of these two films, and what allows them to transcend a sometimes weak genre of cliché and gender pandering. Here are their responses, all [sic]:
I saw Mean Girls in theatres and liked it a lot, but I don't remember who with or anything. I got the movie for Christmas that year and watched it like 7 times in one week. I don't know tht I thought too intently about why the show resonated with me at the time but I imagine it's because the movie (in addition to being clever and funny) has a balanced and somewhat sympathetic view of the cattiness and other absurdities of teenage girl interactions. It's easy to identify with traits of several of the characters but the tone of the movie—satirical but with room for grace—allows one to reflect with forgiveness, like ok we're all catty and selfish from time to time, but no one is TRULY vilified. Even Regina George, you see her ridiculous mom and little sister and it's clear there are reasons for her bitchiness. You see Cady's journey from being humble and down-to-earth as she gets sucked into first the plot to usurp Regina George as the queen bee to becoming perhaps the worst "plastic" herself, then through her moment of clarity and new start. I'm sure most girls can see pieces of themselves in every step of this journey but the movie is forgiving at every turn--we understand janice ian's hurt and outrage while (hopefully) recognizing it as not the best solution to her pain, we understand cady for going along with it as she is trying to find a place in her new world, and we understand how she gets in over her head a little bit.
I think Bridesmaids really is the same idea. You are able to recognize traits of each character in either yourself or people you know but without too much judgment. Both movies provide that scene of understanding where you learn why that ridiculous character was doing and saying ridiculous things, and perhaps allows us to understand further why people in our lives are the way they are. Cady and Annie are similar in getting caught up in their emotions and letting them dictate their actions--Cady with her ego boost at being part of the plastics, Annie with her jealousy that her life seemed to be unraveling while her best friend's was "getting perfect." I think the movie also touches well on both the seemingly unavoidable comparisons we make between our lives and our friends', and the futility and danger that can cause. Bridesmaids is a step above other wedding movies one because it's a lot funnier, and it's also more realistic. Something like Bride Wars is just absurd, for example, and it's hard to relate to because it would never happen. Those kinds of movies where people have unrealistic jobs, apartments, and lives, really, are a lot harder to relate to and as such you won't take as much away from them. Annie is a character we can all relate to, and her jealousy at Maya Rudolph's life and new best friend is a familiar script.
So I did some rambling, but to sum up, both are good and differentiate themselves from other films in how realistic the characters and conflicts are, as well as the resolutions. I think Tina Fey and Kristin Wiig being female comedians are going to naturally put out stories that are both satirical and feminist as they are still by and large working in a "man's profession." There are still SO many men who don't think women are funny, and that is probably a message they (subconsciously or not) have to battle. They are two women who are really unique in what they do AS women. I think as funny women they are able to write stories that mock the ridiculous situations women get themselves in, the petty jealousies, etc etc but can do it with a sense of grace so it's not just left as women are ______, but rather women can be _______ because of _______. Not to mention they always throw in ridiculous male characters (Mad Men guy, Tim Meadows character) to balance it out.
overall, i would say that both films play on inflated, but very true, female stereotypes. most women and girls are competing against something, whether that be pimples, hormones, friends, enemies, frienemies (all different), their own body, pop culture, wrinkles, Giselle, their mother, in-laws - you name it. but sometimes, the best battle plan is to just sit there and fucking laugh at it - and that's exactly what these films make us do.
I don't remember the first time I ever saw Mean Girls, but it has definitely stuck with me since then. It came out in 2004, which is when I would have been a junior in high school, thus the same "age" as the girls in the movie. My high school was rather large (almost 4000 kids!) so while the plot did not apply exactly, it truly captured the essence of how teenage girls behave, which is why I think it has resonated with me and most of my peers.
It is just so well written—yes there is a lot of humor, but that's what kind of takes away the reality of the issue. It makes us able to laugh at ourselves, our peers. I feel like if I had been experiencing a similar clique problem, this would have made me feel better about it. I kind of was experiencing a clique problem (though definitely not like the one portrayed in the movie) but I learned not to care too much. Maybe it was because of Tina Fey? Who knows.
Regardless, Mean Girls is one of my favorite movies of all time. It is incredibly quotable, and still resonates with me in my mid-20s. I just finished a 1-year masters program in another state, and the girls who I ended up becoming close with were huge fans of this movie too. In fact, I think that may have been what helped bond us together in the first place. We could all relate to it at some degree—it hit us all when we were in high school, and its not like the clique problem goes away once high school is over! The girls I became with at graduate school, the ones I mentioned before? There were 4 of us. Someone else jokingly nicknamed us the Plastics. Thank goodness it never stuck and only came up in jest, but that just goes to show how much Mean Girls has influenced our generation.
Now as for Bridesmaids...this movie came out as the Mean Girls generation was starting to hit their mid-20s, which I don't think is a complete accident. I actually avoided seeing this movie when it first came out because I was about to serve as maid of honor in my childhood best friend's wedding, and was experiencing something very similar to Kristin Wiig's character. When I finally did see the movie, I thought it was very funny, though a bit ridiculous at times. It made me thankful that my bridal party experience did not end up as disastrous as Annie's. I guess that is a similar theme between the two movies: though, as a woman, you may be experiencing these seemingly awful female-centric issues (high school cliques, competing bridesmaids, losing touch with friends, etc), it could be worse. You need to learn to laugh at yourself and not take these problems so seriously. After seeing Bridesmaids, I am more than satisfied with the way I handled my upstaging bridesmaid.
I think women love these movies people these issues are specific to them and relatively widespread. Women also take themselves way too seriously. Both Tina Fey and Kristin Wiig have used humor to deflect these situations, and have given women a way to laugh at themselves.
I first saw the movie in 2007, I believe. I had seen the trailers for it and recognized it was a widely known movie, but felt reluctance towards seeing it because honestly, it looked like a “Heathers” rip-off (a great dark, teenage angst comedy starring Winona Rider and Christian Slater). The movies are somewhat similar, both flaunting a focus on cliques and cruel classmates taking advantage of lesser socially ept students, with the inevitable uprising of the latter. But in spite of that, I did eventually see “Mean Girls”, after my much younger niece insisted on it, having received it as a gift. It was light-hearted enough, something interesting to watch, with surprising substance considering its somewhat superficial subject matter: high school bullshit. Looking back, as a woman in her mid 20s now, I realize it was applicable to some degree; everything they touched on in the movie was essentially true of high school; the cliques, the pointless arguments with friends and family alike, trying rise up on the social ladder, acting dumb for boys to come rescue us women, being stupid because of hormones. That was how it was in high school, period. But I did find the high school dynamic to be a little exaggerated, in that, the cliques were overtly stereotyped with too clear of distinctions between what is a jock, a “plastic”, a nerd, etc. This was not the case at my high school, and my experience is the only of which I can speak. I went to a private school and yes, while there were definitions for those types of people which were applied appropriately (i.e. the quiet girl who read a lot and kept to herself was a “nerd”, the meathead athlete was a “jock”), I found that we were all essentially friendly with each other and many people moved between cliques with ease. There were no clear boundaries of who was allowed in what group and we all respected and enjoyed one another to a point. There was never really anything worse that gossip; no mean tricks, no replacing low-fat milkshakes with high-fat ones, nothing so vindictive, other than terrible rumors about being a slut, haha. Aside from that, it was actually a great experience and though I found the comparison of high school to a jungle full of animals was humorous and perhaps accurate, I just don’t think that “Mean Girls” really gives the experience justice.
Some might say that high schoolers may be effected by this kind of media input; perhaps that they’ll mimic what they see and think that this is how it’s supposed to be. This isn’t exactly a concern of mine. Although I do think that girls today seem more assuaged by media influence, anyone can see once they are in the situation that it is not really like that and react accordingly. Or maybe it is like that for some people. Either way, I think high school is what you make it and enjoying one’s time in high school is of great importance because it is, for some reason, the only time in just about everyone’s life that is most revered and remembered as an almost holy experience .
we all agreed that Mean Girls was more impactful for our generation. Its a movie that you can quote, and most people our age will immediately know what you are quoting. I don't remember exactly when I first saw Mean Girls, but I remember thinking that it was going to be a movie that I would see over and over again. I think Tina Fey struck a good balance of satirizing female socialization in a way that was funny and an accurate exaggeration (in most cases) of how women sometime relate to each other. For whatever reason, women-- especially in adolescence--see each other as competition. The scene where Regina and her girls are picking apart their appearances, and Cady says, "I used to think there was only fat or skinny, but apparently there are lots of things that can be wrong with your body." This resonated with me because there are two truths here. The first is that woman are socialized to strive for a beauty ideal that is unachievable. Thus we are constantly picking our appearance apart and comparing it with our friends, family members, celebrities, models etc. The second truth in this scene is the odd socialization ritual in which each woman voices her imperfections in what is both an act of camaraderie and also a kind of competition. If Cady did not say anything, she would be considered a bitch. The end of Mean Girls is Tina Fey's real message, her character even says it. Basically why can't we stop viewing each other as competition or as threats, and just appreciate one another and what each person has to offer. I'd like to think girls who have seen Mean Girls will take that message to heart, but who knows.
I saw Bridesmaids in theaters, and I immediately called one of my best friends because Kristin Wiigs character's relationship with Maya Rudolph was eerily similar to our relationship. I liked that portrayal of female friendship prior to Maya and Kristin's crazy bride induced bitchiness. Like Mean Girls, Bridesmaids highlights the competition between women. The scene were Kristin Wiig and Rose Byrne are trying to out toast each other was an exaggerated and very painful example of that. Each bridesmaid represented a stereotype: the work friend, the childhood friend, the new friend, the groom's sister, and the cousin. Bridesmaids also mocked the bridal industry in a truthful manner. Everyone thinks their wedding-- and every event leading up to it--needs to be this magical and beautiful and special thing. Each bridal shower or bachelorette party has to be epic and better than the last person's. The bridal industry keeps telling brides that is all about them, and the best day of their life and they should feel extra super special and with that comes paying extra special prices. My friend once had a bride ask her to fly to Vegas for her bachelorette party, and she wasn't even in the wedding party. I was in a wedding in which the bride wanted me to buy $85 shoes that I certainly would only wear once. Any who the movie was spot on about the ridiculousness of the wedding industry. However there were moments in Bridesmaids that I thought went for cheap laughs whereas I didn't find that in Mean Girls.