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Andrea Mann

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Sisters Are Doing It Themselves

Posted: 12/07/11 10:44

I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the line in Hollywood, romantic comedies became 'chick flicks'. No doubt some film historian can tell me exactly when this happened; but in that film historian's absence, I'll wager this: that it was around the same time that romcoms started to lose their "com". The women - and indeed pretty much everyone else in them - ceased to be given funny lines; and instead, the funniest writers and performers in Hollywood concentrated on creating out-and-out comedy films. And by 'out-and-out' comedy films, I mean: comedies not targeted at female audiences. Or as they're also known in Hollywood: comedies.

I'm also not sure exactly when it happened in the film Bridesmaids, but at some moment during its charming 125 minutes, I was suddenly struck, not - as modern Uncom Romcoms would have you think - by the urge to get married, but by the fact that I was watching a major Hollywood movie in which all the protagonists were women. Yes. I was watching a film about Stuff happening to People - and these people just happened to be women.

The joy of Bridesmaids isn't just that it's a well-written, funny and brilliantly performed comedy film. The joy isn't even that this well-written, funny and brilliantly performed comedy film is producer Judd Apatow's most successful movie to date. It's that, as a woman - and as a woman working in the male-dominated industry of comedy writing (although I realise, typing that phrase, that probably most women work in "male-dominated industries") - it breaks a glass ceiling, and does so to spectacular effect.

How? Firstly, by being written by two women - Annie Mumolo and the film's star, Kristen Wiig - who have absolutely remained true to their voice and what they find funny (even the scatological scene, suggested by Apatow, is handled perfectly - for how else would women react to having diarrhoea in a public place than by being mortifyingly embarrassed by it?). Secondly, by having a script that centres on friendships rather than romantic relationships - the subplot involving Chris O'Dowd being just that: a subplot - and in doing so, changing the slant of 99% of 'women's' movies and making a film that is satisfying for both men and women.

(That said, of course, the greatest romantic comedies - in the days before they were synonymous with I'd-rather-tear-my-eyes-out-than-be-dragged-to-this-chick flicks - have always appealed to both men and women: eg. His Girl Friday, When Harry Met Sally, Four Weddings And A Funeral and all of Woody Allen's Earlier, Funnier Films).

As a result, Bridesmaids is neither a clichéd 'chick flick' nor an out-and-out romantic comedy but - gasp! - a comedy film. You know, one of those things that men watch. And director Paul Feig is the first to attribute its success to the script, telling one interviewer recently: "The takeaway [of Bridesmaids' success] needs to be - because of Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo's great script - the story."

Not long after seeing Bridesmaids at the cinema (and there is a deeper connection than this: bear with me), I was watching Beyoncé perform at Glastonbury. Or at least watching her perform at Glastonbury through the power of my laptop, the BBC iPlayer and the dark art known as "the Internet". Don't ask me how it works. Suffice it to say: the Glastonbury experience was well and truly brought to my living room. Or at least, it was when my boyfriend poured a bucket of water over my head and threw a plastic bottle at my laptop screen.

Actually, no he didn't. Because he was, like me, totally captivated. Yes - I'm very sure at which point I was watching Beyoncé perform at Glastonbury and was suddenly struck by how very good she was. It was at the beginning, the middle and the end.

And not just because Beyoncé Knowles is a one-woman powerhouse of extraordinary vocal talent, fantastic dance moves and sheer, utter joy at realising she's entertaining thousands of people. But because Beyoncé Knowles has an all-female band. That's right. I was watching a bunch of musicians on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury - and these people just happened to be women.

While we're very used to having our female pop performers sing to us, we're far from used to seeing them do a blistering sax/drums/keyboards/guitar/bass/yougettheidea solo. So not only is Beyoncé the first woman to headline the Pyramid Stage in over 20 years - a fact as refreshing as it is utterly depressing - but even more refreshingly, and not all depressingly, she's chosen to surround herself with accomplished female instrumentalists.

For someone who grew up during the era when the only two women who ever seemed to get nominated for Best Female Act at the Brit Awards were Dido and Annie Lennox (even in the years when they never seemed to release records - that's how few women there were to choose from), Beyoncé, her band and the recent surge of female frontwomen who also compose and play instruments couldn't come too soon.

Sure, the teenage girls of Britain may look up to The Saturdays - the world of pop was ever thus - but now they also have the likes of Lady Gaga, Adele, Laura Marling, Ladyhawke, Anna Calvi, Bat For Lashes, La Roux, Amy Winehouse, Paloma Faith, Nerina Pallot, Esperanza Spalding, Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux, Feist, Melody Gardot - sorry, have you fallen asleep yet? - and a whole host of other talented female artists who, like the writers and stars of Bridesmaids, have achieved success not just because of their talent, but because they believe in those talents and have been determined to succeed on their terms. So if Beyoncé wants to prance around in hotpants while she's singing, then I for one couldn't give a stuff, because I think she's more than earned the right to do so.

For me, this determination to succeed on one's own terms is the biggest takeaway of the commercial and critical success of both Bridesmaids' and Beyoncé. Their triumphs don't just inspire women in the entertainment industry but can also inspire every woman, no matter what her dream or passion: because they both prove that it's not only possible to achieve success by Doing Your Thing, but that it's absolutely integral to it. Your point of view, by definition, can only be yours.

So what we women need to learn is that our points of view, our voices, are absolutely as valid as anyone else's - and we shouldn't be afraid to express them as boldly as any man. As the marvellous Tina Fey instructs women in her memoir, Bossypants: "Do your thing and don't care if they like it... Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way."

In short: it's up to us, ladies, to be the change. To trust in our own talents; to empower ourselves and each other; to believe that we are as entitled to the role of writer/performer/rocket scientist as any man. If we do, hopefully one day we'll reach a point where it's no longer refreshing - nay, staggering - to see a film in which all the protagonists are female or a rock instrumentalist with two X chromosomes, because we'll simply be watching talented people doing what they do best.

Or as Paul Feig puts it: "I hope the outcome of this [Bridesmaids' success] is for people to make the funniest, most emotionally moving comedies they can - and it doesn't matter if men or women are starring in them."

 

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