Bride Wars—this year’s wedding-themed comedy starring Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson as two best friends turned arch nemeses when a scheduling error books both of their weddings for the same time and place—opened this past weekend, taking the number two spot at the box office. Full disclosure: I have no intention of seeing this movie. It doesn’t look very interesting and I find Hudson’s acting rather lifeless. But I was admittedly intrigued by the outrage expressed on various website comment boards during the week leading up to the movie’s release date. Stuff like, “This movie makes me ashamed to be a woman,” or “Any woman who sees this should have to hand in her feminist card,” as if such identification actually exists. The Friday reviews were no better, only fueling my fascination even further.
From USA Today: “On top of a noticeable lack of humor, it’s absurdly sexist and mired in retro stereotypes. It might as well proclaim up front that all young woman [sic] care about is landing their MRS.”
Reel Talk: “While it may be tempting to write off Bride Wars as harmlessly mediocre, this race to the altar also falters by trafficking in female stereotypes. It implies that women must be either driven professionals or passive school teachers, unattractive and bitter lonely hearts, or wanton sluts.”
Philadelphia Daily News: “Bride Wars is a retrograde comedy that makes women look like shallow, scheming, selfish creatures who worship consumerism and fret about their hips.”
Or my favorite from Flick Filosopher: “Guys, if you decide to let yourself get dragged to Bride Wars because you think it means you’re going to get lucky with the chick as a thank you and she likes this movie...run like hell from her. She’s poison and she’ll make your life a misery.”
Bride Wars doesn’t strike me as sexist so much as lame and unnecessary. There are countless television shows—Bridezillas, Platinum Weddings, basically anything on the WE or Oxygen networks—already devoted to real-life women whose materialism and attention-whoring turn into all-out lunacy when it comes time to plan their weddings. I think it’s rarer than the preponderance of such shows suggests, but the phenomenon does exist. So Bride Wars is really just satire, poorly done as it may be. And while I believe that there’s little veracity to the movie’s idea that a lifelong friendship could be beaten to within an inch of its life by dueling brides, such hyperbole isn’t really anything new in the comedy genre.
Indeed, the danger here is less the movie itself and more the discourse surrounding it. Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek says it best at the beginning of her review when she writes, “There’s no use getting worked up about Bride Wars.” But she later nullifies her early levelheadedness when, after describing a series of perhaps mildly amusing pranks the brides pull in an effort to sabotage one another, she states: “But their aggression toward each other isn’t their fault—they’re just women, after all, empty-headed creatures naturally prone to fantasies and vicious rivalries.”
Obviously, Zacharek doesn’t really believe this, but she asserts that Bride Wars, and presumably other movies of that ilk do, and I’m not sure the assertion is entirely warranted. I recall someone once describing Sex and the City, just as the show was headed into its third season, as the most deftly accurate portrayal of New York women one could ever see. My immediate thought was, “Really?” New York City has more than eight million people and these four characters are the most accurate reflection of its entire female population? They aren’t even deftly accurate portrayals of themselves—a freelance newspaper columnist living in Manhattan can afford closets full of $500 shoes and designer clothing? Yeah right. Similarly, Bride Wars appears to be an over-the-top depiction of the small subset of women it is meant to represent—those crazed, wedding-obsessed damsels of the aforementioned television shows. Why then should we regard it as truly aiming to say anything about women in general?
Though it’s pretty universally accepted that our perception of gender is largely socially constructed and thus often viewed through the prism of media, the outrage over Bride Wars leaves me worried that we might be affording Hollywood a bit too much power. Not every female character portrayed on the silver screen needs to be viewed as a representative of the gender as a whole. Not every action on the part of fictional women must be examined through the lens of “What does this say about the modern American woman?” It only gives further support to the already dismal fact that our understanding of human life and behavior is molded by Hollywood producers who are only out for financial gain. Some characters are ditzy. Some are bitchy. Some are absolutely insane. And so are some women, but others are not. Anyone who interacts with a multitude of women during his or her lifetime is going to come to that same conclusion and no number of silly films released in the dumping ground period between the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards is likely to make a person think otherwise.
As I said before, I don’t plan on seeing Bride Wars. But that's not because I’m the least bit worried that this movie is capable of setting feminism back 20-plus years. Not even the Bush administration could truly achieve such a thing; Bride Wars doesn’t have a fighting chance.