In writing about Revenge of the Bridesmaids yesterday I enumerated some of the ways the broader genre of female buddy pictures might keep their stories simple (and very, very pink), but still manage to show women who love each other and say funny things during funny situations. “When we can say that no feminists were harmed in the viewing of this film — well, sometimes that has to be enough,” I concluded about a film I truly liked.

Sadly, this is not always the case. Today, the darker side of very pink female buddy pictures.

romy_and_michelles_high_school_reunion000127The thing about buying into the genre of female buddy pictures is they also may ask you to buy into another set of ideas about what it takes for women to be friends. Let me enumerate:

  • The women are gorgeous, and one might be even a little bit more gorgeous than the other one (or so we are taught to perceive).
  • Dieting and body size are far more crucial to the narrative than I can bear (i.e., one of our heroines used to be fat).
  • They are not rich or successful, and are somewhat insecure about their overall failures; but as the story unfolds they are handed incredible opportunities for success on a platter.
  • In fact, their shared insecurity forms one of the important aspects of their love for each other.
  • They are not incredibly bright, so that we can have wacky adventures with them springing from their ditziness.
  • They are united in their hatred of The Mean Girl(s) who torments them and inevitably becomes central to the story; The Mean Girl(s) is portrayed as a natural part of the landscape, whereas we are to understand that good female buddies are a rare and wonderful thing.

romy-and-michelle-2Perhaps as you read the above you think, “That’s exactly why I hate these goddamn female buddy pictures! The only possible feminism there consists of their friendship for one another, and just look at how contingent that is—contingent on their gorgeousness, dieting, insecurity, shared poverty, and nuttiness!”

With that laid out, shall we discuss Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion?

To start, let’s be clear: Lisa Kudrow is a comic genius, even if here she mostly reprises her role on the otherwise execrable show Friends. As the bubbly Michele, she’s unemployed but ever since high school has thrown her very best talents into designing and sewing up the fantastic going-out wardrobe she shares with Romy (Mira Sorvino) in their teensy little seaside LA apartment, where they’ve lived for ten years—ever since graduating from high school. The slightly-less dopey Romy works as a cashier for the service department of a Jaguar dealership by day so they can go out dancing every night. In short, their lives are awesome.

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But when they hear about the imminent ten-year reunion for their high school back in Tucson and the two women sit down and go through their yearbook (flashback!) and imagine attending, Romy arrives at a single, disturbing conclusion: their lives are not nearly as awesome once you start looking at them through other people’s eyes. She gazes vaguely into the distance, gets a determined look on her face, and pronounces that they will spend the next two weeks losing weight, scoring boyfriends, and finding a job for Michele.

It might take an extraordinarily long time for them to realize the futility of their plans – these are not smart women – but they ultimately land on a new plan: they will pretend to be successful businesswomen and impress the hell out of all the people who tormented them in high school for being weird and not terribly bright. The flashback assists in showing them at the senior prom, sans dates, dressed (awesomely, below) as two different incarnations of Madonna, mocked by evil A-list meanies.

romy-micheles-high-school-reunion--large-msg-127370656333Now: do I have a problem with our heroines looking like Madonna? Hellz to the no. Nor do I take issue with the “let’s prove the meanies wrong about us!” impulse. But ugh, the stupidity … and the dieting.

Romy and Michele has plenty of virtues, and they don’t end with the clothes. The ultimate message here — about what a neat-o bond the two women have always had — is lovely, even if the film portrays that friendship as exceptional in the world of women. Nor do I object to Mira Sorvino’s stilted, oddly deep voice for the role, which I found sort of adorable. Also: Janeane Garofalo, who lifts up even the crappiest of material (and she got a lot of crappy material there for a while) even when she’s limited to playing the kohl-eyed, chain-smoking naysayer … again.

Janeane Garofalo_RomyMichelle 02Is it just me, or do other people also get happy every time they see Garofalo onscreen, no matter the material?

I also feel as if I could have forgiven the film if it hadn’t cooked up a phony conflict between Romy and Michele in the middle — a conflict springing directly out of their invented story about themselves. With this single plot device, the film brings up every one of the worst aspects of female buddy pictures: who’s smarter? who’s prettier? who’s less of a loser? who’s going to wind up with money? who’s going to be the winner in the battle for the one slightly worthy guy?

Not to mention that the film asks us to buy the concept that two women who look like this might have been losers in high school, even if one of them wore a scoliosis brace and the other hadn’t yet dyed her hair blonde.

tumblr_lgh4t5km7A1qgo5zmThus, even though the film ultimately confirms the enduring value of their friendship, it does so by reminding us of their shared ditziness/insecurity/need to unite against Mean Girl(s). It hands them a happy ending on a plate — via the largess of a rich guy. We walk away laughing, again, at how bad they are at math.

So yeah. Was my feminism harmed in the viewing of this film? Yes. Yes, it was.

But do I have a pathway out of this morass? Natch! Stay tuned for a feminism-confirming adventure into the world of girls’ boarding schools in 1963 with the film All I Wanna Do (1998), also released under the separate titles Strike! and The Hairy Bird. Even better, a copy of this one has been uploaded to YouTube — not great quality, and it’s segmented, but you watch all 97 minutes in the comfort of your own laptop. Keep up your strength, my feminist friends.

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The fact is that if a film starts with an image that looks like this, I’m probably going to like it. Even if the film originated on the ABC Family channel (I’m trying to repress the channel’s Pat Robertson connection).

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This is Abigail (Raven-Symoné), who shares a New York apartment with her lifelong best friend Parker (Joanna Garcia). They’re trying to make it — Abigail as a novelist, Parker as an actor. But as she poses for her police booking photo, Abigail tells us in voiceover:

Something you should know about me: I have a little problem with authority. In second grade I told our music teacher, Mrs. Quarantine, that if she wanted us to sing like birds, she should get some freakin’ birds.

Parker: I laughed so hard I peed.

They’re not the nice kinds of bridesmaids. “We’re more like the avenging angels who’re gonna give you what you have coming to you kinds of bridesmaids,” Parker explains. You see? This, from the Pat Robertson channel? I loved it.

7b5dcc7bThat’s the thing about Revenge of the Bridesmaids — it bucks up against virtually every taboo you might expect from a wholesome network like ABC Family (and yes, it’s streaming on Netflix). Young people have sex. They drink. They move away from their provincial, oppressive small hometown in Louisiana to go to New York, where they try improbable careers like actor and writer, even if they aren’t incredibly good at those careers.

While on a short trip back home, Parker and Abigail discover that their other great friend has had the love of her life stolen out from under her by the rich Mean Girl, Caitlyn (Virginia Williams), who literally lives in one of those creepy antebellum plantation manors. Naturally they plot revenge. Naturally we root for them, even though we know somehow they’re going to wind up at the police station getting booked.

14242.imgcacheTheir idea of revenge … well, let’s just say it’s convoluted enough that it involves

  • a plotline from An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
  • Parker developing a possible love interest with the local cop (handy, that)
  • Caitlyn’s evil-bitch mother, who is a lot smarter than her daughter, and demands that Abigail go on a diet
  • a chipper-shredder

Perhaps this is the moment to warn you of a few things. If you read the title Revenge of the Bridesmaids and thought, whew, that sounds like a lot of pink buttercream frosting, you have nailed it. No new feminist ground is forged here; maybe it’s best described as apt for fans of Drew Barrymore rom-coms. You will not finish this film and feel liberated, enlightened, or particularly intelligent. All I can say is that I watched the entire thing and enjoyed practically every minute, while my partner — whose appetite for rom-coms is usually far greater than mine — walked out. Too much frosting.

600full-revenge-of-the-bridesmaids-screenshotSo yeah, I’ve taken a perhaps overly rosy view of a film that would probably only score about 3 stars out of 5. But that’s the thing, you see. How often do I get to see a film in which two women get to love each other like this? Sure, their love for each other also gets framed by their shared hatred for Evil Caitlyn, but who doesn’t have an Evil Caitlyn in her life somewhere? Is it so wrong that us feminists want to have a little pink buttercream every now and then?

That’s the thing about female buddy pictures: they represent the sugary crumbs that women get in a world in which male buddy pictures outnumber female ones about 100 to 1.

hqdefaultJust as important, this show also reveals a few broader themes common to the female buddy picture genre.

  1. They point out how often women have to survive on high-sugar content films like this in order to see women who love each other and do things together — in short, films that pass the Bechdel Test.
  2. Creators of such films KISS [keep it simple, stupid] by selecting super-girlie themes. As much as I liked the avenging-angel bridesmaids, I want to see more films without weddings in them.
  3. These films just love to drop in plenty of male love interests. After all, let’s not go too far with that whole Bechdel Test thing, you can hear them saying.
  4. Why is it always the skinny one who gets the boyfriend in the end?

MV5BMTY0ODMzODg0N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjg3MTU2Mw@@._V1._SX640_SY427_In retrospect I realize one of the things I loved about Orange is the New Black is how much it messed with genre tropes like this. Gone was the pink frosting; in its place was women’s prison. Women were just as close to one another, but some of them also leapt over the big heterosexual wall erected in fluff like Revenge of the Bridesmaids.

Yes, I’m saying that OITNB might be the best female buddy picture I’ve seen all year.

raven-symone-revenge-bridesmaids-17Lest you cease to trust my judgment about film, I think it’s best that I pair this rosy view of Revenge of the Bridesmaids with a snarky feminist view of a very similar film, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997), which I’ll discuss tomorrow. Stay tuned for a rant.

But I’m going to stick with my endorsement of Revenge. Films like this may pit good girls against bad, reward them with love interests, and shower everyone in frothy clothing and only slightly off-color language and situations. Only to have someone like me say, “Hey, that was a lot more off-color than one might expect from the Pat Robertson channel!” But they also show women going all-in to help one another. When we can say that no feminists were harmed in the viewing of this film — well, sometimes that has to be enough.

What’s not to love here? Subsisting on a steady diet of tea AND coffee myself, I can still see getting myself into this predicament.

I promise, once I swim back up to the top of my ocean of paperwork, I’ll finish my first post on Revenge of the Bridesmaids for my new Movie Marathon on Female Buddy Movies. I promise. Swimming as fast as I can ….

So Aldine came up with a great recommendation: that I start a mini-marathon of female buddy movies.

Beyond the classic Thelma and Louise (1991), it might be difficult to think of many of these — after all, we know from the Bechdel Test that the vast majority of films can’t be bothered to have two female characters with names who speak to each other, and who speak to each other about something other than men.

This is why the internet was invented: to offer a Wikipedia page called Female Buddy Pictures. So I’m going in search of some of the titles I’ve found there — including the weirdly intriguing Revenge of the Bridesmaids (2010), which is streaming on Netflix. (I hasten to note that the film description and photos online do not promise great things about this one, but I just like the fact that its two main stars are actually Black and Latina. Is that possible?)

DAVID CLAYTON ROGERS, RAVEN-SYMONE, JOANNA GARCIAAnyway, I might have to revisit the film optimis Thelma and Louise along the way, but in general I’m going to look for the overlooked — and imagine my perfect world, in which I run a movie theater that people actually come to, at which I get to hold my own movie marathons. Please join in!