Bridesmaids and the Elements of Comic Stories

by Alyssa Rodriguez

The most successful comedies follow a formula known as THREES. These 6 essential ingredients for humor include a Target, Hostility, Realism, Exaggeration, Emotion, and Surprise. Paul Feig’s 2011 romantic comedy Bridesmaids successfully utilizes each element, making it one of the most popular films of the year and earning 2 Oscar nods. 

Humor is usually directed at a specific target(s), whether that be a person, group of people, or concept. Our targets in Bridesmaids are both our protagonist Annie and our perceived antagonist Helen. Annie is a single, down-on-her-luck failed bakery owner who takes on the huge role of being the maid of honor at her best friend Lillian’s wedding. Along the way, we watch her battle against Lillian’s new, more cultured, rich, and beautiful friend Helen in order to win Lillian’s affection. We are able to laugh at Annie and all of her failures, misadventures, and her struggles to maintain relationships and get by in life. At the same time, Helen becomes a target too as we hope that she loses in this petty battle against Annie. The film also targets the concept of marriage – how horrible and regretful it can be, how ridiculous it is to romanticize weddings and bridal parties, and the irony in how Annie herself is targeted by characters in the film for being over 30 and single while most of those same women are extremely unhappy in their own marriages.

Comedy is a great relief to the hostility we feel in our daily lives and so successful comedies often hone in on this fact and, like Bridesmaids, target sources such as relationships and sex, marriage, friendship, and work/bosses. With a main character as cynical and seemingly unlucky as Annie, there is a multitude of subjects of hostility and therefore humor to focus on. In the very first scene of the film, we get a sense of hostility towards sex and casual relationships as we see Annie clearly not enjoying the sex she is having with the self-absorbed Ted who wishes that she’ll leave his apartment the moment they are done. The next day, she and Lillian discuss how bad she feels about herself after she sees him. Throughout the rest of the film, every encounter between her and Ted, who represents every noncommittal womanizing man out there, is hilariously painful to watch as Annie develops more and more disdain for Ted and for herself for continuing to see him. Though Annie desires more than a no-strings-attached relationship with Ted at first, she has a clear bitterness towards love and relationships. In a scene in the jewelry shop where Annie works, an Asian couple comes in looking for an engagement ring. Discouraged by the couple’s enthusiasm, Annie goes on a rant about the dangers of dating saying “You love each other, don’t you? That’s sweet…That’ll go away. You cannot trust anybody. Ever. Especially someone you’re in a relationship with. They’re living with ya but you have no idea who you’re sleeping next to. It is scary. I mean look at him, he may not even be Asian.” This hilarious but completely inappropriate tangent runs the couple right out of the store and she gets scolded by her boss (there is hostility here as well) who yells “You’re selling lifelong happiness here, you’re not telling everybody about your problems and how your boyfriend left you,” and then goes on to ask her to be more like her younger, prettier coworker. And of course, there is Annie’s hostility towards Helen, her friendship with Lillian, and Helen’s friendship with Lillian, which is essentially the premise of the film. Annie is clearly upset when she finds out that Lilly is engaged not only because she realizes what it means for their friendship but because as a single, unsuccessful woman whose main source of happiness comes from their friendship, she feels bitter and jealous that Lilly is moving on to such a big, new phase of her life. Not only does she have to compete with Lilly’s new husband for her time and affection, but she now has to worry about the gorgeous, rich, and very passive aggressive Helen who tries to undermine Annie at every turn. Lastly, there is great hostility towards kids and marriage. As previously mentioned, most of the married characters express disdain towards their husbands and kids, showing near disgust towards their family lives, particularly Rita who warns people against getting married and having kids because they are sticky savages. 

Though we are immersed in the fantasy of the film, there is still a bitter truth to what we are watching and elements of reality present with which the audience can associate. For instance, the reality of the difficulties of moving forward in life especially when the people you love start to move forward without you. Annie has to accept that she and Lillian are on different paths and that Lillian is taking a huge next step in her life while Annie is still struggling to pay her bills, find love, and get her own life together. This painful realization along with the stress of planning Lillian’s wedding alongside the overbearing Helen creates immense pressure and anxiety for Annie.Bridesmaidsalso touches on the harsh realities of unhappy, loveless marriages, the hardships of casual dating, and the way we sometimes self-sabotage ourselves by actively being with toxic, undeserving people while also being unwilling to open up to the right person. The latter is evident as Annie continuously sees Ted who treats her poorly and sees her as nothing more than a sexual object while the friendly Officer Nathan Rhodes genuinely wants to spend time with her and help her get back on her feet because he believes in her. Nathan encourages Annie to open a new bakery and after a romantic night together he surprises her with baking supplies in hopes that it’ll drive her to pursue baking again. However, Annie refuses his help, tells Nathan to stop trying to fix her, and storms out. Although she knows Nathan is a genuinely good guy for her, she felt too emotional and overwhelmed his gesture so she thought it best to run which people often do when they see things starting to get too serious.

But a comedy can’t be too real. Sometimes the realistic elements need to be exaggerated. The stress, anxiety, and hostility Annie feels are hilariously exaggerated more and more during each bridal party event. During the infamous plane scene, we see Annie begin to spiral. Headed to Lillian’s bachelorette party in Las Vegas, Annie is incredibly nervous to fly and extremely irritable at Helen’s endless attempts to one-up her, especially because at this point she is forced to sit next to a crazy woman in coach while the rest of the group is up in first class. To calm her nerves, Helen gives Annie pills and scotch which causes her to drunkenly make her way back up to first class, scream that she’s ready to party, tease and mock Hellen, and harass a flight attendant when he orders her to go back to her seat. When she gets backs to her seat she thinks she sees a colonial woman churning butter on the wing of the plane and starts screaming on the intercom “There’s something they’re not telling us!” which leads the crazy women next to her to yell “We’re going down!” Chaos erupts sending the passengers into a panic, leading the Air Marshal to pull out his gun to investigate and Annie to get tackled to the ground, kicked off the plane along with the entire bridal party and arrested. Later at Lillian’s bridal shower, when Annie sees that Hellen got Lilly a trip to Paris, Annie reaches her absolute breaking point. In a totally exaggerated panic, Annie tears apart decorations, knocks over tables of food, throws grass in the giant chocolate fountain and screams at Lilly about how over the top her party is, calling out the ridiculousness of getting so wrapped up in cliche, fancy weddings. All the party guests were aghast and Lilly uninivites Annie to her wedding.

The emotion in a comedy can build anticipation in the audience as they wait for the hostility to grow so intense that a breaking point or climax is reached. The tension between Annie and Helen which ultimately leads to the fallout of Annie and Lillian’s friendship begins from the moment they meet. At Lillian’s lavish engagement party which Helen organized, Annie and Helen fight over the microphone and compete to see who can give the best, most sentimental speech. Later on, the two physically battle it out in an aggressive tennis match, they argue over the best bridal party themes, and Helen tries to belittle and one-up Annie every chance she gets. Throughout the entire film, Annie and Helen vie for Lilly’s attention and affection, competing to prove who is the better women, the better friend and to prove whether the past (Annie) means more than what the future holds (Hellen). The tension created between the two ultimately leads up to the climax of the film when Annie blows up and wrecks Lillian’s bridal party. 

Finally, a surprise is one of the primary reasons we laugh. Seeing Annie lose her mind and destroy the bridal party like a maniac was incredibly surprising. But in another infamous scene, the bridal party gets food poisoning from a sketchy Brazilian restaurant and the girls get violently ill while they are trying on expensive dresses. Megan starts burping and gagging and has to run to the bathroom. Rita starts vomiting in the toilet, Becca vomits on Rita’s head and Megan has to relieve her explosive diarrhea in the sink. Lillian, sporting an expensive French wedding gown, tries to run to a bathroom across the street but doesn’t make it and defecates in the gown right in the middle of the street. Very shocking. Nobody saw that coming.

Bridesmaids is an extremely effective comedy which has the six essential elements to a successful comic story. The targets and sources of hostility are clear, there are elements of realism which at times are hysterically exaggerated, we see the emotion that builds anticipation for the climax, and there are undoubtedly a couple of hilarious surprises. The combination of these elements makes for a very effective and memorable comedy.

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