Hollywood's newest bromance has all the sex, swearing, and scatological humor you've come to expect from producer Judd Apatow—only this time, it's the women doing the projectile vomiting. Jennie Yabroff asks whether audiences are ready to watch the fairer sex be as foul as men.
When Kate Middleton was being fitted for that now-famous Alexander McQueen wedding gown, you can be sure the scene was the epitome of taste and delicacy. A similar scene in the upcoming Bridesmaids plays a little differently. At first, all is going well, as bride-to-be Lillian ( Maya Rudolph) emerges in a fantasia of satin and tulle to the delighted gasps of her bridesmaids. Then the gasps turn into belches, dry heaves, and worse: One of the gals (Melissa McCarthy, in a movie-stealing role) makes an ungodly noise, then apologizes, admitting she's not sure which end it came out of. Lillian's maid of honor, Annie, ( Kristen Wiig), has just taken the group to lunch at a sketchy churrascaria, and it seems the meat has given them food poisoning. By the end of the scene, several bridesmaids have commandeered both the sink and toilet of the salon, while Lillian goes running down the street, dodging traffic and falling on her face before abandoning the search for a bathroom and squatting in the gutter with her dress billowing around her like a dying swan.
If you think this sounds like a scene from a gross-out bromance, you're right. But this time, it's the women who do the burping, farting, swearing, and projectile vomiting. Bridesmaids' producer, Judd Apatow, has repeatedly struck box-office gold with guys bonding over love and diarrhea—both Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin grossed more than $100 million domestically. But wedding-themed chick flicks tend to make half as much. ( Bride Wars grossed $58 million; The Wedding Date just $31 million.) Wisdom holds that while female audiences will accompany their boyfriends to potty-humored bromances, no man will pay money to see a woman and her best friend catfight over who gets to catch the bouquet. "It's hard to get female-based projects off the ground," admits the film's director, Paul Feig. "The minute we called this Bridesmaids, we said, clearly this is not going to be a destination movie for men." But the film actually has more in common with The Hangover 2 (opening two weeks later) than the Mandy Moore wedding vehicle Love, Marriage, Romance, opening next month. As Bridesmaids comes to theaters, the question is whether the same audiences who adore scatological behavior in men will find it similarly hilarious when enacted by a group of attractive women.
The idea for Bridesmaids came about in 2006, when Apatow asked Wiig, who he had worked with on Knocked Up, for screenplay ideas. The concept Wiig and her writing partner Annie Mumolo proposed was simple: What happens to a friendship when one woman gets engaged? "The process was very much a melding of soft and hard comedy," says Mumolo. "Some scenes were very subtle, which is what Kristen and I tend toward, and then there was the harder stuff where Judd was like, go for it." According to Apatow, the more degradations Wiig's character endured, the harder the audience would root for her. "There's an old comedy theory that if the bad guy beats up Harpo in the first 10 minutes, Harpo is allowed to do anything for the rest of the film," he says. "Humiliation is key." The opening scene was originally conceived as an awkward conversation between sadsack Annie and her smarmy casual-sex buddy (Jon Hamm). In the movie, the conversation takes place while Hamm and Wiig have athletic, gravity-defying, bone-crunching sex. "Kristen was like a rag doll that day," Mumolo recalls. "We had written a much more talky scene, and Judd said, let's come in with a bang. Literally." The scene ends with Hamm kicking Wiig out of bed, and Wiig doing a walk of shame for the ages.
The jaw-droppingly graphic dress shop food-poisoning scene underwent similar retooling. According to Mumolo, originally Annie fell into a perfume ad-style fantasy while trying on her bridesmaid's dress, complete with a horse and castle. But Apatow felt at that point in the script, Annie needed to screw up in a way that would jeopardize her friendship with bride Lillian (Maya Rudolph). Hence, instead of a castle, we see Lillian taking a huge pratfall in the middle of a busy intersection as she searches vainly for a toilet. (The scene was so physically demanding and dangerous that Rudolph required Angelina Jolie's stunt double.)
“It was disgusting,” says Rudolph of her soon-to-be-infamous scene. “I’m not a poop snob, but there’s a part of me that thought, ‘Oh God.’ ”
"The script description was that it was like my body convulses as if I was shot by a bullet, except a poop bullet," says Rudolph. "It was disgusting. I'm not a poop snob, but there's a part of me that thought, oh God. There was definitely a feeling of, do we really have to do this?"
For Feig and Apatow, the answer was yes. "In the dress shop scene, it's not just about girls getting food poisoning," say Feig. "The reason you're invested is because Annie has really screwed up, and Annie will not admit that she's screwed up." That said, he knows the scene is a risk for both the movie and the actresses involved. "The actresses were such troupers," he says. "I don't think I ever felt worse than when I had poor Wendy (McClendon-Covey, who plays one of the bridesmaids) covered in vomit, her head in the toilet, and I'm yelling at her lines to yell at Melissa (McCarthy). There were moments I was like, what am I doing to this poor girl?"
To make sure they kept the film on the audience-friendly side of the funny/disgusting line, Apatow and Feig tested the film extensively with audiences. "I always say, let's shoot it and see what people think afterward," says Apatow, whose budget for the Universal film was $30 million. "The day before we shot the dress-shop scene, we had a conversation about what material we had that would allow us to remove the scene if it felt wrong. But audiences were so happy that the movie took comedic risks and was aggressive." Despite scenes like the dress-shop debacle, the movie also has quiet, relationship-driven scenes where Annie and Lillian struggle to salvage their friendship.
If Bridesmaids does crossover to male audiences, part of its success will be due to Melissa McCarthy as the blunt, libidinous, completely un-self-aware bridesmaid Megan. For the role, the actress had the makeup department give her rosacea and redden the area around her nose, and donned a ratty wig and golfer's cap. McCarthy played Sookie on Gilmore Girls and Molly in the sitcom Mike and Molly, but is utterly unrecognizable in Bridesmaids. Still, she admits some of the more graphic scenes in the script gave her pause. "Leading up to the dress-shop scene, I was like, what am I about to put on film that will never ever go away again?" she recalls. "If this works perfectly, terrific. If not, it will haunt me until my dying day."
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Kristen Wiig's first name and wrongly identified which studio made the movie.
Jennie Yabroff is a staff writer at Newsweek covering books, movies, food, and art.