Bride Wars

Missing is the viewpoint that these women are severely mentally ill
★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2009
Director: 
Gary Winrick
Starring: 
Kate Hudson, Anne Hathaway, Chris Platt, Candice Bergen
The Setup: 
Two deeply disturbed broken shells of women turn against each other over their deranged wedding fantasies.
Discussion: 

My friend ended up watching He’s Just Not That Into You and this movie in the same weekend, leading to a discussion of how appalling they both were in terms of what they say about some women and their priorities right now. Both were largely seen as ostensibly being supportive and sympathetic to women while at the same time undermining them and showing them as horrible, petty, jealous vacuums of romantic fantasy who will turn on each other at the drop of a dime. I truly despise He’s Just Not That Into You, and his talking about this movie made me want to see it immediately so I could despise it, too!

So we begin with an extended montage about two best friends, Liv and Emma, who grew up inseparable and have both been utterly obsessed with weddings and marriage since young childhood. We see them making faux wedding albums and scrapbooks and planning and discussing their big day and how perfect it will be. We are told that they both saw a June wedding at the Plaza hotel and both became obsessed with having one for themselves. There is a hint of a lesbian subtext [which doesn’t go anywhere] as we see them dressing up and pretending to marry each other, one slipping a ring on the other’s finger, their pictures in a heart-shaped locket together, and one dressing in a wife-beater, putting her feet up in front of the TV and shouting “Where’s my beer, lard-ass?!” Just kidding about that last part. But the crucial thing, which we’ll beat to death later, is that the movie doesn’t take any distance on these characters, considering them dangerously obsessed and verging on demented, it plays their wedding obsession off as though it’s perfectly normal, and assumes that the audience, too, will completely sympathize with them. The tone is that EVERY woman is obsessed with having the “perfect” fairy-tale wedding.

So we now meet them as adults, Kate Hudson as Olivia, whose hair at times makes her resemble a manta ray, and who wears flouncy white blouses to meetings at her law firm, where she is the “best associate,” according to her boss. We almost never see her do any actual work, but the Cosmo-magazine fantasy this movie espouses demands that its heroines be fabulously successful. Emma, that’s Anne Hathaway, is a teacher, and we are to understand that she has always been a pushover, as we see when a particular teacher at school, Deb, forces her into taking over her work. They both have bland Ken-doll type boyfriends. Emma’s boyfriend, Fletcher, tells her he’d be happy spending the rest of his life with her just as she is, hanging out watching TV and feeling satisfied. We’ll come back to this.

Both women are living the Cosmo/Sex and the City dream, where they get to look fabulous and stride across the middle of the street with huge handbags, holding Starbucks cups and managing ringing cell phones. If you live in NYC you will know that there are SEVERAL real-life women doing their best to live this dream, or at least project this appearance. The only thing missing here are giant sunglasses and a vaguely annoyed, impatient look. One of their defining characteristics is seeming obliviousness to the fact that anyone could POSSIBLY find them anything less than fabulous. The point is: these movies have real-world consequences!

So the two friends are hanging out at Liv and Daniel’s [that Liv’s BF] fabulous apartment when they discover a Tiffany box. They both FREAK, assuming Daniel is going to propose, and Emma barely stops Liv from opening the box because “Daniel should see your face when you open it,” another mandate dictated by Cosmo that Liv agrees is in her best interests. That’s what friends are for—to keep us from ourselves. They call everyone to let them know Liv is engaged, and go out for drinks with all their required faboo girlfriends that night. Liv’s handsome brother shows up and says a snarky thing, which poots Liv out and she goes outside to pout. Okay, I suppose it’s nice that the film wants to add a gesture toward a character moment, but since this is the ONLY one and it turns out to have nothing to do with anything, one wonders why it’s here at all.

Then Emma is at home when Fletch gives her a fortune cookie—with an engagement ring in it! A topic greater than this review can handle is the requirement that the engagement come in the form of some adorable gimmick like this, preferably in public. We now have a montage of the various women Emma calls to announce her engagement—and you’ll have to remember that this film is supposed to be a comedy—one flails in her medicine cabinet for drugs upon hearing the news [I really don’t know what that’s about—maybe she herself is desperate to be married? Or she knows there will be sparks between Liv and Emma?], another has a freezer full of Haagen-Dazs. Another is married, and her husband is lying next to her, asleep. After hanging up, she says to his sleeping form: “You irritate me.” If we can digress for one second, this of one of the things that seems intrinsic to this viewpoint that has always baffled me: inextricably bundled in with the whole worship of the perfect guy and the perfect wedding is the expectation that you will start to hate your spouse the day you return from your honeymoon, and hate married life. Maybe so you can then divorce him and look for “the one?” The one who you thought the LAST one was? I don’t get it.

So Liv and Emma are jogging in Central Park and Emma is babbling about her impending marriage but it’s driving Liv insane because Daniel hasn’t actually proposed yet. So she runs off and right into his office [all sweaty in jogging clothes] and barges into his office and asks him to marry her. She says she found the ring, and has a horrible moment where she realizes it could just be a keychain or something [and I was SOOOO hoping it would end up being for someone else], but of course not, silly, it’s for her, and her barging in all sweaty and forcing the issue just makes Daniel love her all the more! So he does propose, and she leaps on him in delight—and there’s a group of people outside the glass office watching it all! Because if something happens and others didn’t witness how, like, SO TOTALLY AMAZING it was, it’s like it didn’t happen at all. I hope someone is live Tweeting this!

So they both get an appointment with Marion St. Clair, played by Candice Bergen, who we are told is Manhattan’s foremost wedding planner. Marion tells them their wedding is when their real lives will begin: “You have been dead until now,” she says. There are three spots at the Plaza in June, two on the same day and one later in the month. They quickly split them up. When Marion asks if they need to check the dates with their Fiancés, they both reply “No.” Then it’s time for a montage to a jaunty pop song about finding true happiness, as the women pick out things for their wedding, including dresses. Then they find out that Marion’s Hispanic assistant screwed up the bookings, and they’ve both been scheduled for the same date.

Let’s slow it down right here. This assistant is the only Hispanic woman I can recall in the movie, and the only person in the movie who is overweight. And she simply, flat-out, screws up the dates [and loses her job over it], with no reason or explanation given. She just screws them up because she’s an idiot. So in this case, it really comes off as racist. All that’s missing is one of the women saying “What do you expect from some fat, stupid Spic!” But the movie’s presentation basically says exactly that.

First there is a scene in which they try to get the bride scheduled for the other date to accept the other date, which she flat-out refuses to do, no reason given. The reason is, of course, that if she did, we’d have no movie. What follows is a ludicrous scene in which they hold gift registry scanner guns on each other like real guns and eventually devolve into a physical fight. And it just getting funnier! In here someone suggests to Emma that they just have a double wedding, and Emma declines, saying she’s shared everything with Liv her whole life and this should be just for her. And, again, if they simply agreed to a double wedding, we’d have no movie.

So they’re both separately obsessing. The grooms claim it’s difficult; Fletcher tells Daniel “It’s the wrong time to let you know she’s crazy.” Turns out Fletcher doesn’t like Liv anyway. He thinks she’s selfish. Anyway, both women have agreed not to set a date until one of them sacrifices her dream of a June wedding, but a misinterpretation leads Emma to think Liv has sent out invites, so she sends her own. This leads to a big nasty fight in front of all their friends during which they loose nasty insults on each other, calling each other fat, spineless, bitches, etc. These are the women who were best friends their whole lives up until now, by the way.

SPOILERS > > > So since they aren’t appearing at each other’s weddings, they each have to scrape for a bridesmaid, causing Emma to have to ask the leech teacher she hates. Liv forces her male assistant to drop all his work and be her bridesmaid, as well as devoting his entire work day to planning her wedding. This is one of those movies in which you can be the “best associate” at a high-powered New York law firm while devoting your entire work day to your personal life.

Anyway, now things escalate. Emma forces Fletcher to take dance lessons because their first dance at their wedding introduces their “couple style” to the world. Liv changes their dance instructor without their knowledge. Emma delivers a horrible picture of Liv to their hometown newspaper. Liv replaces the paint in Emma’s tanning booth so she turns bright orange. Emma crashes Liv’s bacherlorette party and out-dances her [you read that right, she out-dances her] and wins the title of “sexiest bride.” Emma switches Liv’s dye, so her hair turns blue, causing Liv to lose her job. But more importantly, her hair is falling out, causing her to ignore the fact that she has just lost her prized job, and say, right there in the boardroom in front of clients, “The bald bride! SO not ideal.” When they fire her, she says “Don’t worry, I’m going to get it dyed back.” Hey, while we’re on the topic, you’ll notice that the fact that Liv lost her job has no effect on the wedding or her psyche or the amount of money she has to spend. And are you wondering how Emma can afford to stage all these elaborate pranks on her teacher’s salary and how she can take all this time off work to do so? Well, that would make one of you, since the movie just elides over those questions.

Meanwhile, Liv is lying in bed right next to the man she’s about to marry and says “I don’t have anyone… I feel so alone.” But Daniel understands! Not so Fletcher. He tells Emma that she’s gotten too wrapped up in this wedding and is acting strange, and he “doesn’t even know who you are anymore.” Emma, who has continued making hysterical emotional deflections and has not listened to a word he says, then tells HIM that he’s not communicating. Me at home, I say a silent prayer of thanks that God didn’t make me heterosexual.

So precisely at the two-thirds mark [it’s amazing how structured these things can be] it’s time for us to head into the resolution, so the two brides start feeling sad about their situation and regret how their war has escalated. My favorite little moment, however, is when Emma is shown dealing with her blues by taking a bath in water strewn with about 50-100 lemon wedges. This is kind of funny when you consider that it means that Emma went to the store and bought 10-20 lemons [or has them on hand] and spent maybe an hour cutting them up in order to have her depressive lemon bath.

They are about to have their weddings, happening right across the hall from each other, and when Emma walks down the aisle she finds a video of herself dancing on a bar during spring break playing for all her guests. So naturally she flies into a rage and rushes across into Liv’s wedding, where she charges down the aisle and tackles the bride. I think this is supposed to be funny. They fight until they finally settle down and say “I can’t do this anymore!” and “I’m SO sorry!” and make-up. Awww. Then Emma goes to the back, where Fletch is waiting, and breaks up with him, because although he loves her, he loves the her that was ten years ago, when they met, and doesn’t respond to who she has become now. This is pretty much the first time we have heard this argument or seen any evidence to its effect, but… we’ll get back to this. Then Emma gives Liv away at her wedding, and we have a voice-over about how the one that sticks with you through everything may not be your spouse, but your best friend [of course, since the idea of divorcing your spouse is inextricably built in to the wedding ideal]. Then it’s a year later, and it turns out that, surprise, Emma married Liv’s brother, and they are married. Emma is now all glammed up and seems to care much more about fashion and appearances than she used to. As a final “joke,” we find out that they’re both pregnant and due on the same day.
< < < SPOILERS END

The main thing with this film is that it assumes audience sympathy with these characters and their values. Which I guess it should, since that is who the movie is made for. The thing is, to many and [I hope] most people, these women are living out some bizarre delusion based on marketing, and what ends up being strange about the movie is it shows no awareness of that.

Let’s take the case of Emma. She is a teacher and has a long-time boyfriend who is happy just to be with her. This is the first evidence that he is wrong: because he’s content to just be with her watching TV and doesn’t want to be with her at exclusive, glamorous events and clubs. The second way we know he’s Mr. Wrong is that he’s named Fletch and not Devon, Shane or Connor. But what’s presented as the main conflict in their relationship is what’s interesting: Emma becomes a vindictive person who loses sight of her values in pursuit of a vague, unattainable dream cocked up by women’s magazines and TV shows, and Fletch is the one person willing to stand up and tell her so. This, however, rather than making him Mr. Right, makes him Mr. WRONG, because by refusing to engage in her wedding psychosis, encourage her spiteful and petty behavior, and listen to her aimless neurotic ramblings, he is both refusing to be a useless doormat and denying who she is “becoming.” Because the point of view of the movie is that by coming to engage in pursuit of materialistic goals and vague, marketing-created ideals, Emma is BECOMING WHO SHE WAS MEANT TO BE. We can see this at the end, when she has fully transformed into a glam girl. We are not sure whether this is on her teacher’s salary, or whether she has given up on teaching as not exciting and glamorous enough. Or maybe she just receives a glamour stipend, as many characters in movies seem to get. The point is, by becoming much more interested in fashion and maintaining a more externally “glamorous” presentation (as defined by women’s magazines), she is being TRUE TO HERSELF and is no longer the wimpy, mousy person she was when she was less fashionable.

Liv doesn’t have as much of an arc, since she was a glamazon to begin with, and we have noted how she has a job in which she’s wildly successful [the “best associate”] despite never doing any work. Since Emma ends up having the wrong fiancé, it’s interesting to note what is so “right” about Liv’s fiancé. Specifically, he just blindly loves everything about Liv, regardless of how she’s acting, and never, ever criticizes her. He’s just blandly smiling and supportive, even when Liv says “I don’t have anyone… I’m so alone,” with him right there. Let’s not think too far into the future when suddenly Liv realizes that her husband just nods and smiles but actually isn’t listening to anything she says. But maybe that’ll help her move on to the next stage of the self-actualized woman: divorce.

As I was writing that last part, it occurred to me the point of the film is precisely that husbands don’t matter. One knows this because the film begins with a voice-over saying that both girls dreamed of growing up and finding the one person who would always be there for them [i.e. not love or respect them], and ends by saying that they discovered that the person who is always there for them is not necessarily their spouse. So the movie is pandering to the reality that the majority of people who come see this movie will be women and their girlfriends, and is essentially throwing husbands under the bus to support that thesis. It’s interesting that women routinely complain that husbands pursue trophy wives, yet this movie supports the idea of husbands as figures who pay bills but are not heard.

The other thing, back to the whole “movie that purports to support women while actually undermining them” is just how venal these women become to each other. These people are supposedly best friends, yet they refuse to compromise, refuse to work together, and become truly awful to each other. And it has real consequences—Liv loses what seems like a quite good job—but none of it really matters in the movie, you just say “Oh my God, I’m SO sorry!” and everything is forgiven. Nevertheless, although I fully believe that director Gary Winick and screenwriters Greg DePaul and Casey Wilson should be burnt at the stake, I don’t think this movie is quite as bad as He’s Just Not That Into You in terms of the way it portrays women. This one at least is explicitly a comedy [unfunny, but that’s another matter], and the IDEA is that these women have gone nuts, which gives at least a bit of distance on the proceedings, although it treads lightly about whether it’s right or wrong to get this obsessed over weddings. Whereas He’s Just Not… purported to be a more serious examination of the relations between white yuppies in a dating pool, and had a much wider cast of characters, so you had a chance to have multiple repulsive couples with multiple repulsive situations, and the movie didn’t take any distance on them whatsoever, so it comes across as much more sincere with its inanities. Where Bride Wars excels, however, is as propaganda for a certain type of extremely materialistic lifestyle.

Like He’s Just Not That Into You, the lasting impact of this film is just a sense of sadness for the people who yearn for these Cosmopolitan-sanctioned ideals and subscribe to what they think are values but are really sales strategies. It seems that the pleasures they get will be fleeting [they are designed that way], and happiness will remain elusive, but that’s the path they’ve chosen. Light a candle for them.

Should you watch it: 

Oh, I don’t think there’s any real reason for that. Young, impressionable girls in particular should be kept away.

Comments

I was stuck by your noting that in films like "Bride Wars" the natural progression seems to be that a woman focuses all her energies on seeking a husband and then, once married, hating that husband. I was reminded of a group of friends I had years ago, when I was in my late twenties/early thirties. This group, comprised of men and women, were very into the idea of the "starter marriage". The idea was that you married in your twenties, divorced, and then, when you'd made all your mistakes and realized what you really wanted, you got married in your thirties and that would be the marriage that lasted. If we knew people getting married and neither bride nor groom had been married before, there was no expectation that the marriage would last longer than five years. If both had been married before everyone was sure it would work, because "they both know what they're doing". If one of the pair was divorced or widowed everyone felt that they would probably make it. I stopped socializing with that group for several reasons, but one was that I turned 35 and had yet to embark on my first marriage, and they were almost all on their second marriages (no one else was single) and I was officially the oddball.

I just can't help but notice in the media and TV/Movies that the focus shifts from "the perfect wedding" and "finding your soul mate" to "You're too good for him!" and being "free to discover yourself." I think because staying and working on a marriage simply isn't that exciting and doesn't make for dramatic moments.

I like the naivatee of your one-time friends that--the underlying assumption is--every marriage and partner is THE SAME, and therefore you can learn all ABOUT MARRIAGE with one person and there's no chance the challenges will be different with another person.

RE: your last comment, I was once with a group of young 30-somethings and one was saying "Yeah, if you haven't found a partner by the time you're 30, there's kind of something wrong with you," and I said "Right here, baby! There is obviously something wrong with ME!" and she retreated right quick [although obviously still thought it]...