It’s been a few years since Bridesmaids has come out and tons of articles have been written about feminist comedy, novelty, self-reliance and other such boring themes. I have yet to come across anyone with the balls (lady-balls? ovaries?) to get down to the real nitty-gritty of the movie and recognize that at its most essential, the message of Bridesmaids is that “you are what you eat.”
Call me crazy, but this movie has its nutritional thematicism* working overtime. In the case of at least five essential characters of Bridesmaids, their relationship with food is representative of their relationship with life. In case you haven’t seen the movie, these are the characters we are going to look at.
*an apparently made-up word
Annie – the protagonist, whose best friend is getting married.
Lillian – the bride-to-be
Helen – a bridesmaid, a trophy wife and rival for Lillian’s friendship
Megan – a bridesmaid
Rhodes – a police officer and potential love interest for Annie
Let’s start with Helen. The first time we see Helen interact with food in a meaningful way is at a Brazilian barbecue before a dress fitting. While everyone else around the table digs in, Helen refuses; she recognizes the importance of maintaining one’s figure before stuffing it into a dress. With so much of her self-worth entangled in her body image, Helen’s relationship with food is one of refusal and denial.
When we do see something pass her lips, it’s usually alcohol. Whether it’s toasting the engagement with champagne, drinking sangria at the fitting or sipping scotch on an airplane, Helen has no problem knocking them back. The more we learn about Helen, the more we learn how sad her life is. Alcohol allows her to cope with the pain and/or numbness of her entitled, unchallenged existence. In her toast, Helen proclaims that she doesn’t want to lose Lillian as a drinking buddy on Saturday nights – which is to say every Saturday night. Helen barely sees her husband, is despised by her step kids, and only knows how to make friends by stealing the ideas of others and exploding them into comically overwrought parodies of good taste.
Helen’s only understanding of food is when it’s used as a prop in her extravagance.
The bridal shower that Helen puts together is the definition of opulence and excess. For her, food is a decoration. Just look at that cookie! Everything is displayed in such a perfect manner that it would be a shame to destroy it, even for the sake of consumption. She treats food like she treats herself. She makes it so beautiful and perfect that no one wants to touch it, so instead, it goes to spoil.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Megan. When it comes to both food and life, Megan is the antithesis of Helen’s reservation and deprivation. Megan likes to eat. At the Brazilian lunch, Megan dives right in, sampling every dish she can. She recognizes that life is filled with different flavours and experiences and she sees no harm in trying them all.
She is the first to dive into the barbecue, never worrying about what affect her indulgence will have on the fitting. She has created a self-identity where over-consumption has no effect on her abililty to fit into a dress. She had a tough childhood because of her physical appearance and she came out on the other side hungry for the new experiences her adult life could offer.
A perfect example is in the post-credit scene where she records herself having sex with her new boyfriend. As part of their roleplay, she walks up to him with a several-foot-long sandwich and starts to eat it off of his chest. She receives pleasure from food and novelty. For Megan, life truly is a buffet.
Lillian, our resident bride, has no defining food or personality characteristics of her own. A lack of individuality is, unfortunately, her predominant feature. When it comes to food, Lillian is always willing to cater to the suggestions and expectations of others. The Brazilian barbecue restaurant is chosen because Annie recommends it. She goes out for weekly drinks at a sushi restaurant because that’s what Helen enjoys. She doesn’t choose drinks or food, nor does she craft any kind of identity for herself.
Throughout the movie, Lillian is defined exclusively by her associations with other people. She is either Annie’s best friend or Helen’s best friend, never an autonomous individual with unique, personal desires. Instead of celebrating Lillian’s growth and independence, Annie and Helen shower her with gifts and tokens that claim her as their own. The only other thing we know about Lillian is that she is getting married. Again, she is known for her association with another person, instead of her own agency. Hopefully her husband sometimes lets her choose the restaurant.
Rhodes’ defining food is the carrot. When Rhodes, a police officer, bumps into Annie by happenstance at a gas station, he is buying a late-night snack – a bag of baby carrots. Carrots, being a healthy vegetable, showcase Rhodes’ sensibility and rightness. I mean, seriously, who buys carrots for a late night snack? The kind of guy you bring home to mom, that’s who.
Even more interestingly is what Rhodes does when he stumbles across a freak in his bag of healthy treats. Upon encountering what he calls “the ugly carrot,” he enthusiastically and emphatically encourages Annie to eat it because it’s good luck. Sensible, good-natured Rhodes understands that sometimes there are things that deviate from the mundane and that instead of dismissing these abnormalities, you should embrace and celebrate their uniqueness.
Carrot-munching Rhodes has lived a life with relative safety and nicety, knowing all the while that some day an ugly carrot like Annie might come along, and when it does, the opportunity is not to be missed.
Finally, we arrive at Annie. Annie is represented by a single cupcake. Annie has the most obvious relationship with food since she used to be employed as a pastry chef/baker/cakesmith. Before it went under, Annie ran a storefront called Cake Baby where she concocted delicious cakes and creampuffs and such. It is important to recognize that Annie’s business did not fail because of her abilities but rather because of a combination of economic factors and the commodification of her craft.
When her passion is lit, Annie has an incredible focus and a pointed ability to make meaningful connections with other people. At one point, a lonely Annie recognizes that she could use a pick-me-up and pieces together a gorgeous cupcake from scratch. She takes both time and care to put together a perfect confection in order to give herself a treat and to prove to herself that her craft still has worth. Annie extends her talents to Rhodes when she makes him a cake in the shape of a carrot.
For Annie, food is a representation of her whole problem in life. When she opened a bakery, she opened herself up to the needs and expectations of others. She was no longer creating something whose value she completely understood. In exposing her abilities to the world, the success and failure of her baking became something that happened to her, rather than something with which to nurture those around her. When Annie gets back in touch with her personal reasons for baking, she gets back in touch with a better version of herself – one who is powerful and thoughtful.
It is important to note that Annie bakes herself a single cupcake. By the end of the movie, she comes to recognize that Megan has a point – that life is something that deserves to be experienced but Annie also takes a page out of Rhodes’ book and practices moderation in her indulgence. If you eat cake every day, a cake isn’t cake any more, it’s just bad nutrition.
For a movie that spends such a long time discussing things being purged from people’s bodies (I’m looking at you bathroom scene), Bridesmaids sure takes care to pay attention to what goes in.