Our guest blogger, Erik Bork (who provided us a beat sheet on The Kids Are All Right last Oscar season), is best known for his work as a writer-producer on the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and From the Earth to the Moon – for which he won two Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards. He has also written pilots and screenplays on assignment for many of the major networks and studios, as well as teaching, consulting, and blogging about writing with a strong Save the Cat! perspective. You can read his “Ten Key Principles Successful Writers Understand,” and also contact him through his website at www.flyingwrestler.com.
Written by: Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo
118 minutes (125 with credits)
Nominated for the Academy Award® for Best Original Screenplay (Melissa McCarthy was also nominated for Supporting Actress), Bridesmaids was 2011’s top movie in domestic box office – if you discount titles that were either sequels or adaptations of wildly popular pre-existing material (it was #14 overall). As so many of the best original concepts do, it built on a type of movie that has been very successful before (the R-rated “group of guys” comedy, a la The Hangover), with a fresh conceptual twist that is perfect for a movie poster. In this case, the new wrinkle is that all the craziness is experienced by a group of women – bridesmaids, no less. If great movie premises tend to have a unique irony or “itch to be scratched,” as Blake observed, this certainly qualifies.
Genre: The word “craziness” is a hint to the genre I think Bridesmaids fits into. It’s the story of a woman who goes a little bit crazy in response to a relatable “life problem” – which is that she thinks she’s losing her lifelong best friend. She reacts to this in a “wrong way” (trying to compete with the friend’s new female friend) – a process that is very entertaining to watch, though unsuccessful. Finally, she comes to her senses with an “acceptance” of life as it is (no longer needing to compete, she’s ready and willing to move on with her life). So it plays like a classic “Rite of Passage,” with a “Mid-Life Passage” subgenre: she’s a thirty-something “loser” with nothing to show for herself in terms of career, finances, or marriage/family – and her best friend’s positive life changes only underscore that reality for her.
1. Opening Image (minute 1): Inside a beautiful home, Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm are having sex. She tries to make herself look good when he wakes up the next morning, because she’s broken his rule about staying overnight. She lies that she doesn’t want/need a relationship – because that’s clearly what he wants to hear. He tells her he wants her to leave, “but doesn’t know how to say it without sounding like a dick.” She has to climb over his driveway gate to get out – and then ends up stuck on top of it as it starts to open. Her humiliation is palpable. Credits roll.
2. Theme Stated (5): Over coffee, Kristen’s best friend, played by Saturday Night Live alumnus Maya Rudolph, opines about Kristen’s demeaning casual sex relationship with Jon, saying “It’s almost like you’re doing it because you feel bad about yourself.” These words will soon apply equally well to the actions Kristen will take in reaction to Maya’s relationship with a new female friend – which will be the central story problem.
3. Set-Up (1-10): As good Set-ups tend to do, this one stays with the main character exclusively as she experiences various moments of conflict in the different areas of her life. In the process, we learn all we need to know about (1) her work: her bakery went out of business, and now she works in a jewelry store where the boss only hired her as a favor to her mother; (2) her living situation: she has obnoxious brother-sister roommates who demand the rent tomorrow, which she doesn’t have; and (3) her social life: where all she seems to have are the Jon trysts, and the one friendship with Maya. So she’s living a very compromised life, as good main characters usually are. One might even call it pathetic, and without much of a Save the Cat! moment to make the audience want to follow her. But Wiig’s inherent likability and comedic reputation – coupled with the promise of great hilarity to come – buys a lot of good will as we move toward the Catalyst.
4. Catalyst (12): Maya shows Kristen her engagement ring. Dougie popped the question! She asks Kristen to be her maid of honor. Kristen finds the whole thing overwhelming and difficult: she can already sense their friendship slipping away.
5. Debate (12-25): Kristen gets her first taste of what this Catalyst will lead to, grappling with its ramifications in typical “Debate section” fashion. First, her mother can’t go with her to Maya’s engagement party (in a scene that completes the picture of Kristen’s current life, giving us a sense of her family situation). So Kristen shows up at the intimidating country club venue in her crappy car, alone. There, she meets Maya’s other potential bridesmaids (with comedy and conflicts at every turn), culminating with Maya’s rich and beautiful closest new friend, played by Rose Byrne. Kristen is immediately jealous and threatened by Rose. Toasts to the bride and groom begin, and Rose tears up, calling Maya her best friend.
6. Break into Two (25): The “upside-down world” of Kristen competing with Rose (as they prepare for Maya’s wedding) begins in earnest during these toasts. Kristen tries to one-up Rose in her expressions of closeness to Maya, which only lead to humiliation. She clearly can’t compete, and will be overmatched by her – always a good thing for a main character. If Kristen had more self-esteem and confidence, she wouldn’t be so bothered by this, and wouldn’t engage in childish attempts to hang onto her status in Maya’s life. But she doesn’t. We can see she’s going down a “wrong road” already, as main characters in “Rites of Passage” always do. At the same time, we can understand and relate to her for feeling the way she does – and look forward to the conflict and comedy that will come from this.
7. B Story (27): Leaving the party, Kristen gets pulled over by a cop played by Chris O’Dowd. He notices they’re neighbors, and was a fan of her bakery. He rips up her ticket, and seems attracted to her. Because she doesn’t seem to really pick up on this, or care, this doesn’t seem to launch a second story challenge for her the way a B Story usually does. But it does serve to smooth over the obvious transition into Act Two, while beginning a dynamic that will clearly turn into the B Story.
8. Fun and Games (30-55): The “promise of the premise” of these women behaving badly while preparing for a wedding begins in earnest here – centering on Kristen’s relatable drive to keep her best friend. She meets Rose one-on-one, and they play a viciously competitive round of tennis. Then all the bridesmaids go to a Brazilian restaurant (Kristen’s idea), and as they discuss shower themes, Rose undermines Kristen’s suggestion of “Parisian.” They then head to a dress shop, where Kristen learns Rose is getting Maya a special designer dress. Her sense of resentment and competition with Rose continues to build. (In other words, the “Fun and Games,” as always, is anything but “fun” for the main character – it’s only fun for the audience.) Suddenly the women all start feeling sick – apparent food poisoning from Kristen’s restaurant choice. They all start vomiting and/or having diarrhea (except for perfect Rose, who didn’t eat any meat there). Rose practically talks Kristen into realizing she has to throw up, too. Finally, Maya soils an expensive wedding dress in the middle of the street outside.
In a B Story sequence, Kristen works on Jon to be her wedding date, then tries to make him jealous by saying she has another man. Then she runs into cop Chris again, and he encourages her to start another bakery. But she says she’s done with that. She’s not really into Chris at this point, or experiencing this dynamic as a real problem, so one might say this scene is a bit slow in comparison to the conflict-laden interaction with Jon. But her bonding with Chris over using a radar gun does serve as a break in the constant humiliations of the A Story – and moves forward Kristen’s B Story about the challenges of her relationships with men.
9. Midpoint (55): Rose and the other bridesmaids overrule Kristen’s choice for an affordable bachelorette party, and want to go to Las Vegas instead. In a slow motion shot full of foreboding, the women board a plane bound for Vegas…
10. Bad Guys Close In (55-78): Nervous flier Kristen has to sit in coach while Rose and Maya enjoy first class. Rose gives Kristen pills and a drink to calm her down. This leads to a heavily buzzed Kristen making a fool out of herself on the plane in a variety of ways (as the other women have their own hilarious conversations and conflicts). Kristen ultimately gets them all kicked off the plane – thus ruining the shower. They have to ride a bus now, were Maya tells Kristen she wants to replace her as maid of honor, with Rose.
Defeated in the A Story, Kristen asks Chris if he wants to hang out – and we’re back to the B Story. This leads to them sleeping together. The next morning, he wants her to bake something, but she freaks out and leaves. She then admits in a phone message to Maya that this was a mistake, and she is her own worst enemy.
11. All Is Lost (79): Kristen receives a package. It’s an invitation to Maya’s shower, which Rose has organized – with a Parisian theme (stolen from Kristen)! Then in quick succession, Kristen gets fired from her job for her conflict with a teen customer, then gets a message from Chris that he won’t be calling her again. Finally, she gets kicked out of her apartment by her roommates. On all fronts, her life is clearly worse than it was when we began, and she seems to have no hope left to achieve her goals for this story – two key aspects of any great “All is Lost” crisis. Kristen moves in with her mother, something she never wanted to have to do – saying to her “You remember when you thought I hit bottom? That wasn’t bottom.”
12. Dark Night of the Soul (80-92): Kristen goes to Rose’s gorgeous house for an unbelievably opulent wedding shower, where Rose one-ups her again by giving Maya a gift of a trip to Paris. Kristen freaks out in front of everyone, cursing and trying to destroy things. She then is told by Maya, “Don’t even bother coming to my wedding.” As Kristen drives away, she gets rear-ended by a hit and run driver. Her car then won’t start, and she’s stranded on the road. Chris helps her get her car taken care of, and takes the opportunity to tell her off. Jon comes to pick her up, but is so obnoxious that she demands to be let out, and will walk home instead.
13. Break into Three (93): Kristen is crying watching Castaway at her mom’s, when fellow bridesmaid Melissa McCarthy shows up. Kristen complains about her life and Melissa gives her some tough love – roughing her up a bit, and trying to get her to fight back. After Kristen finally slaps her, Melissa says “good hit,” then tells the story of her own difficult life. She tells Kristen that she’s her own problem, and also her own solution.
14. Finale (94-117): Kristen bakes, in a brief montage set to music with a “starting over, getting healthier” feel. She hugs her mom and tells her she loves her, then leaves an “I’m sorry” cake on Chris’s porch. But then she sees him notice it, and leave it on the ground. (In other words, there might be a “new hope and new plan” for Act Three, but it won’t be easy for Kristen to fix things.) On the morning of the wedding, Rose shows up at Kristen’s door, wondering if she knows where Maya is. No one can find her. They drive off together, and Rose apologizes for everything. Kristen learns that Rose has plenty of problems of her own. They try to get Chris to help, but he ignores Kristen, so she drives back and forth in front of him – committing various driving infractions to try to get his attention. He finally helps them (though not forgiving her), only to figure out that Maya is home in her apartment.
Kristen shows up there, and finds Maya hiding under the covers. Maya tells Kristen the wedding is out of control, and it’s not working without Kristen. Kristen reassures her, telling her she’s going to be fine – and really seems to mean it. Kristen has clearly grown considerably from where she started, and is accepting the change to their lives that Maya’s wedding represents. She then stands beside Maya at the wedding as her maid of honor. We can see how everything is ending well for everyone, and all is forgiven. They dance to Wilson-Phillips.
15. Final Image (117): Chris shows up after the wedding, finally softening toward Kristen, and they kiss. They ride off in his squad car together, and he tells her she’s in big trouble for all those driving infractions…