The XX Factor

The Ninth Level of Romantic Comedy Cliche

Listening to last week’s Double X podcast , I was struck by the conversation recalling Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding in 1981, which Jessica, Kate, and Hanna seemed to agree kicked off the wedding mania that we live with today.  In 1981, I was only 4 years old, so I don’t remember much before then, but my gut tells me you three were right.  Most photos of weddings from family and family friends prior to then show modest affairs with streamlined dresses, with small guest lists and receptions held in backyards.  But as I came of age, weddings turned into major events that cost more than $25,000 a pop .

This multi-decade wedding hysteria has had another side effect beyond just draining our wallets to pay for flowers that will die and dresses that will be worn just once.  It’s also introduced the most execrable subgenre of the modern romantic comedy: the wedding comedy.  With three wedding comedies coming out in May, the Vulture blog posted an amusing checklist of all the trite, sexist cliches of the form.  Print it out and create a drinking game to bring with the alcohol you smuggle in when you go see Something Borrowed , Jumping the Broom , or Bridesmaids. Romantic comedies are bad enough, but wedding comedies use the occasion of flowers and dresses to amplify the sexist stereotyping.  If there’s tulle in your movie, expect to see gross caricatures of women as screeching, wedding-obsessed harpies and men as condescending asses and/or dolts who are merely letting the little ladies have their fun.

The wedding comedy perfectly presses the buttons of American audiences, which no doubt explains why they keep making money and Hollywood keeps putting them out.  The sexist tropes serve to send up weddings, which has to be cathartic for audiences that feel as if they must engage in a savings-draining year-long fight with their in-laws we call a “wedding”.  But at the end of all these movies, there’s a sentimental moment where it was all worth it, so no one is actually challenged to ask if it’s really so wise having such an expensive, stressful tradition that’s ostensibly supposed to celebrate love.  We get our bridal cake and get to eat it, too.

I am holding out some hope that Bridesmaids will rise above the form.  The posters advertising the movie feature a comic juxtaposition between the feminine artifice of bridal finery and the women themselves, who are posed more like they’re in a poster for an exploitation film about girl gangs.  There’s a feminist subversion to it I appreciate, but I also know Hollywood isn’t happy to finance a movie that challenges gendered expectations too much.  I’ll probably see it.  I’ll probably enjoy most of it.  I’ll probably then be irritated by a tacked-on ending where we’re assured that despite all the comedic horrors of a wedding, everything worked out great in the end, and so don’t get any crazy ideas like having a small, intimate wedding, or heaven forbid, not getting married at all.

Picture courtesy TM.