Bridesmaids
Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, Universal Pictures, 2011)
Stories & Ideas

Tue 01 Dec 2020

Edit Line: Bridesmaids – Coming out of me like lava

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Tiana Stefanic

Festival & Events Coordinator

With apologies to the infamous scene in Monty Python's Meaning of Life, the most memorable film moment celebrating incredibly bad timing for the expulsion of bodily fluids has to be the food poisoning scene in Bridesmaids.

While trying on their outfits for the wedding, food poisoning strikes, forcing the bridesmaids to retreat to the bathroom (not just for the toilet, but the sink too) before the white carpet gets it. The scene marks the literal release of tension that’s been building since Annie (Kristen Wiig) refuses to relinquish organising her best friend’s wedding to the clearly more qualified, newer friend Lillian (Rose Byrne). Annie’s restaurant choice leads to the whole bridal party getting food poisoning, ruining the outfits they’re trying on and undermining Annie’s efforts to orchestrate cheap and cheerful pre-wedding events. The line – “it’s coming out of me like lava” – is delivered with typically unrestrained aplomb by Melissa McCarthy, whose work in the film as the hilariously frank and tough, and ultimately undervalued cousin of the groom Megan, was a star-making turn for the actress, previously best known as the quirky best friend to the lead character in the beloved Gilmore Girls series.

The success of Bridesmaids marked an exciting potential turning point for films written, directed and starring women, proving to studio executives how profitable female-led comedies could be. There were unrealistically high expectations on projects that tried to replicate the film’s success, most notably the unfairly maligned Ghostbusters reboot, which brought back the team of Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, co-written by Katie Dippold, who also penned the Sandra Bullock/McCarthy buddy comedy The Heat. The unwillingness to allow female-led projects to fail, viewing box office or critical failures as proof that women shouldn’t be given the reins for big-budget projects, is a long-running obstacle to gender parity in creative leadership roles in Hollywood. The treatment of talented director Elaine May after the box office failure of her high-profile project Ishtar is an excellent example of this.

The food poisoning scene is a cringeworthy and quotable scene in a film that is full of them (see also the mid-flight freak out, the bridal shower breakdown), and it’s interesting to note that Wiig wasn’t a fan of its inclusion, saying it spoke to the directive by studio executives to show the women acting like men, which speaks to the conditional nature of women taking the lead in creative projects.

The film stands out as a significant cultural moment, shining a light on the comedic chops of Wiig, McCarthy, Byrne and the rest of the cast and boosting their careers. It has incredible rewatch value, has been recognised with numerous accolades and is credited as a turning point for female-led projects – audiences were more than happy to spend time with a group of women on-screen and embrace them, flaws and all.

– Tiana Stefanic