'Bridesmaids' Effect: Why Female Comedies Are Making Comeback

23 BIZ Bridesmaids
Suzanne Hanover/Universal Studios

The movie's success has studios looking for the next female-driven hit comedy.

"Little Miss Sunshine" producer David T. Friendly tests the winds on the latest phenomenon.

It might have been the funniest "walk of shame" moment in cinematic history: Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, climbing over that 8-foot gate after a night of meaningless sex with hunky Jon Hamm. As far as metaphors go, it might represent the watershed moment when female-centric comedy broke down the Hollywood gates. On May 16, the Monday morning after Bridesmaids opened to an unexpected $26.2 million, with an audience that was 67 percent female, you could hear the edict bellowed at studio staff meetings everywhere: "Where's our Bridesmaids?!"

All producers share two common chromosomes embedded in our DNA: opportunism (O) and self-preservation (SP). After double-checking the numbers that Monday, I instinctively began reviewing my development slate. One never wants to be too reactive, but there are few door-openers like a box-office winner.

Wiig, her Bridesmaids writing partner Annie Mumolo, Tina Fey, writers including Elizabeth Meriwether (No Strings Attached) and a host of other talented and funny women are suddenly the toast of the town. Their names are showing up more often on rewrite lists. Their spec scripts, once relegated to a desk drawer, are being dusted off. And, for the moment, the powers that be, the people who actually greenlight movies, have decided that -- guess what? -- women are funny even when disgusting!

A pitch with Reese Witherspoon playing a woman who invades a bachelor party called Who Invited Her? quickly went to DreamWorks. Sure, it might have sold anyway; Witherspoon is a big star. But that Bridesmaids opening sure didn't hurt.

And anything Bridesmaids-related is enjoying a honeymoon. Mumulo and the movie's co-star Melissa McCarthy (who just might be the female answer to John Belushi) sold a pitch to Paramount about stealing the Stanley Cup. Mumulo also landed a blind script deal at ABC.

Hollywood has always long been reactive: When Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars became massive hits in 1977, sci-fi movies were popular again. And there's not a studio in town that does not have its own "jukebox musical" after the success of the ABBA movie Mamma Mia!

You could argue this new change has been in the works. Writers like Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise) and Diane English (Murphy Brown), all go-to script doctors for years, blazed trails in drama and romantic comedy. Diablo Cody won an Oscar for the uniquely acerbic voice she brought to Juno. Tina Fey, both as a writer and a performer, has pushed the envelope in film (Mean Girls) and on TV. And I can remember that when Liz Meriwether's No Strings Attached script -- originally called F--buddies, an unusable but much better title -- hit the town, the reaction was swift and unanimous: This is a hilarious new voice.

Still, getting female-driven comedies to the big screen has been as hard as selling Disney an X-rated movie. And one has to wonder how many will get made without a champion like Bridesmaids' Judd Apatow behind them. Sometimes edgy, female-driven material that winds up on the coveted Black List (or whatever list is in vogue at the time) is highly regarded but simply too uncertain a bet for the studios. Usually the pass would have sounded something like this: "It's hilarious; I was cracking up. But I can't get that made here. No one wants to see women do that!"

But it turns out "they" do. The R-rated Bridesmaids crossed $100 million in just 23 days with the kind of crass but "rings true" humor that established the careers of guys like the Weitz brothers (American Pie), the Farrelly brothers (There's Something About Mary), Todd Phillips (The Hangover) and, of course, the godfather of the sweet-and-sour comedy, Apatow himself.

If the Bridesmaids Effect really takes hold, imagine the possibilities. There's the comedy about the bachelorette party gone horribly wrong. There's the nightmare honeymoon from the woman's perspective. The Bridesmaids Effect allows entire genres to be reimagined. Chicks on horses. Women in space. Time-shifting gals.

So back to the aforementioned (O) and (SP). In an effort to ride the Bridesmaids mo', over here at Friendly Films we started thinking about one of our projects in development. Why couldn't the protagonist and friends be women? It would freshen up this reboot, and we could call upon one of these talented and funny screenwriting women who have emerged like Jeremy Renner in an action movie. Now we are combing the town and asking for meetings with women screenwriters who will transform this in an organic way.

One ripple effect of this kind of change is that it creates new relationships. Shortly after Bridesmaids opened, Allison Gibson (The Trophy Wife), a talented screenwriter I'm working with now, urged me to read a New Yorker profile on Anna Faris. It was a complex look at one of the best comedians in our business, and we both thought she'd be great for our script. Within that story, Faris' writing partner Deanna Kizis was mentioned briefly. I was curious, so I called her agent and asked to read a sample. The script was delightful. A smart and funny femme fatale? Check. Sometimes racy and sometimes raunchy but always clever dialogue? Check. Castable? Check.

Loved it. Meeting her next week.

There it is again. The Bridesmaids Effect.

-- David T. Friendly has produced more than 20 films. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Little Miss Sunshine.