Friday, August 21, 2015

Bridesmaids 4 - Supporting Characters

(Spoilers: Bridesmaids)

Last week, in part 3 of my in-depth analysis of the movie Bridesmaids (written by Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo), I looked at the main character, Annie. This week I will examine the use of the supporting characters in the film.

Supporting characters, naturally, serve many purposes in a story. Some are necessary for the plot. For example, in a movie called Bridesmaids, you will probably need a character of the bride. Others can serve to dramatize the main character’s evolving state of mind – as Ted and Rhodes do in Bridesmaids (again, see last week’s post). Supporting characters can also serve to provide various perspectives on the theme or themes of the movie. This is especially common when you have an ensemble group at the core of the story, as Bridesmaids does. And it turns out that Bridesmaids is an exceptional example of using characters this way.

When I say “theme,” I’m not talking about some deep moral lesson. I’m talking about the subject matter of the story. What aspect(s) of the human condition does the story explore? That’s the theme. Bridesmaids is about romantic relationships, marriage, and friendship. Look at the title – what did you think it would be about?

So let’s look at how each of the women in the group illuminate aspects of these themes:

Lillian is Annie’s best friend and the bride-to-be. She’s excited but also anxious about her upcoming marriage.

Becca is the optimistic newlywed. She represents someone in love with the idea of marriage who thinks being single is kind of sad.

Rita is sort of the opposite of Becca. She’s been married a while now and she’s burned out on marriage.

Megan – Megan is the crazy one who speaks her mind and doesn’t care what anyone thinks. She’s confidently single. She’s also ultimately the best friend to Annie – the one that comes to Annie’s aid at her lowest moment.

Helen – Helen is the perfect one. She’s beautiful, wealthy and supremely good at all of the bridesmaid duties. She appears as an impossible ideal for Annie, and threatens to replace Annie as Lillian’s best friend. Later we learn that Helen is actually extremely lonely – her marriage is empty and she has no real friends.

See how each of these characters offers a different angle on the themes of the movie? Doing this also gives each one distinctive characteristics that add tremendously to the humor of the film. In any given situation, each will react differently. The scenes practically write themselves! Well, maybe not, but giving supporting characters unique attitudes relating to the theme of a story makes your job a lot easier.

Ideally supporting characters do multiple things. Lillian is not just the bride needed for the plot, she provides perspective on the themes and stakes for Annie.

And as I mentioned back in part 1 of this series, Helen is the antagonist of the film. I often recommend looking at the story from the antagonist’s point of view. This helps ensure the antagonist is active. I usually do this by writing a one or two page treatment of the story as if I was going to make the antagonist the hero. Of course, I have no idea if the writers of Bridesmaids did this, but let’s take a moment to look at the story from Helen’s point of view. (I’ll keep it to a paragraph for the purposes of this post.)

Helen learns that her husband’s employee, Dougie, is getting married to Lillian, whom Helen wants to be friends with. Helen offers to host the engagement party at a private club where she's a member. She prepares a toast to impress Lillian. But the Maid-of-Honor, Annie, keeps trying to upstage her. Helen decides to try to make Annie look bad, hoping Lillian will ask Helen to take her place. Helen convinces the other bridesmaids to go to Vegas for the bachelorette party, even though she knows Annie can’t afford it and is afraid to fly. Her plan works and she manages to drive a wedge between Lillian and Helen. Lillian asks Helen to host the bridal shower, and Helen steals Annie’s idea for a French themed party. This pushes Annie over the edge and Helen achieves her goal – Lillian asks Helen to replace Annie as Maid-of-Honor. But on the morning of the wedding, Lillian vanishes. Panicking, Helen seeks out Annie and asks for her help. Annie finds Lillian and the wedding is saved. Helen and Annie become friends.

Much of this occurs off screen, of course. But when you look at the story this way, you can see that Helen is actively pursuing her own goals. Those goals in turn cause problems for Annie. This is what makes Helen a good antagonist rather than a passive annoyance.

Want to read the Bridesmaids screenplay? It’s online here.


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