We’re at an interesting moment for women in comedy. It’s been well-articulated and acknowledged, at the level of the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, the Times magazine, you name the organ of cultural influence, it’s been comprehensively laid out, that the spaces for men and women in comedy are profoundly unequal. In response to that, there’s a minor bump in comedic projects centered around women that attempt to broaden the kind of jokes that women can embody, whether they’re big-screen projects like Bridesmaids and What’s Your Number, or the spate of comedy pilots by and about women being developed for fall. And in that environment, I feel sort of conflicted about my responsibilities as a consumer and as a critic. I both want these projects to succeed so there will be more of them, but I also feel that because the window of opportunity is smaller, it would be a really shame if any of these projects are mediocre, or outright bad, because this is the moment when we have to win enough opportunities that we can afford to squander some later.
So I’m not quite sure how I should react to the trailer for What’s Your Number. From a formulaic romantic comedy perspective, it looks fine. But unless something outrageous and challenging and moving is happening off-screen (and given that moments like that are exactly how the studio is selling Bridesmaids, it would be odd if they were hiding them), a formulaic romantic comedy is all it is. Having produced this is not going to advance the sense that Anna Faris can do something different from a million other blondes. And the reliance on her ability to embody cringing, baby-voiced optimism isn’t going to expand anyone’s sense of what she can do as an actress. She’s emphatically not funny like a guy here, in that her character doesn’t have permission to be either genuinely eccentric or genuinely unpleasant while still having the movie insist on her basic likability. Bridesmaids works because it does that, but then, Kristen Wiig has Paul Feig, Judd Apatow, and Lorne Michaels in her corner. If women have to assemble that level of credentialing to redefine women’s roles even a little bit, the spectrum’s going to expand very, very slowly. So do I back this because it might let Faris do something weirder in the future? Or tell the guys who want my dollars from this that it’s not good enough, that if they want my money, they actually have to earn it?