Bridesmaids succeeded because it took a simple story that a lot of women have experienced — over the course of planning and executing a friend’s wedding, two women grapple with their different priorities and stages in life — and told it well and with a great deal of warmth, pain, and humor. And it told that story to completion. We don’t need a sequel to it because the story is over. Which is why it’s heartening first to hear that Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo are smart enough to have decided that they don’t want to do a sequel, and depressing to hear that Universal might bull ahead without them anyway.
The Hollywood Reporter story that breaks that news contains two interesting, and I think indicative, tidbits. First, that the cast’s bonuses, which while more than I make in a year, were relatively stingy compared to the overall financial success of the movie. And second, that Wiig has a bunch of small, smart projects lined up. Both of those things seem to me to say something about the limited things Bridesmaids will be able to change in Hollywood. One of the reasons Bridesmaids impressed me so much was how deep the cast was: even the characters who got the least screen time had funny, sharp moments and the actresses nailed them. I’d be curious to know what the actors on The Hangover movies got as bonuses, but I’d be willing to bet that they’re more than $100,000, and this is an example of how the Hollywood pay gap is alive and well. If women making successful movies doesn’t get them paid like men, it’s not clear what will.
Second, I think there’s something feminist in Wiig’s decision to walk away from a potential franchise for which she was likely offered way more than her bonus. Bridesmaids would lose, just as Sex and the City and Nancy Meyers’ movies are to a certain extent a loss, if the lesson that studio executives take away from it is that this is the girl movie, or the kind of girl movie, they’ll make. We don’t need 47 Sex and the City movies. We don’t need 50 movies where the jokes is that Melissa McCarthy is fat and crude and sexually aggressive in exactly the same way. What we need is for Kristen Wiig to go off and become the kind of star who can turn a bunch of different movies into hits. And we need the same thing for Melissa McCarthy and Maya Rudolph and Alison Brie and a bunch of other insanely talented, gorgeous women. Franchises are a good thing, they provide reliable paychecks to working actors, but they’re also a way of sticking people in silos.