Now starring in “Wine Country,” another comedy about a complex group of women, the actress looks back on the game-changer of a film, and how it’s informed her career since.
There are few things Hollywood loves more than a recognizable (and thus bankable) new trend, and when Paul Feig’s “Bridesmaids” debuted a work in progress print at the SXSW Film Festival in March of 2011, delighting audiences with the kind of bawdy comedy typically reserved for male-driven comedies, people were quick to predict its impact on the industry. Though it didn’t instantly spawn a slew of promised successors, its critical and commercial success — when it arrived in theaters two months after SXSW, it made over $169 million at the domestic box office, while earning a stellar 90% Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes — “Bridesmaids” remains a cultural touchstone for many.
Mostly, though, it helped refute any doubts that people had that women could be funny, raunchy, and wild on the big screen, a topic that dominated the story of its success. Nearly a decade later, star Maya Rudolph remembers those reactions well.
“We didn’t have the expectations of a movie that other people did,” Rudolph said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “We weren’t making a ‘women’s movie.’ We were making a story, and we’re all women in it. You have to understand from the perspective that we’re coming from, we’re already women, and we’re already the funniest women we know. We’re not thinking like, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be great if I looked high and low for [more] females?’ It’s just part of reality.”
Now starring in long-time collaborator Amy Poehler’s feature directorial debut “Wine Country” — which, yes, follows a group of hilarious women during a wine-soaked weekend in the Napa Valley, very much the kind of film “Bridesmaids” predicted — Rudolph is still pushing back against the underlying sense that women aren’t able to be as funny as their male counterparts.
“I think we were all very surprised at the continuous headline that was, ‘Wow, female comedies, what a big deal,’” she said. “It’s a funny place to be, because you sound like you’re being humble or sheepish. We didn’t expect it. …I guess it’s a long-winded way of saying, ‘We never anticipated that there was going to be this story of, wow, female comedies.’ Like, bitch, I’m just making comedies! I happen to be a woman! [That] has kind of always the story in my head, and for all of us. But it’s hard to get away from the story that people want to tell about you, which I always find very interesting. I’ve definitely given up on trying to persuade people to look at it differently. I’m like, it’s your life, do what you want, but I’m making the things I want to make.”
That includes making more projects with talented creators and comedians, many of which just so happen to be fellow women. “It’s an embarrassment of riches that I happened to know this many talented women and funny-as-fuck women, but that’s the reality of the world that I’m in,” she said. “Why not make projects with people that are the funniest people you know, and the people that you love, and tell the stories that are funny to you? I think when you find the funniest story that you want to tell, that’s what makes it funny, other than anything else.”
In the eight years since “Bridesmaids” premiered, there have been a handful of contenders that have attempted to pick up its mantle as a generation-defining female-centric comedy, from “Trainwreck” to “Girls Trip,” “Blockers” to “Someone Great,” though none have been as successful as Feig’s feature. But it’s not about competition, because if “Bridesmaids” proved that there is a hungry, willing audience for films like it, that means there’s room for a lot more.
Rudolph herself isn’t caught up in pitting movies or performers against each other either, a spirit that holds true in “Wine Country.” Like “Bridesmaids,” the drama doesn’t come from female characters going after each other or leaning into tired “catfight” tropes, it’s rooted in writing that relies on characters caring about one another and wanting the best for them. For fans of Feig’s film, that element — perhaps even more than the film’s humor — will remind them of the joys of “Bridesmaids.”
“I’ve got to be honest, I’ve never understood that,” Rudolph said when asked about other films that rely on pitting their female characters against each other. “I’m not saying that isn’t an element in life, I’m sure it happens. But that as a trope … or people [being] like, ‘I’m surprised there’s no catfight.’ Why are you surprised? That’s not all women do. Also, it’s just never been interesting to any of us.”
More than that, “we all come from a background where we actually got to help create our own content,” she said. “I think there are different flavors and there are different versions. The flavor of women not supporting each other, it’s not for me. I don’t find it funny or interesting, and also, I do enjoy lifting people up, both in life and work. I feel like that is a truer representation of where I’d like to be in this life.”
Netflix will release “Wine Country” in select theaters on Wednesday, May 8 and on its streaming platform on Friday, May 10.