The One Benefit of False Movie Advertising

By  · Published on May 24th, 2011

There’s no point in parsing words here. A lot of the advertising for Bridesmaids was lying to its audience.

What was labeled as a “Female Hangover” with tons of laugh-out-loud, raucous, wacky, hilarious, raunchy, you-won’t-believe-that-women-fart humor turned out to be a thoughtful, slightly depressing character breakdown interspersed with some truly outrageous (Jem would be proud) moments.

Misleading advertising is a menace. It’s craven in its attempt to trick people into buying tickets they wouldn’t normally buy, and it’s usually deployed to hide a lack of quality. That’s something all movie fans are all too aware of. However, with Bridesmaids, the false advertising actually proves one universal benefit that either didn’t exist before or hasn’t been celebrated as widely as it needs to be.

It’s unclear how easy a sell the film was. A comedy by way of thin character study about the crappy life of a woman getting crappier and destroying all the joy around her by making it take a deuce in the street? Starring, for the first time, an actress who has thrived on SNL but only played side characters in a few comedies? Populated by actresses and comediennes that don’t deliver much mainstream name recognition? With a leading man your mother couldn’t pick out of a line-up?

There was certainly the power of Apatow at work here, but like any movie, it’s probably a miracle Bridesmaids got made (and got made the way it was intended). The results have been a lot of praise for proving to the world that women can be funny (and, as mentioned before, shit themselves), as well as a healthy box office and some solid critical love.

Not bad for a movie that doesn’t have any superheroes or an 80s film of the same name.

This is speculation, but even though the movie doesn’t have the current elements that the number-crunchers salivate over, the phrase “Female Hangover” must have been helpful in earning some smiles at Universal. It’s a shock they didn’t just name it The Female Hangover, but rights issues must have intervened. Of course, there’s no denying that Apatow’s relationship with the studio was probably the biggest factor, but misleading buzz words shoved together (especially words evoking the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time) are nothing to spit at.

That scenario presents an interesting opportunity for filmmakers, for studios, and for fans. If writers and directors looking to get the money they need can create scripts with built-in advertising appeal while maintaining genuine storytelling, it could be win-win-win. The marketing department (a segment of studio life that seems to be getting lazier and lazier) gets a ready-made campaign focus (“Harry Potter with dogs!” “Toy Story with people!” “A Male Bridesmaids!”); the studios have a financial reason to make the investment; and the filmmakers simply have to follow through on creating something that at least resembles what the sales team will be pitching to the public.

Of course, this only applies to filmmaking teams that can deliver the goods (not necessarily including the filmmaking team that delivered The Goods). Tricking audiences is nothing new, but tricking them into seeing a great movie is a fairly new concept. Use a broad-based sales tactic, sure, but the movie will need to speak for itself once the lights dim. Fortunately, Bridesmaids won over a large audience that probably thought it would be more non-stop, side-splits than sad Kristen Wiig being sad.

The battle between art and commerce can’t be overstated. It’s a severe war that often sees the two coming into direct contact (art usually loses) and seldom playing allies. This is one of those rare scenarios. Monsters (billed as 2010’s District 9) was another, although it won over far fewer converts and was probably hurt more than aided by the false correlation. Judged against other films with fake connections to other successful films, Bridesmaids is clearly the most successful (in all ways) of the modern era.

Filmmakers will increasingly need to become savvy to the ways of selling their film both in the room and to a wider audience. However, the real success of Bridesmaids is that it proved you could use inanely false advertising in order to get butts into seats without hearing those butts complain later on. Or, at least, not too loudly.

Lying through your teaser trailer is vile, but this might just be the one situation where studios can lie to an audience, a filmmaker can make a film that’s not as mainstream as the studio wants, and the audience can see a great movie that might not have been made without a few buzz words in misleading trailers. If filmmakers can harness that power, studios might feel more comfortable producing more movies that don’t fit the formula, and that’s a good thing for everyone.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.