Before cameras began to roll on Bridesmaids' iconic food poisoning scene, Kristen Wiig was nervous. "We were all worried," director Paul Feig admits. "Is this going to be gross and off-putting?" Originally not in the movie, then a source of endless recalibration during post-production, the no-holds-barred scene was a leap of faith for everyone involved. Would audiences go for six minutes of all-star comedians gurgling, gagging, and thoroughly defiling a marble bathroom? Wiig powered through the nerves, spritzing Evian on her face to mimic cold sweats, and the rest is comedy history.
Ten years ago, Bridesmaids launched to rapturous acclaim and rapturous laughter, but it was this one scene that took home the wedding cake. Moviegoers fell hard for Bridesmaids, turning out in droves to the tune of a $288 million global box office gross, with the food poisoning sequence going down in the annals of comedy as an endlessly quoted masterpiece. Though we remember the scene for its gut-busting laughs, we must also remember how it changed the comedy landscape for women. Without Bridesmaids blowing open the door on the bathroom humour boys' club, proving once and for all to film studios that women can tackle the subject with humour and heart, the outpouring of smart, female-centric comedies that followed may never have seen the light of day.
Wiig, who co-wrote the script with Annie Mumolo, starred in the film as Annie, a sad sack thirty-something who comes unglued during the run-up to the wedding of her lifelong best friend, Lilian (Maya Rudolph). Lilian's bridal party includes naive newlywed Becca (Ellie Kemper), randy, long-married Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), and kooky, foul-mouthed Megan (Melissa McCarthy), but it's the wealthy, beautiful Helen (Rose Byrne) with whom Annie comes into heated conflict and competition. In the iconic scene, following lunch at a dodgy Brazilian steakhouse of Annie's choosing, the bridal party rolls into an upscale boutique to shop for bridesmaid dresses, only for their meal to come back to haunt them. Graphic gastrointestinal distress ensues, culminating in a highly-quoted moment when a mortified Lilian, hustling across the street in search of a bathroom, sinks to her knees in oncoming traffic. "You're really doing it, aren't you? You're shitting in the street," Annie observes.
In the years since, the scene has reached pop culture ubiquity. Rudolph can't escape it; in 2017, she revealed that Starbucks baristas have written quotes from the scene on her to-go cups, saying on Ellen, "I'll always be the lady who took a shit in the street." To celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Bridesmaids, Esquire spoke with Feig, who brought us behind the curtain of the scene no one can forget. Feig revealed how the scene almost didn't happen, how he personally concocted the prop vomit, and how Bridesmaids forever changed the landscape for women in comedy.
Esquire: I’m told that the food poisoning sequence wasn’t part of the original script. Is it true that originally, there was another scene in place?
Paul Feig: The scene was always set in the dress shop, but it wasn't always about food poisoning. It was always Annie and Helen going there with the other bridesmaids, with Annie trying to steer them toward a cheap dress and Helen trying to steer them toward an expensive dress. Then it was a very funny scene in the dressing room where Annie puts on this dress, and it's so beautiful and expensive that she has a romance novel fantasy about what her life would be like in that dress. It was funny and silly, but we all felt like it wasn’t quite telling the story of this rivalry between Annie and Helen, fighting over the soul of Lillian and for possession of their best friend.
I thought we should play more into the idea that Annie is trying to compete with Helen, but doesn't have the money to do it. So she takes them to a terrible restaurant which she passes off as a good restaurant, because she doesn’t have the money to go somewhere nice. The fun is seeing how it all backfires on her. People remember that scene for the outrageousness of shitting in sinks and shitting in the street, but the reason it's funny is because Annie won’t admit she screwed up in the face of absolutely overwhelming evidence that she did. If it was just a scene of where they go to lunch and get food poisoning, it would be outrageous, but it wouldn't generate that same reaction where you think, "Oh my God! Just admit you were wrong."
ESQ: What was Annie’s vision of her life in the expensive dress?
PF: It was her running through a forest. At one point, Matt Damon is chopping wood with his shirt off, and he says, "Run into my muscles." She runs to him. It was like a Harlequin romance. It was very funny, but ultimately we felt we should keep it to real life, and let something absolutely insane happen because of her actions.
ESQ: Part of what makes the scene so comical is how long everyone tries to hide their distress. During the writing process, did you consider how women are socialized to say nothing when they don't feel well?
PF: Absolutely. That was all part and parcel of it: everyone trying to act like everything is normal. We knew that was going to be the comedy of it. Somebody is sweating, somebody is having problems, but they all say, "We're fine." That’s all a great chorus that plays into the comedy of Annie saying, "I feel fine,” and Helen saying, "I think it was the restaurant." That's the moment where Annie realizes she can't back down. It’s all that escalation of this one premise: you cannot admit you did something wrong, even though you absolutely did something wrong.
ESQ: How long did it take to film this scene?
PF: We shot that scene in two days. All of the stuff in the dress shop was one day, and the stuff in the bathroom was another. There's a deleted sequence where, after Becca throws up on Rita’s head, she has to throw up again, so she runs out of the bathroom and down the hall, thinking that there's another bathroom at the end of the hallway. It turns out that the door opens onto Whitney’s office; she throws the door open and projectile vomits across this beautiful white office, and all over the wedding picture of Whitney and her husband. We shot a lot of outrageous stuff knowing that we could adjust the balance later. The minute we shot that sequence, we all said, "I think this is a bridge too far." So we scrapped that.
ESQ: Did you shoot more conservative versions, as well?
PF: I shot one version we could have used had we not used the bathroom, which was just everyone pretending everything's okay. Then you hear this big urp and pan over to Megan, who’s just vomited down the entire front of her dress. We thought, “We have that in case the bathroom doesn't work and the shitting in the street doesn't work.” Fortunately, it worked.
ESQ: Did you do any test screenings to gauge people's reaction to this scene, prior to the release?
PF: We were religious about that. We did nine or ten test screenings over the course of the many months we were putting the movie together. We cut the first version, screened it for an audience, recorded their laughs, saw what jokes worked, and saw which jokes didn’t work. Each time, we replaced a joke that didn't work and moved things around. We tested it a bunch; some versions went too far, while some versions didn't go far enough. We saw pretty early on that the scene really worked, and that we could get away with a lot.
ESQ: How much ad-libbing went into this scene, or did it all proceed pretty much as scripted?
PF: It was pretty scripted. There wasn't a lot of room for playing in that scene because there are so many people in it. It’s really hard to have a lot of improv in a scene with six or seven people. People ad-libbed jokes here and there, but it was pretty heavily scripted.
ESQ: Which of the actresses most surprised you during the making of the scene?
PF: Gosh, they're all so funny. I love how Kristen just went for it, because she was nervous about the scene, as anybody would be. We were all worried: “Is this is going to be gross and off-putting?” Once we got there, she just went for it. The bit with her getting sweatier and sweatier over the Jordan almond was all her. She said to the makeup person, "Just give me a little can of Evian spray." We started the scene, and she’d say one line. Then she would spray her face, and we’d move the camera a little bit more; after the next line, she’d spray her face again. I thought that was so funny because we had scripted that she was sweating, but the fact that she did it and escalated it with every shot until she was literally pouring sweat… I thought it was just so brilliantly funny. She didn’t hold anything back.
ESQ: I remember reading an interview with Annie Mumolo where she mentioned that she and Kristen were hesitant about making the pivot to gross out comedy, as a contrast to that earlier fantasy scene they had drafted. How did you bridge their apprehensions with what you felt the film needed?
PF: It was about saying, "We think this is going to play into the character more, because the audience is going to laugh and feel sorry for Annie.” It’s her fault for taking them to a shitty restaurant, but you don't know a restaurant is shitty when you go there. You don't assume you're going to get food poisoning. This was the idea: "This is actually going to get us even more invested in Annie. She tried so hard and was so tortured by this." You really feel for her, when she fails in front of her friends.
Annie and Kristen understood that this was a great way to move the story of this rivalry forward. We also said, "Let’s just go for it, and if it doesn’t work, we won't use it, or we'll cut it down to be less gross." We could easily have cut it in such a way that they all run off screen and the scene ends. But I also said, "Let’s shoot all this outrageous stuff. We'll have it. If we don't shoot it, we don't have it, and we’ll never know if it works or not.” One of my biggest rules when I'm making a movie is, "If we don't shoot it, we don't have it. If we shoot it and we don't use it, then at least we were able to try." Annie and Kristen got that. They were such amazing partners on this movie. They’re comedy people in their very souls. With any comedy people, if we can get a big laugh, then it's worth it as long as we don't sink the rest of the ship by getting it.
ESQ: Part of what makes the gross-out nature of the scene so successful is that it's so uniquely female. For example, Megan screaming, "Don't look at me!" It’s such a contrast to buddy comedies with guys, who revel in and share their bodily functions. Or Annie and Helen having this battle of wills—the way they don’t talk about the elephant in the room is pure women.
PF: That’s what we loved about it. But as unrestrained as that scene is, there are some restraints in it, believe it or not. When Megan is on the sink, that moment could easily have been filled with all kinds of shitting and farting sounds, but we made the decision early on that we didn’t want those sound effects. When she’s on the sink, we know what's happening; you don't need to be cheap about it. That’s what we really tried to do. How do we not make this cheap? How do we make it fun and funny and outrageous, but not juvenile?
The only moment I feared could be dicey was when Becca throws up on Rita’s head, because I never want anything to look like we're taking people's dignity away. But the way Rita handles it is so funny, as she snarls, "Get away from me!” Everybody keeps their dignity as much as possible in this undignified situation.
ESQ: I love the choice to have Megan in that long dress. You can't see the sink or her body. You choose not to expose her, and to leave the rest to the imagination.
PF: I'm so sensitive to actors being exploited on camera and to women getting roles where they’re made to look bad through their behavior. When I was coming up early on, I remember a movie where the protagonist had the power to move things. There were all these scenes of him making girls’ tops pop off. They’re topless and grabbing their breasts to hide themselves. I thought, "This is so awful." It's such a weird, fucked up male fantasy. I remember thinking, "This makes me hate everybody involved with a project." If you look at all my movies, I can't think of much nudity, because I'm not comfortable with it. I don't want to make people have to do that, unless the story hinges on it. But even then, I want to figure out a way for everybody to feel good about it and not feel exploited.
ESQ: Another element that makes the scene so funny is the contrast between what's happening to these women and where it's happening. It's the most pristine white dress shop you can imagine. How did you shape the set to draw out that contrast?
PF: I said to my production designer, "This has to be the worst place possible to get sick." He made everything white and expensive, with fancy plush carpeting. That was very deliberate.
ESQ: I love that it’s also a single bathroom—not a communal restroom with multiple stalls. The lack of privacy makes it so much worse.
PF: How many fancy places have you been where that's the bathroom situation? You share with the employees, but it's also very fancy at the same time. A lot of men’s boutiques in Beverly Hills are like that.
ESQ: What did the prop master use to make all the vomit?
PF: It was a mixture of oatmeal, yogurt, and carrot juice. I've got pictures and video of me trying to get the mix right. We did tests where we fired it across the room because of that scene with Becca projectile vomiting. We had to make sure we got a good fire hose of vomit to go across the room, which we did. There are many different consistencies of vomit. It's all about the right balance. If you throw up on Rita’s head and it's too thin, it looks like water. If it’s too thick, it will just sit there like stew. So we had to get the right mix.
ESQ: Ten years later, looking back on this scene that you edited and tested and reshaped ad infinitum, are you still happy with the balance?
PF: I'm actually very happy with where we landed, because we didn't have to pull back as much as I thought we might. We shot two different versions of Lilian in the streets, because we had two different gags. In one, she slowly sinks to the ground like a diamond swan. In the other, she runs across the road and the diarrhea is so explosive, it literally knocks her off her feet and throws her forward. If you look up an old trailer, that shot is there, with Lilian launching face first into the street.
In the writers’ room, Annie Mumolo proposed that Lilian would just say, "It's happening, it's happening, it's happening.” She acted it out, slowly sinking to the ground. We shot both, and when we screened the “it’s happening” version at the very first test screening, we knew very quickly that it was the one. I've never heard an audience laugh as hard as they did at that moment. There are certain moments as a comedy filmmaker where you think, "We got it right." That was one of them.
ESQ: When the movie came out, what was the fan reaction to the food poisoning scene?
PF: It was huge. I love going to see my movies with audiences, and anytime I did, there were screams of laughter, especially from women. I love when comedy hits people on a level where they go, "That happened to me,” or, “I can only imagine that happening to me." When you’re so inside somebody else's body at that moment, just feeling whatever terrible thing is happening to them, and then relating it to your life… that’s just the best.
ESQ: Ten years out, what do you feel is the legacy of Bridesmaids?
PF: I love that people love it so much. Of all my movies, that's the one people come up to me and say, "I’ve seen it twenty times." People can quote lines from it. The legacy is really that it's just a very relatable movie. Everybody remembers what’s gross and outrageous about it, but the real reason people love that movie is because it's a very relatable story about a person in a very bad place in her life when we meet her. We see that she used to have it together, and that all she has in her life at this moment is her best friend. She’s about to lose the last good thing in her life to somebody to whom she feels inferior, so she has to fight to hang onto it. It’s very relatable.
This is why comedies stand the test of time. It's not necessarily because of all their jokes. The jokes are a big part of it, but a movie that's just stuffed with jokes can get very tedious after a while, because you’re not necessarily engaged in the emotion of the story. That’s why I look at any film I make as a drama. We plot them out like dramas, knowing we can put the funny stuff in, then work hard to come up with ways to illustrate emotional beats like, "She loses a round to her enemy." Then you say, "Let’s figure out the funniest way to do this, but the emotion is there." So many comedies are all about comedy, but the third act falls flat. If you strip out all the comedy out of Bridesmaids, it's still a very good story about trying to hang onto your best friend in the face of somebody who seems better than you are, and how that plays with your self-esteem. We see Annie try to protect what she has, but also try to fix herself, because she was in a bad place. We also see her struggle to allow her best friend a life of her own. That’s all insanely relatable to both male and female audiences.
I think that's why the movie had a lot of crossover, because it's just like The Devil Wears Prada, which on its face looked like it was a movie for women, but guys would go to see it with their significant others and realize, "Oh my God, there's a movie about a workspace. This is a movie about a tough boss.” Everybody can relate to that. That’s why I despise the term chick flick, because it implies that a movie is only for one group. Movies should be for everybody.
ESQ: A huge part of the emotional core of Bridesmaids is this moment every young person experiences, where all your friends start getting married, and it changes the nature of your friendship. It's not that you lose your friend, but you have to accommodate their new spouse into your world, and the balance of intimacy between you is forever changed. Like Annie's realization when she visits Lilian’s apartment one last time: she’ll never get to sleep in Lilian’s bathtub again.
PF: It’s a movie about growing up. Like you say, it's so relatable because we all go through it. I went through it a bunch of times when I was younger. My friends would get married, and I would get so upset. You didn't see them as much anymore, but you knew they were happy, and that forced you to move forward in your life too. It’s all very relatable.
ESQ: How do you think Bridesmaids has changed Hollywood? Do you think the landscape for women in comedy is better than it was 10 years ago?
PF: I think it's better now, though it was definitely terrible. It was seen as such an outrageous thing that we would dare make a movie starring all women. It’s crazy, but that's the point the comedy business had gotten to. Nothing changes Hollywood more than something making money. The fact that we were able to show that movies starring women could actually make money and cross over to a male audience—that definitely helped change the landscape. There's still so far to go in Hollywood, but Bridesmaids is one of many movies from the past decade that has helped to break barriers.
You Might Also Like