I’m not the target market.
That’s usually what I say when a new movie or TV show comes out that may or may not be good but I know for a fact that I’m not the audience they’re shooting for. Nashville, a rousing drama about competing country music stars? The only country song I’ve listened to in the last decade was “Old Town Road,” so I’m not the target market. The story of British aristocrats in the early 20th century? The only PBS Masterpiece theater show I watch is Sherlock, so again, I’m not the target market for Downton Abbey, either. Generally, if a movie or show doesn’t have car chases, lasers, zombies or superheroes, I’m not interested, but occasionally there’s an outlier, and that was Yvette Nicole Brown’s new romantic comedy Always a Bridesmaid, which premiered on BET last Saturday.
Full disclosure: Brown is a friend of mine, but as she and anybody else who knows me knows, I’m a harsh critic, stingy with compliments and have been known to tell 9-year-olds: “No, that drawing actually doesn’t look like your Mommy.” I watched Always a Bridesmaid, a romantic comedy about Corina James (played by relative newcomer Javicia Leslie), a soon-to-be 30-year-old woman navigating love in a landscape of dozens of friends getting married because Brown, who originally wrote the movie over 20 years ago, is a black comic book and sci-fi icon. She starred in cult-favorite show Community, hosted The Talking Dead, showed up in Avengers: Endgame and voices characters from quirky cartoon shows like Super Mansion, Lego Star Wars, and DC Super Hero Girls. Finding out she wrote and produced a black romantic comedy would be like finding out Mahershala Ali wrote and produced a raunchy teen sex comedy. It’s so out of character you’d HAVE to watch it, out of sheer curiosity.
I was shocked at how much I actually enjoyed the movie, especially the second half when it grew past the typical rom-com clichés and dove into interesting questions about what kind of love is worth working for and for how long.
There’s no spoiler in saying Corina is your typical black rom-com heroine—she has a fabulous job working as an editor in her father Carlton Blakeston Sr.’s (a very reserved Richard Lawson) large Chicago publishing company, is surrounded by sassy and creative friends, has a wonderful counseling relationship with Pastor Althea Brody (played by a wonderfully affectionate Brown), yet despite being ridiculously beautiful, seldom dates and is pushing 30 while attending her 14th wedding as a guest or a bridesmaid. Along comes equally ridiculously good-looking and single Mark Randall, whom most audiences would know from ER or Riverdale, but I only know him as the supervillain PainKiller from Black Lightning (like I said, I’m not the target market) who sweeps her off her feet until the inevitable break-up and resolution all rom-coms have.
I’m way past the “OMG if I’m not married by 30” stage of my life and the way things always work out at the end of romantic comedies annoys me (I realize the irony of that attitude coming from a guy who watches superhero movies all the time). However, once Always a Bridesmaid gets past the stereotypical rom-com tropes in the first half of the movie, it is filled with so many moving and creative moments it overruled my typical cynicism.
For example, Corina and Mark go on a date where she shares a few pages from a novel she’s writing. She dreams of leaving her family publishing business and being a writer instead of just an editor. I don’t know about you, but if you’ve ever dated anyone who was making a big career switch, especially from something black folk would consider safe to something a bit riskier and creative—from lawyer to comic writer, from food writer to restauranteur, from graduate student to entrepreneur—that scene between these two actors was beautiful, vulnerable and believable. It’s also rare to see a black film where the role of the church is healthy and organic. Corina regularly sees her therapist/pastor for advice (who, in a nod to Brown’s nerd roots, makes references to Star Wars during sessions), yet the movie doesn’t get bogged down in moralistic plays or fairy-tales that Jesus will bring you the love of your life if you just believe and act right. The production quality is better than your average BET flick and the soundtrack is a nice nod to classic black rom-coms of the ’90s with beats that build the bridge between the Gen Xer who wrote the film and the Gen Z characters that inhabit it. Ultimately, the best part of Always a Bridesmaid—like Inception, or Man of Steel, or even the upcoming Joker movie—is the conversations that pop off after you see it.
“I love the talkbacks I’ve been having with men after screening this movie,” says Brown. “I know I wrote Mark to be the perfect guy but he’s got some issues, too. He doesn’t know how to fight for what he loves.”
Of course, fighting through a woman’s issues for love isn’t quite my ministry. Been there, did that in my 20’s and have the therapy bills to prove it. You love somebody as is, or you don’t; no fighting required. Consequently, I saw a movie about a man who was taking a big risk going hard for a woman with issues that are likely to pop up again down the road. I’m sure many women see Always a Bridesmaid as a story about how hard it is to open yourself up to love when you’re got more baggage than an Erykah Badu song.
Of course, not all women were down with the choices in the film either. “People hated Corina!” Yvette said after several screenings. “They didn’t understand why she did what she did.” A friend of mine, a black woman in her early 40’s, texted me after the movie to say (Editor’s note: spoiler alert!): “Of course she gets [ what she wants] at the end. All she had to do was get a ghat-damn hamster and be gorgeous!” (The hamster is one of the twists and turns you’ll understand once you’ve seen the movie). Needless to say, no interpretation of the decisions the characters make for love is actually “right,” which makes Always a Bridesmaid much more interesting, even to someone like me who would usually watch a re-run of Power before watching a rom-com.
Always a Bridesmaid is comfort food for the romantic comedy consumer; the kind of Netflix-and-chill Saturday night movie that will make you smile, laugh out loud a few times and even text an ex or two to get some perspective. There are no lasers, no zombies and the only thing that gets chased is a woman’s heart, but somehow for this movie, I was actually in the target market.
After its BET premiere last week Always a Bridesmaid will have an exclusive run for the first week in October at Atlas Cinemas in Brown’s hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Then, according to Brown, it will be available on VOD platforms like iTunes, Fandango, and SVOD platforms.