Historically, black women haven’t been allowed the luxury of fairytales. In the 90s and early 2000s, there was a modest sprinkling of romantic dramas and comedies like Love Jones, Jumping the Broom and Something New, but despite a more general resurgence of love stories in recent years, films that depict intimacy between brown-hued people remain scarce. Instead, black women have been hit over the head with sexist and nonsensical advice on why we’re still single and studies that suggest most of us will never get married. It’s only been in the last year or two that the narrative has begun to shift. Black women are reclaiming their romantic lives and telling their own stories.
In her screenwriting debut, Community’s Yvette Nicole Brown’s has crafted a story about demanding the love you deserve and letting yourself fall, despite any fears that you might have. Always a Bridesmaid, directed by The Man in 3B’s Trey Haley, follows Corina James (Batwoman’s Javicia Leslie), a career-focused copy editor, toiling away at her father, Carlton Blakeston Sr’s (Richard Lawson) publishing company while keeping her ambitions as a novelist under wraps.
Entering her 30s, Corina spends her weekends attending weddings, bridal showers, bachelorette parties, and hanging out with her tight-knit group of girlfriends. As her friends embark on new stages in their lives, Corina’s false sense of “contentedness” begins to make her feel restless. Things take a turn when she runs into an old (and very fine) friend from Hampton University – Mark Randall (Black Lightning’s Jordan Calloway), who awakens something in Corina that she thought she could never have.
As things become increasingly tense with her father at work and after her best friends, Tamara (Michelle Mitchenor) and Brad (Tosin Morohunfola) announce they are expecting their first child, Corina is forced to face herself. She must decide if she’s finally ready to put herself first when it comes to her professional and romantic life.
Haley sets Brown’s story against a stunning Chicago backdrop, not the crime-riddled city plastered across our TV screens during the news. Instead, Corina’s Chi-town is full of plush coffee houses, romantic spots for dates, offices overlooking the skyline, yoga lessons, spa sessions and a gorgeous brick-lined loft, all full of bold colors and textures.
Black women have been told that they can’t have it all, but that simply isn’t the case. After witnessing the infidelity in her parents’ marriage, her own fractured romances, and reeling from her mother’s death, Corina is terrified of opening her heart again. Still, though she makes several missteps when it comes to stepping out of her comfort zone, she’s willing to work on herself. Corina not only heeds her friends’ dating advice (albeit reluctantly), she has no qualms about attending her weekly therapy sessions with Pastor Althea Brody (played by Brown herself). In these sequences, Brown highlights that black women have been able to come as far as we have in this country, as the most educated and entrepreneurial group because we aren’t afraid to look inward.
As Corina slowly opens her heart to Mark, her eyes open up to possibilities that she could have never expected. Unfortunately, their romance is not without its issues. After all, it’s hard to accept things that you don’t think you can have. As a result, Corina makes some extremely frustrating choices that will surely make the audience grit their teeth.
Always a Bridesmaid is a part of a new broader landscape of black romance films like The Photograph, Queen & Slim and even If Beale Street Could Talk that tell us that it’s OK if marriage or a relationship is built on desire. They also say that there’s nothing wrong with building a life on your own. A rich and full existence can be attainable either way. These films center honesty and respect. They only ask of characters to forgive mistakes instead of seeing them as egregious moral failings.
Always a Bridesmaid isn’t a perfect film – it opens like a very stereotypical romcom with some of Corina’s other romantic interests acting buffoonish and over-the-top. They often go a bit too far to be taken seriously. Also, Corina’s lack of growth at times, makes her a remarkably maddening character. But despite some of its cheesier moments – as with most romantic comedies, Always a Bridesmaid is a warm and delightful reminder, to black women in particular, that you can be far from perfect and still get the fairytale that you deserve. As Pastor Brody says in the film: “Love is for everybody.”