It Remains Difficult to Dislike Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Illustration for article titled It Remains Difficult to Dislike Phoebe Waller-Bridge
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In a new Vogue profile of Fleabag writer, creator, and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the author and the artist wander Central Park in search of a boathouse. The setup of the piece feels a bit precious and tony—Waller-Bridge is described as a “larks-and-diversions person” who enjoyed The Joker, was raised by a venture capitalist-turned-photographer, and is related to baronets. But like the upper-middle-class character Waller-Bridge plays in Fleabag, Waller-Bridge, the person, still seems incredibly relatable, even though we have nothing in common.

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For one, the interview touches on a central theme of Fleabag: the loneliness of adulthood. Waller-Bridge talks about how adults become more secretive as a way to deflect judgment from friends and family—something I did not realize I do until she said it:

“It’s so true, isn’t it? We used to share so freely,” Waller-Bridge said as we discussed the lockdown that ensues when people start pairing off and nobody wants to admit what’s going on inside their relationships. Drama in your love life doesn’t feel like failure when you’re young, she said. “Because the stakes are so low.

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She also explains how difficult it is to find the “right” approach to writing about the erosion of women’s rights without coming off as shrill or hysterical. She admits she left more controversial jokes out of her Saturday Night Live monologue because she didn’t know how to tell them:

“Just about the abortion laws, the kind of stuff you can’t get your head around. The fact that the world has gone backward in this way, and actually in some frightening sense, in so many ways, women have a louder voice, are more empowered these days, and then in these other really insidious ways, blatant ways, we’re being marginalized again. How do you fight that? Because if you rant and rave, if you try and make a noise, you’ll be labeled noisy. You have to be careful of that. You have to find ways to protest. I’d really like to write something about that. I don’t know what it is yet.”

She adds that she avoided the jokes because she was worried about going for shock value without saying anything honest: “Sometimes you feel it’s braver to say something outrageous, and it’s not always. Sometimes it’s braver to say the vulnerable thing,” she tells Vogue.

Waller-Bridge found similar vulnerability in The Joker, a film with a violent protagonist some worried would incite violence:

In her little bit of free time, she’d gone to see Joker, which she thought was “absolutely brilliant.” “I think the reason people got so uncomfortable is because it feels too true, too raw,” she said. “I was watching it and thinking to myself, God, if this came out a year into Obama’s time in office, I don’t think we’d be feeling as worried about it.”

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While The Joker felt neither raw nor true to me, Waller-Bridge’s focus on thoughtful vulnerability remains very appealing, as does she.

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DISCUSSION

mortal-dictata
Mortal Dictata

Probably an unpopular opinion but I finally gave Fleabag a try today and after three episodes to be very honest I found it to be complete tosh.

Her entire character isn’t some average oman trying to make a success of it, she’s a very privileged woman who’s also a complete sociopath who destroys all those around her yet believes herself to be deserving of sympathy we’re meant to somehow sympathise with her plight of not being able to get a loan for her failing business. And yet the audience is played as though she’s “oh, so quirky”.

She gleefully emotionally manipulates and abuses her former boyfriend, treats various men as expendable and then gets upset when that same vapidness is reciprocated, I’m guessing caused her friend’s suicide, and is just a mess of her own creating and no one else’s.

I get that it’s probably one of the few shows that do that as opposed to the many with male characters who do the same behaviours to women (like Entourage) but I find those as television punching in quality as this.

If anything I think the show works more in meta in that while the chattering classes who feel some connection to her very much well-off background and entirely first world problems as “oh, so relatable darling” and graced it with plaudits of being the best comedy every made yet in my more common workplace, predominantly women of all age groups, I’ve not found a single woman who’s watched it let alone related to it.

Anyhow after that I watched through State of the Union, a 10 part ten minute episodes piece about Chris O’Dowd and Rosamund Pike as a couple going through marriage therapy, a brilliant piece about relationships and how humans can be their own worst enemy.