The 20 Best Female-Driven Comedies
"Trainwreck," the new Amy Schumer/Judd Apatow movie, examines the plight of one snarly woman as she exits her familiar world of sexual freedom and hangovers for a detour into serious romance. Though several eye-popping cameos and supporting performances buttress the film, Schumer's performance is the acting triumph of "Trainwreck." Without her shaky conscience and burgeoning sense of fulfillment, the movie's conventional story might feel staid. Thankfully, it's anything but.
Schumer's performance marks a welcome addition to cinema's long line of strident, hilarious female protagonists. We're celebrating that lineage with a list: the 20 best female-driven comedies ever. Some are old and some are new, but all are marked by a degree of cosmopolitan fun and nerviness -- and the occasional slap from Cher.
20. "How to Marry a Millionaire"
We remember Lauren Bacall as a glamor girl with a damning grimace, but let's start revising that narrative to include her chops as a comic force. Listen to how she throws out snipey romantic insults to costars Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable; she's cool but hilarious. "Wealthy men are never old," she purrs. Later, she adds, "If you haven't married him, you haven't caught him. He's caught you." Monroe also turns in one of her sprightliest performances.
19. "Mean Girls"
"Mean Girls" is one of the few comedies to offer a favorite character for everybody. Maybe you prefer the nervous transfer student Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) who learns back-biting sass from her new pals Regina George (Rachel McAdams), Toaster Strudel heiress Gretchen Weiners (Lacey Chabert), and ditz Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried). Or maybe you dig Janice Ian (Lizzy Caplan), whose snippy rapport with her gay best friend Damian (Daniel Franzese) is cackle-worthy. Personally, I relish the presence of cynical teacher Ms. Norbury (Tina Fey) and Juicy Couture aficionado mom Mrs. George (Amy Poehler), who help make this comedy the most Bechdel-friendly of the 2000s.
18. "The Devil Wears Prada"
"The Devil Wears Prada" is the glossy bildungsroman of a wide-eyed journalist named Andy (Anne Hathaway), who is not prepared for the wrath of magazine doyenne Miranda Priestley (Meryl Streep) or her insulting assistant Emily Charlton (Emily Blunt). What seems like a traditional corporate ladder story turns into a monstrously funny forum for one-liners ("I said to myself, go ahead. Take a chance. Hire the smart, fat girl.") and withering asides from Streep and Stanley Tucci. It's addictive.
"Grow up, Heather. Bulimia is so '87." It's been said that "Heathers" is the original "Mean Girls," but let's give this black comedy the props it deserves: It is far weirder than any comedy of today is allowed to be. Note the animalistic connection between Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, the weeping father who loves his "dead gay son," or the gothic strains of that croquet fantasy. Your life is immediately richer once you start incorporating phrases like "This isn't just a spoke in my menstrual cycle" into your lexicon.
Kristen Wiig earned a Best Original Screenplay nomination for her wild script, but it's a crime she didn't also pick up a Best Actress nomination for her zany but downtrodden performance as Annie, the floundering bridesmaid whose friendship with longtime pal Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is on the rocks. Throw in a raucous slapstick performance from Melissa McCarthy, a sneer-heavy turn from Rose Byrne, and a dash of Rebel Wilson and you have the most female-centric (and profitable) Judd Apatow film ever.
"Juno" is teeming with iconography: the hamburger phone, that striped t-shirt hiding a pregnant belly, Michael Cera's track uniform, that animated opening sequence -- but the best parts of "Juno" are what you can't see. Consider the wicked drollness with which teenage Juno (Ellen Page) and her pal Leah (Olivia Thirlby) discuss adoption-ready families. "'Wholesome, spiritually wealthy family have found true love with each other,'" Leah reads, before adding, "Aw, all that's missing is your bastard." The pop culture savviness of the movie's heroine and the un-histrionic coolness of her parents (JK Simmons and Allison Janney) are one-of-a-kind treats, and "Juno" stands as both the warmest and most perceptive teen comedy of the 2000s.
14. "Working Girl"
It wasn’t Melanie Griffith’s most charismatic performance (That would be “Something Wild”) but “Working Girl” treated us to feminine intra-corporate warfare that remains delicious almost 30 years later. Melanie Griffith is a sensible but savvy hire as secretary Tess McGill; Sigourney Weaver is howl-worthy as nefarious boss Katherine (“I am, after all, me.”), and Joan Cusack scintillates as Tess' Kabuki-makeupped pal. All three actresses earned Oscar nominations for their quippy work in wrought-iron shoulder pads.
13. "Broadcast News"
"Broadcast News" wastes no time proving its insights into a female professional mind were singular and wacky: After hardened newswoman Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) slams down a phone at the beginning of her workday, she collapses in a heap and cries. Her quickness, her insights, and her way of coaxing an anchorman into giving the "performance" of his life are chilling and extraordinary.
12. "Funny Girl"
"Funny Girl" has fantastic songs, romantic moments, and spectacular choreography, but none of it means a thing without the chutzpah and utter control of Barbra Streisand. As Fanny Brice, she brings human chumminess and otherworldly star-power. "You think beautiful girls are going to stay in style forever? I should say not!" she wails. "Any minute now they're going to be out! Finished! Then it'll be my turn!" You can see in costar Omar Sharif's eyes the pure disbelief of beholding such a star.
11. "Born Yesterday"
In the history of cinema, no “dumb blonde” has been as charismatic or slyly intellectual as Billie Dawn, the unfulfilled housewife at the heart of “Born Yesterday.” Judy Holliday turns in a nuanced, subversive performance as a fluttery-eyed “little woman" who learns sophistication, self-respect, and even a few two-dollar words despite the wishes of her boorish husband (the great Broderick Crawford). Did Holliday deserve the Oscar over Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson? Her electrifying coquettishness will make you sympathetic to her case. Watch that rummy scene again and find yourself grinning as the tension and nerve build.
10. "Nine to Five"
The clackety-clack typewriter beat of Dolly Parton's titular song sets the frenetic pace of this feminist comedy from 1980. Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Parton live out an extreme revenge fantasy when confronting their horrid boss (Dabney Coleman) and his unrepentant male chauvinism. The movie's absurdity surges as the trio of ladies grows closer, and it makes a line like "You steal the wrong body from the hospital and all you can say is 'I must've made a mistake'?" a thrill.
9. "She Done Him Wrong"
Cary Grant worked with some of the feistiest heroines of the silver screen. Consider Carole Lombard, Katharine Hepburn, and Rosalind Russell. But in the long thread of Cary Grant comedies, none of his costars quite took top billing and stole the show like Mae West, whose performance in the 66-minute "She Done Him Wrong" is resplendent and invigorating over 80 years later. She coos, "Come up sometime. I'll tell you your fortune. You can be had." It's better than bawdy; it's downright carnal.
We celebrate plenty about the cinematic year of 1939 -- there's Scarlett O'Hara's brattiness, Mr. Smith's Washington trip, and the goodness of Glinda. So it should unnerve you that the untouchable powers of Greta Garbo in "Ninotchka" have gone under-discussed in the past generation. Watch as she obliterates the silver screen with the darkest one-liners of the decade. "The last mass trials were a great success. There will be fewer and better Russians," she sneers mid-strut. Her emasculating moments are perhaps her best: "We don't have men like you in this country. That is why I believe in the future of my country." Striking looks and scorching delivery: the Garbo gold standard.
To date, Tracy Flick is the only movie character both to terrify and delight me. As the overachieving student council hopeful whose rage is a "Carrie"-level horror, Reese Witherspoon brings Alexander Payne's sharp script into perfect focus. She is spellbinding in her ambition (think "To Die For") and in her believable teenage angst (sort of in the vain of Anna Kendrick's "Up in the Air" character). Still, the movie's greatest achievement is how it makes you pine for the august days of Chris Klein.
6. "Auntie Mame"
While I also adore Peggy Cass as the dowdy Agnes Gooch, let's just call this movie what it is: a jaw-dropping exhibition of nerve, glamor, and comic perfection. Rosalind Russell, we haven't even attempted to duplicate you.
Is "Victor/Victoria" a tad too sophisticated in its exploration of gender politics, sexuality, and role reversal for a film set in the '30s? Maybe. But you can't deny the pure joy of watching Julie Andrews' screwball chops, heartfelt ballads, and amazing rapport with Robert Preston. If that moxie wasn't enough, please gawk at Lesley Ann Warren's unspeakably fabulous performance as gangster moll Norma, whose screechy needs and nightmarish sex drive are just divine.
Arguably the most melancholic movie on the list, "Hannah and Her Sisters" gives half a dozen actresses ample time to find screamingly funny moments in believable characters. Take Dianne Wiest's internal monologue as Carrie Fisher steals her crush's attention ("Could you believe the way she was calling him David? 'Yes, David. I feel that way, too, David. What a marvelous space, David.' I hate April. She's pushy.") or Hannah's blithe insult to Mickey ("Could have you ruined yourself? Excessive masturbation?"). The best moments are the meal scenes between the titular trio, even though it makes you wonder how Barbara Hershey was spared an Oscar nomination.
Oh, Cher. Oh, Dionne. Oh, every line of this movie. "Clueless" is a beloved hit for '90s kids, but it somehow remains underrated as a top-to-bottom hilarious comedy. Alicia Silverstone makes Cher's self-absorption somehow thoughtful and her naivete somehow wise. Her friendship with new student Tai (Brittany Murphy) is heartfelt and gloriously condescending. No one but Silverstone could deliver the following line with such whiny gusto: "Excuse me, but I have donated many expensive Italian outfits to Lucy [her maid], and as soon I get my license, I fully intend to brake for animals, and I have contributed many hours to helping two lonely teachers find romance."
"Moonstruck" is a movie that makes you want to hug the whole world, or at least a particularly antsy section of Brooklyn Heights. Cher is a hilarious doll as Loretta Castorini, a widow whose unexpected interest in a blue-collar imp (Nicolas Cage) threatens to derail her relationship with his brother (Danny Aiello). Every scene is a gem, but the kitchen conversation between Loretta and her mother (Olympia Dukakis, also an Oscar winner for this film) is tops: "You. You got a love bite on your neck. He's coming back this morning, what's the matter with you? You're life's going down the toilet! Cover up that damn thing! Come on, put some make-up on it!"
1. "The Lady Eve"
Now, could we have put any number of Preston Sturges projects up here? Maybe. But the conceit of "The Lady Eve" is just too tremendous not to honor with the top spot. Barbara Stanwyck, as a wisecracking con artist, loses the guy she likes (Henry Fonda) but wins him back by pretending to be another awesome woman. She doesn't disguise herself, but her chutzpah and coolness are basically too alluring to be turned down. The comic timing in "The Lady Eve" feels more lickety-split than many contemporary romcoms, and Stanwyck's insights as the fabulous Jean Harrington are unforgettable. My favorite: "You see, Hopsie, you don't know very much about girls. The best ones aren't as good as you probably think they are and the bad ones aren't as bad. Not nearly as bad." And has any movie ever had a better pair of closing lines? Doubt it, Pike.