A-List: Top Five Female-Driven Comedies
By J. Don Birnam
April 7, 2016
This weekend, in what has become somewhat of a rite of Spring, Melissa McCarthy returns to the big screen with another female-focused comedy, as the titular The Boss. These types of movies have been almost a box-office guarantee, particularly since Bridesmaids took the country by storm and landed even a screenplay Oscar nomination. Since then, movies from The Heat to Trainwreck have proven that the fairer sex does have box office power and appeal, and have provided a fresh relief to the now much sloppier buddy-type comedies.
Today, we will look at some of the best such movies - female driven comedies - in the last couple of decades. I'm limiting it to the last 30 or so years because I want to be precise about the contours of the genre. Musicals don't count, as funny as Funny Girl is, and romantic comedies definitely do not count or the list would be endless. Nor do dramedies count. As funny as Working Girl or Broadcast News are from the 1980s, those are really movies about female dreams and anxieties at a time of sexual revolution.
Arguably, then, female-driven comedies as such did not really exist much before the 1980s. Sure, some movies like Some Like it Hot had a strong female lead, but were really buddy comedies, and other comedies like How to Marry a Millionaire or She Done Him Wrong are, in the end, romantic comedies. To be sure, many comedies feature romance, so it's an arbitrary question of degree.
Here's twitter if you have other suggestions. Some honorable mentions must include all of Sandra Bullock's body of work, but we will leave her out today as we've devoted an entire column to her. There is also an entire genre that perhaps I'm discounting unfairly - the high school girl drama that has given us gems from Bring it On to Pitch Perfect. Finally, I'll leave Legally Blonde in sixth place only because it is arguably a rom-com, as the main character is driven mostly by her desire to get back her man. Those are good but, somehow, feel a notch before the comedic genius of movies with/by Melissa McCarthy.
On to the main event…
5. Clueless (1995)
Before you had ditzy blondes at Harvard, you had the ultimate, consummate ditzy blonde in Alicia Silverstone's Cher. Rest in peace a delightful Brittany Murphy, and, arguably, rest in peace Silverstone's career. Still, which trio (those two plus the always sassy Stacey Dash) gave us more memorable one-liners than Clueless did? Clueless lies at the border of two clearly demarcated eras in movie comedy - the era of John Hughes was drawing to a close, movies like Pretty in Pink had been relatively small affairs. Sure, Julia Roberts was still doing her thing, but all of her movies were, at bottom, romantic comedies. It would be a while before the Saturday Night Live crowd revived the genre entirely.
Clueless also lives perfectly in those hysterically oversimplified and stunningly archaic '90s. Gigantic cellphones are one thing, but their hairdos threaten to make the '80s look fashionable. Anyway, you can forget “as if” and “whatever” - words that are in the vernacular without even being identifiably from that movie.
And, if you need more proof that the movie lives in a weird capsule of ancientness but continued relevance, consider that virginity was a central theme of the characters' anxiety, and that none other than Paul Rudd was the central heartthrob.