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Name five, legitimately funny comedies with a female lead (not a co-lead or an ensemble lead mind you), released in the last five years. Ready? Here we go. Easy A, Baby Mama… Mean Girls? No, Mean Girls was 2004. House Bunny? God no, that was terrible. Date Night? Tina Fey was at best the co-lead opposite Steve Carrell. Morning Glory? I'm not sure that was a comedy. Bad news, I can only think of two.
Partly it's a problem of quantity. Hollywood just doesn't make movies in which women are relied upon to be funny. Partly it's a problem of quality. When funny fem movies do get made, they all too often star Katherine Heigl or Kate Hudson, actresses better at pandering to female shopping stereotypes than actually doing anything legitimately hilarious.
This weekend we break through that glass ceiling with Bridesmaids, featuring a cast that's not just lead by a female, it's almost entirely female. That this comedy exists is perhaps enough of a miracle on its own, but here's miracle number two: It's also really good.
Will people support it? Will women show up to see it? Consider this a state of the film industry test. Box office numbers on Monday morning will tell the tale, but if it does well then maybe, just maybe Hollywood will push a button here or there and clear out some space to let a few other funny women take over on film. When Hollywood's ready for legitimately funny ladies, who should they turn to? Kristen Wiig proves she's up to the task in Bridesmaids. Here's five more funny women who could carry a comedy on their own. Steve Carell, stay home.
Emma StoneShe's the obvious choice for the next, and also first to be funny (that Anna Faris one was horrible), female-lead stoner film whenever someone gets around to making it (and not just because her last name is Stone). Let's call it Harriet & Carol Go To White Castle. Girls love weed and tasty little burgers, almost as much as guys do. Emma's the kind of girl you want to hang out with and crack jokes with on the couch, the kind of chick who might actually be talked into mooning the line outside a movie theater as you drive past in your Chevy Nova, just for the hell of it (though with far less disgusting results than those achieved by Artie Lange in Dirty Work). She's got the timing, the charm, those slightly off-kilter good looks, and the girl version of Seth Rogen's voice. She's already proven it, with Easy A, one of the only worthwhile, female led comedies released in recent memory. She's good in an ensemble too, in Zombieland she even managed to upstage ravening zombies (though not the one that was Bill Murray). Putting Emma in one of those corset dramas or turning her into the victim du jour of the next Jason movie would be a huge waste of her talent.
Rachel McAdamsWhile she's recently become better known for sappy, romantic dramas like The Notebook, Rachel McAdams got her start being funny. Really funny. In fact the first time anyone really noticed her, it was in The Hot Chick, where she was asked to behave as though she'd been possessed by Rob Schneider. She did better. She played a funny version of Rob Schneider. Ok, maybe being funnier than Rob Schneider isn't exactly a feat of comedic kung fu (the days of the Sensitive Naked Man are long gone), but she went on to be pretty much the best thing about Mean Girls. And what about Wedding Crashers, where Rachel held her own opposite Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn? Last year she was even pretty good playing comedic footsie with Harrison Ford in the single girl with a career dramedy Morning Glory. What Rachel McAdams needs is to throw herself wholeheartedly into a balls to the wall funny movie, before she's permanently typecast as the plucky love interest who gets overshadowed by iconic male leads in movies like Sherlock Holmes. She's too good to be stuck playing that girl, opposite Eric Bana.
Jane LynchJane Lynch has proven over and over again, for more than a decade now, that any time she's in anything she makes it not just better, but funnier. On film she's been stuck in smaller supporting roles where she absolutely kills, and now she's doing it on television on Glee. But if you don't believe she can carry a movie comedy then just pick up a copy of The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Role Models, The Hammer, or any of the other dozen or so movies she's appeared in and made better over the past decade. Even in the worst ones, she hits it out of the park every single time. She goes for the surreal, like a female Will Ferrell, using her slightly strange appearance and lanky physique to her advantage in physical moments, and her quick witted tongue in all the talky ones. Unlike most of the other people on this list, she doesn't even need structure, maybe not even a script. Just point her at the camera and let her go. That's why she's done so well with the Apatow crowd, she fits right in to their improve style by swinging and hitting and knocking the jokes down. Jane Lynch is too funny to remain a supporting character. Give her a movie right now.
Anne HathawayHere's the great thing about Anne Hathaway: She's up for anything. The actress who first made her way in Hollywood by doing princess movies for little girls has since thrown herself wholeheartedly into acting, by doing just about anything required by the role. There's no part too R-rated, no sex scene too heavy, no subject too taboo, no amount of full-frontal nudity which can dissuade her from giving herself to a role. That's a huge plus in comedy, particularly raunch comedy, where you could find yourself attending a donkey show one minute, only to be covered in feces the next. She's got the timing too. She held her own opposite Steve Carell in Get Smart, and in Devil Wears Prada even when she's not being funny Anne has a naturally awkward sort of goofy charm. That should serve her well whether she's selling sex panther as a legitimate method of attracting members of the opposite sex or just hanging out in New York tripping over her own two feet.
Elizabeth BanksLike Anne Hathaway, Elizabeth Banks is a gamer, and pretty much up for anything. But unlike Hathaway she's got a proven gift for improv. Her comedy cuts like a knife, whether she's half-naked in a bathtub legs splayed akimbo in 40 Year-Old Virgin, or hanging out with Kim Jong Il in a series of 30 Rock Skype calls. She uses her stunning good looks like a weapon, to hypnotize her audience into submission before stunning them into laughter with a sarcastic expression or over the top exclamation. She's done drama too, enough to prove she's a pretty fine actor, but Keira Knightley can play the next nurse who shows up in a war movie. We need Elizabeth Banks out there as the star of the first ever all girl golf comedy, or as a one-legged competitive swimmer in the new Will Ferrell financed Olympic high-diving movie. Or better yet, give her a comedy no man could ever do. Isn't it about time someone made a stripper comedy? Taking your clothes off for money is, in its own way, inherently hilarious. Anything else is a waste of her time.
Which actress would you rather see carry a comedy?
Hey, where's Tina Fey? Behind the scenes, where she's at her best. Tina Fey's fine on 30 Rock but when asked to carry the load in Baby Mama audiences and critics responded with a ho-hum. Tina's brilliantly funny but I've always thought of her as a much better writer than a performer. It's thanks to her writing that we have Mean Girls, and I'd rather have her behind the scenes at a typewriter pounding out the genius comedy scripts these other female performers will need, if women are ever to get a real shot at being funny on screen.