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Rated XX: A Brief History of Female Comedies

Hey ladies! We look back at the rise of women-on-top comedies from the Marilyn Monroe age to the ‘Bridesmaids’ era

romy and michele's high school reunion

Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino star in 'Romy and Michele's High School Reunion'

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If you watch the various trailers for Melissa McCarthy‘s upcoming movie Tammy, you can see the actress trying to jump over a fast-food restaurant counter (and fail), ogle male strippers with her co-star Susan Sarandon and do a manic jig on the dance floor. The talented comedienne might have been able to do those same things in, say, a bromance comedy or a romcom, but here, she’s front and center — the star of the movie, as opposed to someone who comes in for comic relief then goes back to the sidelines.  

Tammy is just the latest in a long line of movies that put funny women up front — call them “female comedies,” the sort of laughfests that let the ladies do the comic heavy lifting. In honor of McCarthy making the cover of Rolling Stone, we look back a brief history of the female comedy via 10 movies that helped define the genre and, more often than not, pushed it in to exciting new directions. 

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‘Tiny Furniture’ (2010)

Before Hannah Horvath ever dreamed of traipsing around Brooklyn in search of bad sex and worse job prospects, there was Aura — a recent college grad and restless twentysomething tooling around her mother’s Tribeca loft, trying to buy some time to figure out what she wants to do with her life. It’s tempting to think of writer-director-actor Lena Dunham’s breakthrough indie as a trial run for the angstful preoccupations and voice-of-a-generation social portraiture that would characterize her TV show Girls. (Once again, the small screen provides a haven for extended stories of female bonding and bickering.) But Dunham’s roughhewn notion of cringe comedy was already fully formed here, as was her idea of best friends who may or may not be undermining frenemies. This little movie that could signalled a drier, more personal route that the female comedy might take; a broad, bawdy tale featuring a lot of SNL alumni that would come out next year would point the way to another road.

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‘Bridesmaids’ (2011)

The common consensus, at least among studio types, was: No one would go see a raunchfest full of women. Sure, they’ll watch schlubby dudes like Seth Rogen and Steve Carell pine for and moon over hot ladies…but actually having ladies be the ones who make the shit jokes, say the bad words and act like slobs and losers? This Kristin Wiig-led ensemble comedy changed everything, from preconceived notions of what female comedies could get away with to the career arcs of several of its stars — notably Melissa McCarthy’s career prospects, as she went from scene stealer to Oscar nominee to co-leading her own buddy pic with Sandra Bullock (The Heat) in record time. The movie’s envelope-pushing notions regarding gender equality in the gross-out elements would soon be seen in independent films like Bachelorette (2012) and studio star vehicles like this year’s The Other Woman, but these were movies that simply caught someone else’s thrown bouquet. Bridesmaids was the one who grabbed the comic brass ring and slipped it onto its own middle finger.

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