23 April 2008

Long Live the Funny Ladies

Whether or not Baby Mama is a runaway success this weekend, there's no denying that Tina Fey is fast becoming the modern day queen of comedy. She's the current Entertainment Weekly cover girl, writer and star of the most consistenly witty and intelligent television show on right now (30 Rock), and her screenplay for the surprise cultural phenomenon Mean Girls (which some argue is a more succesfully rendered teenage comedy than Juno) is the main reason for the film's lasting popularity.

Fey owes a lot to the female comediennes who preceded her. Actresses like Madeline Kahn, Joan Cusack, Lesley Ann Warren, and Teri Garr spent the high points of their respective careers proving that women could hold their own against flatulence and adorable, foul-mouthed sprats. Many of them were even nominated for it.

If you look more closely at the films starring those comediennes, however, many featured them as side characters, roles that might have been forgettable had those actresses not added a little something special to their performance. Would anyone remember the characters played by Joan Cusack in Working Girl, School of Rock or Broadcast News if she hadn't brought her own brand of frantic energy to the roles? Would Teri Garr's largely thankless role in Tootsie be as hailed as it is in the hands of a less skilled performer? And Madeline Kahn . . . no one could do more with a small role than she. Sure, the name above the title may have been Barba Streisand, but Kahn was the reason to go to the theater.

More recently, it's become easier for women to be seen as viable comedic stars, albeit in the realm of television. The popularity of comediennes like Tracey Ullman, French and Saunders, and Australian super duo Kath & Kim have paved the way for more women to find laughs on the small screen.

Tracey Ullman does Andy Rooney on her new show State of the Union

Dawn French does Catherine Zeta Jones

Part 1 of an episode of Kath & Kim

So will Baby Mama stand the test of time? Rotten Tomatoes currently has it listed at a score of 67% Cream of the Crop, which is enough for a fresh score if not a particularly enthusiastic one. Most of the good reviews fall in line with Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com in finding it funny enough due to the skills of Fey, Amy Poehler, and supporting turns by Steve Martin and Sigourney Weaver. In my opinion, as irrelevant as it is having not seen it, Baby Mama is probably an entertaining enough comedy that some people will like, some people won't see, and most people won't feel passionately about one way or another. I will see it, but I'm not sure what to expect.

Regardless, I hope the Tina Fey train keeps moving forward. Entertainment Weekly pegged her The Accidental Movie Star, but I don't think that's true. She's put in her time and proven that she can hold her own. It's time to let her do it.


Drew said...

Completely agreed, including the debatable success of Baby Mama. I feel like we would have all liked it much more if 30 Rock didn't offer us a funnier version of an almost identical character.

I must suggest another to your list of the Kahn-Warren-Garr-era funnyladies: Carol Kane, who grew into a comedienne after the end of her ingenue age. I'm completely smitten with her, for whatever reason, and I feel like current-day funnylady Judy Greeg is doing a hipper, sexier version of of Kane.

Miss Em said...

Oh I so agree with you. I have the biggest girl-crush on Ms Fey. She's pure genius.

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