Whatever Happened To The "Comedy Of Equals"?

Good news for lady-helmed comedies! Baby Mama raked in over $18 million this weekend, according to Box Office Mojo, beating out Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay by about $4 million. I asked a friend who works in the film industry, and he says that while $18 mil is a definite hit, it remains to be seen whether Baby Mama's success will lead the way for more female-centric comedic films. "Sisters are doing it for themselves but its no Superbad," in terms of box office brawn, my film-y friend tells me. He also tells me that the highest grossing romantic comedy is Wedding Crashers, which earned $209 million. "How much better could Wedding Crashers have been had they given Rachel McAdams something to do besides stand still and look pretty?" wonders Molly Lambert at culture blog This Recording.

"Anyone who's seen Mean Girls knows what a fierce comic actress she is," Lambert continues, in a well-argued essay lamenting the loss of the Hollywood "comedy of equals."

The Screwball Comedies of the thirties and forties really were a Golden Age of well-matched onscreen couples. Film critics like A.O. Scott and Anthony Lane, and David Denby are not just whistling Dixie when they claim that it was better back then...Women remain a much underserved audience and we deserve much better than How To Lose A Guy Wearing 27 Dresses. I'm just thankful the discussions have finally been opened back up. There are many millions of different modes for being male and female in the modern age. Maybe someday soon we'll get to see some romantic comedies that genuinely reflect that. Lord knows Woody Allen's not gonna make them.

And seriously? What. Happened. In the thirties, tough dames like Rosalind Russell sparred with Cary Grant His Girl Friday while Katharine Hepburn and Cary duked it out in Bringing Up Baby and the Philadelphia Story. One could argue that these films of male and female equals disappeared during the late 40s in the post WWII push to get women back into the kitchen, but uh, it's been 60 years since then.

I imagine film execs think that a "comedy of equals" couldn't sell tickets and so give us movies about equally repellent personalities like that forthcoming Cameron Diaz/ Ashton Kutcher shitshow What Happens In Vegas. Maybe part of the problem is that movie actresses are now solely seen as the sum of their parts (the New Yorker's Anthony Lane on on Tina Fey: "She hasn't yet made up her mind how funny her body is meant to be. She isn't big enough to make a joke of her ripeness, like Bette Midler, but she's no Lily Tomlin, either."). Fingers crossed that Tina Fey and Diablo Cody's successes can help change all that, but it's going to take time.

In Which A Comedy Of Equals Beats A Bromance Every Time [This Recording]
Weekend Results [Box Office Mojo]
Anthony Lane Thinks Tina Fey Is Fat, But Not Fat Enough To Be Funny [Emily Magazine]

Earlier: Baby Mama Is Fertile Ground For Mixed Feelings From Reviewers
Does The Female "Buddy" Movie Exist?