I miss hilarious monologues. Comedy of the 21st century is a science of awkward pauses and ratatat dialogue, and thus the great tradition of cinematic monologuing has been largely resigned to dramas. Worse, it's usually only male characters whose rants are lionized; Al Pacino in “Dog Day Afternoon” or Alec Baldwin in “Glengarry Glen Ross” spring immediately to mind when I think of celebrated speechifying.
So today I'm toasting the opposite of those dead-serious, dude-driven monologues: These are 10 hilarious monologues by actresses. Enjoy. And then enjoy again.
1. Madeline Kahn, “Paper Moon”
Trixie Delight just wants to get in the car and have a little fun, but Addie here is holding out. Using some coaxing and a little bit of frustration, Trixie prevails. It is basically ridiculous that we watch movies without Madeline Kahn in them.
2. Alicia Silverstone, “Clueless”
Leave it to Cher Horowitz to perfectly understand violence in the media.
3. Barbara Stanwyck, “The Lady Eve”
For a comedy of the early '40s, it is shocking how well “The Lady Eve” holds up. In this early scene, watch as the saucy Stanwyck eyes a handsome fellow (Henry Fonda) and narrates his every thought.
4. Joan Cusack, “In & Out”
It's a bit of a cheat to call this a monologue, but Joan Cusack's performance is so singular and exasperated that it commands all of your attention.
5. Sandra Bernhard, “Without You I'm Nothing”
I know Sandra Bernhard isn't officially playing a character here per se, but she invents a vivid enough scenario that I'm willing to call it a role. Has a monologue about womanhood ever dripped with as much cynicism? Bernhard turns up a little Bacharach in this concert film and tells traditional feminine ideology to walk on by.
6. Sigourney Weaver, “Jeffrey”
Sigourney Weaver's part in this film is very small, but her creepy proclamations predate Tom Cruise's much-vaunted work in “Magnolia” by four years. Let's scream at our alcoholism together.
7. Judy Davis, “Deconstructing Harry”
Judy Davis is one of the few people capable of scaring the hell out of you and making you laugh hysterically at the same time. Watch as she discovers that Woody Allen's character has been using his friends' lives as fodder for his work.
8. Mae West, “My Little Chickadee”
Mae West can't resist double entendres, so brace yourself for the most sinister lesson in addition and subtraction you've ever seen. In a script she cowrote with costar W.C. Fields, West lectures a bunch of boys on the ways of the world using historical and mathematical insight.
9. Meryl Streep, “The Devil Wears Prada”
Who knew that the backstory of a cerulean sweater could turn into one of the most damning monologues in modern comedy?
10. Eileen Brennan, “Private Benjamin”
And finally, some winning drunkenness: Eileen Brennan gave us one of the funniest and most acidic performances of the '80s in “Private Benjamin” as Doreen Lewis. Note her contempt and unsmiling authority. To date, Brennan is the only person to be Oscar- and Emmy-nominated for the same role. (“Private Benjamin” was turned into a TV series in '81.) Memorize this monologue for your grittiest, drunkest moments.