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IMAGE: Kristen Wiig in "Bridesmaids"
Suzanne Hanover  /  AP
Kristen Wiig's "Bridesmaids" put women in the front of one of the summer's top comedies.
TODAY contributor
updated 8/22/2011 10:42:56 AM ET 2011-08-22T14:42:56

From bickering bridesmaids to a bad teacher and a really horrible boss, women enjoyed a rare bounty of meaty — and raunchy — comedy roles this summer.

“The comedies that will be remembered from this summer were the ones that featured women in very prominent, very funny roles,” said Matt Singer, film critic for the Independent Film Channel.

There's no doubt that studios now know that outrageous, raunchy comedy is no longer just guys-only territory. While the year’s biggest comedy hit was the male-centric “The Hangover Part II,” three of the biggest hits at this summer’s box office featured women behaving badly — very badly — in roles that just a few years ago, would have seemed unimaginable.

Story: It was the Summer of Raunch at the movies
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“Refreshing is probably not the right word to describe the act of crapping in a sink in any context,” noted Singer, referring to one of the signature moments in “Bridesmaids.”

“But it is kind of refreshing to see women being treated as comic equals to men and not simply girlfriends-slash-wet-blankets, which is sadly the roles they're often relegated to in mainstream comedies. “

Story: 'Hangover 2' is raunchiest movie of summer

This summer, the comedies that struck a chord with audiences were those that put a different — and hilariously inappropriate — spin on female characters. Look no further than the surprise smash hit “Bridesmaids” for evidence that Hollywood seems to have broken out of its female comedy character rut.

The main character Annie (Kristen Wiig) is neurotic and barely likeable, and for much of the film comes off as a candidate for Worst. Friend. Ever. But the revelation is Melissa McCarthy as Megan.

Story: 'Bridesmaids' reinvents the wedding comedy

Most times, an actress of McCarthy's size would just be pigeonholed into playing the typical ‘big girl’ role. Instead, McCarthy shines as the hilariously self-confident bridesmaid with a fondness for honesty, puppies and a knack for memorable lines like “I’m glad he’s single, because I’m going to climb that like a tree.”

Video: Melissa McCarthy: A 'dream' to host 'SNL' (on this page)

Depending on one’s perspective, Cameron Diaz’s filthy-mouthed teacher in “Bad Teacher” either raised or lowered the bar on female comedy. Utterly devoid of depth and morals, she lies, cheats and steals from her middle school teacher’s desk in an attempt to score enough cash to get breast implants. She’s the kind of cold-blooded manipulator Michael Douglas used to make a living portraying. She’s the guy we love to hate in so many movies — except she’s a woman.

Video: Watch the 'Bad Teacher' trailer (on this page)

Perhaps no actress benefited more from going for down and dirty laughs than Jennifer Aniston. We know she can do comedy; she did it for a decade on “Friends.” But aside from a few exceptions (“Along Came Polly,” “Office Space”), her biggest film successes have come when she’s played second fiddle (“Bruce Almighty,” “The Break-Up,” “Marley & Me”).

In “Horrible Bosses,” Aniston gets the green light to carry the comedy ball, and she doesn’t fumble her opportunity.

Playing the sex-crazed dentist who torments poor, desperate-to-be-faithful Dale (Charlie Day), she scored huge laughs and outshone the other 2 horrible (male) bosses by playing completely against type. She’s Demi Moore in “Disclosure,” with a filthier mouth and better lines.

Video: Watch the trailer for 'Horrible Bosses' (on this page)

“Aniston got to show a range that she's rarely presented,” said Singer. “She genuinely looked like she was having fun…which imbued that despicable character with this buoyant energy that made her a lot of fun to watch, even as she systematically tried to destroy this poor guy's life.”

Sure, the 42-year-old actress’s ability to still look fabulous while wearing just lingerie and a lab coat was a definite plus, but it was her gift for selling vulgar dialogue that was most memorable. Who knew Rachel could f*&$@! curse like that?

Even one of the summer’s big disappointments, “The Change-Up,” did well by its female cast members. Olivia Wilde and Leslie Mann were there mainly to set up Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman for their rapid-fire riffs, but they still managed to stand out.

Wilde played Bateman’s take-charge colleague who turns the tables on Reynolds, takes him back to his place, and tells him to relax, because he’s gonna get lucky tonight. Somehow, she makes that sound not as skanky as you’d think it would.

Story: Switch should have stayed off for 'Change-Up'

Mann, a veteran scene-stealer in a number of comedies (usually directed or produced by her husband Judd Apatow), does it again here, notably with her open-door toilet scene where she bemoans her love of Thai food.

Of course, the successes of the summer of 2011 guarantee nothing, except that we can expect a slew of "girls gone wild" films in the near future.

The question is, do we need to see more? Isn’t it enough that women have proven it can pull off raunchy, sleazy comedy as well as the men? Perhaps the growing stable of female comedy talent in the film and television industry would be better served trying to raise the bar on comedy, instead of continually lowering it.

However, seeing the huge numbers this summer’s raunchy comedies drew, that decision is likely out of their hands.

"I have no doubt that within 18 months we'll see two or three more 'Bridesmaids'-ish comedies starring ensembles of oddly matched women," Singer says.  "Whether they're just derivative ripoffs or clever variations on the formula will depend on the talent involved."

Women are taking more risks and being cast in raunchier roles. Who's the funniest actress in movies today? Discuss with us on Facebook.

Michael Avila is a writer based in New York. Follow his random Pop Culture musings on Twitter.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: Watch 'The Change-Up' trailer

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