Meryl Streep’s Funniest Movie Characters and Their Best Moments

While Meryl Streep is often adulated for her dramatic turns — Sophie’s Choice, The Iron Lady, The Deer Hunter — the actress is no stranger to comedy. Several of her more humorous characters remain fan favorites. Meryl Streep can do it all, and getting viewers to laugh out loud as tears stream down their faces is one of her many talents. 

Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep | Christopher Polk / Staff

1. Madeline Ashton Menville in ‘Death Becomes Her’ 

Possibly the best campy cult movie of the 1990s, Death Becomes Her depicts a rivalry between two best friends turned enemies, with Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep leading the way. 

Meryl Streep plays actress Madeline Ashton Menville, who discovers a potion that prevents aging — perfect for an actress reaching the end of her prime. Yet, Madeline’s rival, Helen Sharp (Hawn), discovers the potion too. And, the immortality treatment comes with its consequences for both. For starters, they have to spray paint on some skin every now and again.

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As for best scenes, there’s a moment in which Madeline cocks and shoots Helen with a big ol’ gun. Helen Sharp goes flying ten feet in the air, landing in the pool. Upon the realization that she may be dead, Madeline exclaims, “These are the moments that make life worth living” with a sense of joy and relief. Each word slowly slips through her mouth with a subtle air of superiority. It’s just juicy. 

2. Miranda Priestly in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’

Miranda Priestly is a woman on top of the world; she has it all, and “good enough” is inevitably subpar, while anything less than ingenious is idiotic. All those around her are committed to fulfilling her every unreasonable wish. She is a little empty on the inside, yet, as a result, her observable disposition is filled to the brim with wit, sarcasm, and unpredictability. 

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There are many great Miranda Priestly scenes. The comment that it’s just drizzling amid a thunderstorm that cancels all flights is at the top of the list. Yet, who could forget when she schools Anne Hathaway’s character on cerulean blue and the path from designer decision to bin in a discount store? Fashion is never just “stuff.”

3. Julia Childs in ‘Julie & Julia’ 

Meryl Streep captures Julia Child’s energy perfectly, and the accent is on point too. She conveys the chef’s loveable nature and determination to succeed. As for funny moments, what beats when she explains to her husband that what she loves to do is eat, going on to note that she’s “so good at it,” as she says she’s growing right in front of him. The scene is not only funny but quite beautiful, as it takes a moment to focus on the character’s marriage and the humor and dynamic that defined the couple’s relationship. 

4. Donna in ‘Mamma Mia’

The entire Mamma Mia movie is funny, using ABBA songs as both catalyst and commentary — to drive the plot and reflect on it. The movie works because it’s an ensemble film, in which everyone steps up to the plate. Donna’s funniest scenes often include her two best girlfriends, because the chemistry between the three actresses is palpable. Who can forget when all three girls are getting massages? 

Meryl Streep dives into comedy headfirst, unafraid to venture out of the dramatic world to inspire a few laughs. And, when she does, she raises the bar. Her comedic timing is impeccable and her delivery is always perfectly in tune with whomever she is aiming to create.