The Importance of Melissa McCarthy

June 25, 2015 § 1 Comment

Melissa McCarthy

Melissa McCarthy

Melissa McCarthy’s career is still on the rise but already groundbreaking, and not just because of her box office clout. It’s the characters she plays: strong, original and unlikely women who triumph against stiff odds. So does McCarthy: though technically a co-star in a string of successful movies directed by Paul Feig, McCarthy emerges as the star of all of them. “The Heat” was supposed to be a comeback vehicle for Sandra Bullock, and we all know how that turned out.

In this summer’s “Spy,” McCarthy outshines Jude Law, Rose Byrne, Allison Janney and Jason Statham, among others in the large cast. Like Megan in “Bridesmaids” and Mullins in “The Heat,” “Spy”‘s Susan Cooper is an unglamorous woman in a man’s world, underestimated and often ridiculed at work. Two of her weapons against her doubters and enemies are competence and brute strength. Although a meekly desk-bound CIA analyst in the beginning, Cooper is soon revealed to be an expert marksman and martial artist, capable of mowing down multiple adversaries. But it’s the third weapon–her hilarious, rapid-fire insults–that proves the most powerful:

It’s worth noting that the three movies discussed here have different writers: Kristin Wiig and Annie Mumolo for “Bridesmaids,” Katie Dippold for “The Heat” and Paul Feig for “Spy.” Clearly all four were writing with McCarthy in mind, yet her characters’ power and sensibilities aren’t fully on the page, however offbeat the dialogue. Feig, who directed all three films, encourages improvisation, and co-stars like Jude Law have spoken of McCarthy’s sharp wit and fast delivery. So in “Bridesmaids” we see McCarthy’s character Megan, an NSA operative, on a flight to Las Vegas, flirting outrageously with a supposed Air Marshall as she blocks his path with her leg: “You feel that steam heat coming? That’s from my undercarriage.” Later, she puts her bombast to good use by snapping Annie (Kristin Wiig) out of her depression. Megan wrestles and bites Annie–“Fight for your shitty life!” and then delivers this unforgettable pep talk:

They called me a freak–do you think I let that break me?….No, I did not….I pulled myself up, I studied really hard….and now I work for the government. I have the highest possible security clearance….I know where all the nukes are and I know the codes….I have six houses. I bought an eighteen wheeler a couple of months ago, just because I could….You’re your problem, Annie, and you’re also your solution.

Comic actresses have traditionally been of two types: physical (Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett) or cerebral (Lily Tomlin, Joan Rivers and everyone else who began in standup). But McCarthy is both: a fearless physical comedian and a whip-smart talker. It’s not surprising that her characters have traditionally male jobs–cop, intelligence officer–where their assertiveness and sharp minds are put to good use. What’s surprising is there is now a Melissa McCarthy archtype in movies, a presumed loser who is in fact a superwoman.

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§ One Response to The Importance of Melissa McCarthy

  • M.F. Sibley says:

    I also like that she’s not bone thin, which, in Hollywood, seems to be
    de rigueur. Even though she has been given comedic roles, she has shown evidence of dramatic chops as well in small vignettes in select films she’s done. I think given the correct role, she could pull off a dramatic turn. Hollywood, or better yet, independent filmmakers, give Ms. McCarthy that opportunity!

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