This hasn’t been a particularly good summer movie season for female actresses. Of all the movies that have been released, almost all of them have men in starring roles; a few indies (Frances Ha for example) are women-centric movies, but other than a few co-starring roles you have to look pretty far down the credits to find anyone with a uterus. Man of Steel, White House Down, World War Z, The Hangover III – all about the dudes. When Fast & Furious 6 and The Purge have the highest profiles for women, that’s not a great sign.
So when The Heat burst on the scene last weekend , this was a big deal; the film not only played with the buddy cop genre by placing two women in the starring roles, but two women over 40 to boot. Directed by Paul Feig – the same man who directed Bridesmaids and apparently the only man in Hollywood that believe in the power of women at the box office – The Heat had a lot of expectations on it in advance of its opening.
And while I didn’t think that The Heat was a perfect movie or nearly as funny as This is The End, it was still very enjoyable. Most of the credit can be given to Melissa McCarthy, who continues to go for broke and who basically willed this movie into being funnier than it had any real business being. She and Sandra Bullock elevated the material beyond what was on the page and provided more chuckles than expected.
Based on the trailers, I was a little skeptical about The Heat. I like Melissa McCarthy a lot – I’ve been a fan since her days on Gilmore Girls – but I was worried that she was being limited to playing the same character over and over. I don’t generally love slapstick humor, which the trailer seemed to be emphasizing. I was hoping that The Heat wouldn’t turn out to be a one-note comedy that relied too heavily on the trope of forcing polar opposites to work together. And while the film is definitely limited by the genre, it is still given enough room to breathe and for McCarthy to flex her comedic muscles that it overcame my preconceived notions.
The plot of The Heat is definitely the weakest part of the film: straight laced and unpopular FBI agent Ashburn (Bullock) is sent to Boston to take down a drug lord (or something). When Ashburn arrives in Beantown her investigation insects with that of Boston Police Officer Mullins (McCarthy), who is brash, abrasive and violent. The two are forced to collaborate – Ashburn has the intel and Mullins has the street smarts – in order to bring down the target. Hilarity ensues.
McCarthy definitely has the flashier of the two roles as Bullock is more of the straight woman in this Odd Couple pairing. McCarthy has no fear when it comes to comedy and fully commits to even the most ludicrous material and somehow makes it funnier than it was written. I could imagine many other actors –male or female – making as much out of the role of Mullins than McCarthy. Her delivery is so great that there are some lines that I’m not even sure that were originally conceived of as jokes that made me giggle.
Because she doesn’t get to bring the crazy like McCarthy, Bullock is much more restrained in her performance. She does get a few moments to let loose, but for the most part her character is simply reacting to and acting as a foil for McCarthy. Bullock can be funny, but compared to the powerhouse that is McCarthy it is probably for the best that she is doing her own thing and not trying to compete. The two actresses have nice chemistry together; I’d be interested in seeing more from this pairing in the future.
The Heat is really at its best when these two characters are at each other’s throats; once they like each other, as the formula for these movies dictates, the film becomes a lot less interesting and the problems with the plot become more evident. Buddy cop movies have been done to death at this point, so even introducing two women in the leads can only slightly delay the feeling that this is all very formulaic and that it has been seen before. There isn’t a lot that in unpredictable in The Heat; if you’ve seen any of The Lethal Weapon movies or The Other Guys, you know almost everything that is going to happen before it happens. Other than the exchange between McCarthy and Bullock, there isn’t a lot new here – and even their pairing isn’t all that original.
Some other thoughts:
- The writers were extremely lazy when it came to McCarthy’s family – they trot out just about every Irish stereotype that they could think of and it all felt very recycled and stale. When you have Jane Curtain at your disposal, give that woman something to do! They totally wasted her.
- Speaking of McCarthy’s family – one of her brothers was played by Joe McIntyre, better known to millions of women as being a member of New Kids on the Block. “Joey Mac” was my favorite, so it’s always nice when he shows up in something.
- There are a lot of funny people that pop up in various points throughout the movie; I won’t spoil any of them, but it was nice to see so many familiar faces.
- The film features an orange cat named Pumpkin, so that made me smile (though that cat seemed much better behaved than mine).
- The humor in The Heat isn’t all that sophisticated; that isn’t a problem for me, but if you were expecting something different because there were women starring, you would be wrong (and you also probably didn’t see Bridesmaids)
- I was curious if the paintings favored by the Mullins family are a real thing; if not, I see an artistic revolution upon us.
- McCarthy is once again reunited with her husband (Ben Falcone) in this film; he played the Air Marshall in Bridesmaids and he has a small role in the bar scene.
- The Heat ($40 million) did better at the box office opening weekend than White House Down ($25.7 million). Hopefully Hollywood is paying attention.
All in all, The Heat was a fun time at the theater. It’s not the funniest movie that I’ve seen, but it had enough solid comedic moments – thanks mostly to Melissa McCarthy – to make it a film worth checking out. It is hampered not by the performances of the actors, which were great across the board, but by the predictable narrative that is dictated by the genre and some moments of lazy writing. Not all the jokes work in The Heat, but there are enough of them that do to carry the film. The Heat was a pleasant surprise.