2011 saw Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids, an uproarious comedy that featured a wonderful comedic performance from star Kristen Wiig, become one of the year’s most successful films. It saw the rise of Melissa McCarthy, as well. Her performance as the bridesmaid Megan, arguably, made her as much of a star as Wiig. Since the success of Bridesmaids, McCarthy has become one of the hottest commodities, so to speak, in the world of comedy, and in 2013, she reteamed with director Feig for action-comedy The Heat, costarring alongside Sandra Bullock.
It must be said that The Heat does not rise to the heights set by Bridesmaids – although who could really expect it to anyway? Regardless, The Heat is a fun, if fairly generic, buddy cop comedy boasting some key chemistry between McCarthy and Bullock.
It probably does not need to be said that a buddy-cop comedy featuring two female protagonists is incredibly rare, and in fact a surprisingly new thing. And while the market is not inundated with buddy-cop films in general, each calendar year is sure to feature a handful of them, mostly, if not always, featuring two male protagonists as the focus. Therefore, it is refreshing to see a film with two women taking the lead. With that being said, however, aside from this change a few subtle jokes, the film never does as much as it would like to in terms of subversion.
When we are first introduced to Bullock and McCarthy’s characters, we see they bear similar traits to characters in other similar films. Bullock’s Sarah Ashburn is a straight-laced, uptight, and perhaps slightly arrogant FBI agent whose job is their primary concern, while McCarthy’s Shannon Mullins plays the rough, foul-mouthed, loose-cannon, Boston-raised cop that has slowly become a cliché in and of itself. In fact, the city’s presence simultaneously addresses and embraces those clichés.
From their introductions, the film goes through a plot structure very similar to other buddy-cop films. Their differing personalities take a while to gel, and it often gets them into funny situations, Ashburn has a scene of cutting loose, their differences come to a boiling point, but they are able to resolve these differences for the sake of one final action set piece that promises to be the sweet cherry on top. Very little about this film screams originality, but then again, maybe that was Feig’s intention.
The film makes a couple of references to other cop films and cracks a few jokes at the expense of the conventions that crime and cop films have set up within the past decade, but they all seem too subtle to convey the idea that Feig’s primary aim was to turn the genre on its head. Rather, what is most important to this film is its progressively minded attitudes about female leads in film and women in the workforce. Admittedly, it’s hard to shake the ‘been there, done that’ feel to this film, but it is hard to deny that the film has its eye on what is most important, and not to mention that Bullock and McCarthy make a fun dynamic duo.
Given Bullock’s character, it’s expected that she will not produce as many laughs, at least with respect to McCarthy. She proves herself more than worthy, however, using the archetypes her character is built upon to her advantage and delivers her fair share of successful punch lines. The real star of the show, however, and likely the primary reason for audience interest is McCarthy. Being given elevated stature in terms of character importance, she takes the clichés of a street-tough Bostonian and has fun with them, delivering some laugh-out-loud gut busters reminiscent of what made her so enjoyable to watch in Bridesmaids, albeit with a rougher tone this time around.
Much of the comedy works because of the dichotomy set up between the two characters. That dichotomy may represent the fully worn-out conventions brought about by decades of Hollywood film, and perhaps the comedy is not as effective as Bridesmaids because the plot is more predictable, but it works nonetheless.
As of writing this, Mr. Feig’s recent film Spy comes out tomorrow, with Melissa McCarthy now being given the headlining role she deserves. A lot of good press has been surrounding the film in recent weeks, and hopefully the film continues along the same progressive lines as this film. We’ve known McCarthy’s comedic prowess for quite some time now, but now is time to see whether or not Feig has what it takes to continue his run of successful comedies. Stay tuned in the next couple of days to find out – from me, at least.