Film Corner: The Heat

image of Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock in The Heat

So, I saw The Heat this weekend, because Melissa McCarthy, and I loved (almost all of) it.

Let me first acknowledge, with a nod to How to Be a Fan of Problematic Things, the problematic elements of The Heat. It has a lot of gendered and/or gender essentialist humor, specifically that "balls" are things which convey courage. There is also a scene in which Sandra Bullock's character is asked if she is transgender (though I will note that, despite the fact it's a bullshit "joke" for her femininity to be questioned that way, there's no explicit or implicit criticism of being transgender; the people who ask are just surprised she isn't). There is mockery of a person with albinism. Although the movie does feature major supporting characters of color—notably Demián Bichir and Marlon Wayans, who play Bullock's FBI boss and colleague respectively, and Spoken Reasons, who plays a suspect—there are no major roles for women of color, and Bichir's character gets called "Puss in Boots," because he's got an accent. I'm sure I'm forgetting something(s).

Let me now explain what I loved about it.

The first thing I said to Iain (and my thanks to Iain for accompanying me to the film, even though he is extremely ill with The Plague and even though I am eminently capable of seeing movies on my own) after we left the theater was that the film was extraordinary in the fact that it's totally formulaic. It's just a straight-up buddy-cop film, but with two women. The fact that it's so not divergent from a well-known genre is such a fuck you to every filmmaker who refuses to make movies with women. This is something NPR's Linda Holmes observes wonderfully in her review: "Not only is The Heat very, very funny, but it's made with a delightful combination of self-awareness about the fact that it's a rare buddy-cop movie about women and total commitment to being a buddy-cop movie, not a female-buddy-cop movie."

At the same time, it has really neat moments of exploring what it means to be a woman in law enforcement—the double-standards, the unfair expectations arising therefrom, the isolation, the shit you're forced to take from male colleagues. And it has some really special insights about female friendship, especially built within male institutions.

[Minor spoiler] One of the most poignant moments in the film for me was when Melissa McCarthy's character, who grew up in a family of brothers, tells Sandra Bullock's character that her brothers were her best friends while she was growing up, and it sucks because they all grew up to be terrible people. A buddy-cop movie is the last place you expect to encounter the Terrible Bargain.

Naturally, The Heat passes the Bechdel Test all over the place. Also: Not just in McCarthy and Bullock talking to one another. Each character independently converses with other women, too. (I can't even believe that's remarkable enough to report in the year of our lord Jesus Jones two thousand and thirteen, but here we are.)

To explain why I most loved The Heat, let me recall something I wrote after watching Paul Blart: Mall Cop, a film that shares in common with The Heat the fact that it stars a fat person:
You know what the most depressing thing about this film was (and there were many)...? It's that Kevin James is a fat guy who can move! He can run and jump and do somersaults, and he was kick. ass. on that Segway—had it doing all kinds of tricks.

It was so sad that the movie was so rife with fat-hating stereotypes, because Kevin James himself actually defies so many of them!

Worst of all: He co-wrote the film and did that to himself. Sob.
That is A Thing that happens with comedic movies that star fat people. Even when the fat people themselves write the films. It's just ten thousand fat jokes about how very fat the fat person is, in case you hadn't noticed how fat they are, because being fat is so funny ha ha fat ha ha fatty-fat-fat.

That does not happen in The Heat. THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN IN THE HEAT.

There were so many times when I was cringing, waiting for The Fat Joke to demean Melissa McCarthy, and the joke never came. Even in moments where, in real life, some fat-hating shit would have been flying, the joke never came. (I am blubbing writing these sentences.) The closest thing to a fat joke in The Heat is Melissa McCarthy being told she looks like a grown-up Campbell's Soup Kid, which made me laugh forever, because hi. I am a white lady with a perfectly round face and dimples, AND I LOOK LIKE A GROWN-UP CAMPBELL'S SOUP KID, lol. (Just ask Lance Mannion.)

And here's the thing: There shouldn't be any mean fat jokes in that film, not just because there shouldn't be any mean fat jokes ever, but because Melissa McCarthy is the anti-fat joke. Just like Kevin James is. She is athletic, smart, capable, tough, attractive, ambitious, energetic, proud—all the things that fat people are Not Supposed to Be. And it's fucking horrible for a fat person who is all of those things—onscreen, right in front of your face—to be mocked as if she isn't those things.

The Heat gets it absolutely right: It does not give us an awesome fat character just to apologize for giving us an awesome fat character by treating that character like shit. It gives us an awesome fat character and says LOOK AT THIS AWESOME FAT CHARACTER THE END.

When McCarthy's character is demeaned, she is demeaned in the same way as Bullock's character—by a bunch of d-bag dudes who call them ugly and make fun of them for being "alone" (both romantically and on the job). And the film makes it abundantly clear (particularly in one great scene which I will not spoil) that those dudes are assholes. And that not every woman even wants a romantic relationship, anyway, nor needs one to be complete and fulfilled. And that there is rich irony in men who ostracize female colleagues mocking them for being friendless.

I'm not even sure how to put into words how much it meant to me to see a character who looks like me (HA HA A LOT LIKE ME) onscreen who is not the object of ridicule for being fat. Nor considered so delicate and sensitive that mockery of any sort was off-limits. McCarthy's character was drawn as fully human enough to be teased for the shit that a thin character would be teased about. ("Turning a shirt you've worn for three days inside-out doesn't make it a new shirt.")

And McCarthy herself is just so willing to be fat onscreen. There is a scene in which she sits up after getting down by an explosion, and when she sits up, her shirt is tucked under her boobs. I LOVE THAT SCENE. That is what happens when a body like hers, a body like mine, sits up. Your shirt gets stuck under your boobs! And there it was! Onscreen! A real fat body doing a real fat body thing! And it wasn't remarked upon or focused on for laughs. It was just there.

It was there.

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