The weekend’s cinematic tempest in a teapot went something like this.
Veteran New York critic and professional snarler Rex Reed wrote this review of “Identity Thief,” in which he took a few choice shots at star Melissa McCarthy’s style of comedy, and the fact that she’s trading on her own weight as physical sight gag/gross gag in her films.
No arguing with that. She did it in “Bridesmaids,” and she trades on it for a roly poly roll in the hay in “Identity Thief,” joking about her inability to run away from Jason Bateman — wheezing “What are you, a (bleeping) Kenyan?” after 40 yards or so.
But Reed called her “tractor sized,” which by any measure, crosses the line. A) She isn’t and B) it’s mean and C) nothing gets people more worked up than blasting somebody’s weight.
McCarthy hasn’t weighed in on it, but the director of her NEXT film, “The Heat,” Paul Feig did, tweeting a nasty “f-u” re: Reed.
Feig did “Bridesmaids,” too. Was she playing the jolly/profane fat woman in that one? You tell me. Be honest. Feig also did “Freaks and Geeks” with Judd Apatow, and coincidentally, Apatow used McCarthy in “This is 40,” where her weight isn’t used as an object of fun, merely as a convenient way to make her character, a bully’s mom, easy to hate. She has no control of herself, one is invited to think. How’s she going to control her kid?
But I digress.
And then the whole thing was on ABC News last night. Watch the video for the cliched version of who rallies to the heavy girl’s defense. John Waters apparently wasn’t available.
And so on.
Are we at some “teachable moment” about teasing, bullying the overweight, America’s obesity epidemic, the American diet, Hollywood role models and the idea that we’ve become so critical of Mass Media “think thin” brainwashing that we’ve gone too far the other way, “accepting” the fact that this is how we are now — needing bigger airline and theater seats, needing little electric carts to cover ground in Walmart, refusing to do anything about our diet/exercise/appetites but just taking this “Mike & Molly” tonnage on as “The New Normal”?
McCarthy, her fans will point out, refers to herself as “healthy.” So what? I interviewed John Candy and Chris Farley. And Roseanne and Tom Arnold. You think they said they had doctors warning them about coronary heart disease, diabetes, etc? Nobody, much less a movie star, tells the truth about that.
You don’t talk about ANYbody’s weight without them and those who identify with them for some reason or other going off on you. Mention an alarming spike in Kevin Smith’s girth and he and his minions will try to tear you a new one. Then, six months later, when he breaks a friend’s toilet, HE starts talking about it.
But here’s your “man in the mirror” moment. “Identity Thief” is this weekend’s surprise blockbuster – $36 million. Reviews didn’t help it, even though most critics avoided Rex Reed’s make-fun-of-appearances trap. It’s maudlin and kind of all over the place. Did people go to see Jason Bateman’s slow burn, to hear McCarthy’s shock-value swearing, or did they go to laugh “at” her and her weighty predicaments, to “laugh at the fat girl?”
The film’s last third, a serious John Candy/Chris Farley/Roseanne style downer where you see the unhappy person beneath her thieving and yes, her weight, suggests that she’s playing up the pull of gravity gag, and willing to play the pity card, too.
John Goodman and Faison Love are big guys who don’t make their weight the object of their comedy and never seem to let us laugh AT them. Rebel Wilson is the same way. McCarthy, any objective viewing will tell you, isn’t in the same boat. Wilson never lets on that she’s living anything less than a full, fun life. Even in “Bachelorette.” McCarthy often does. She’s willing to let screenwriters and directors (Mr. Feig) play the “fat card” for laughs at her expense.
The way Lagerfeld ripped Adele (uncalled for) and people suddenly found Jonah Hill “not as funny” after he lost weight suggests this is a subject that’s justifiably uncomfortable. It hits close to home on a LOT of levels. We don’t want to think we’re laughing at the obese, but the box office take tells us otherwise.