Feeling down? Depressed? Done in by the patriarchy, yet again? Go see The Heat with Mellissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock. You’ll laugh your head off and come out feeling happier, energized and empowered. Laughter is the best medicine – so is friendship.
Sandra Bullock is a fine comedian and over the years she has become a master at her craft, but Mellissa McCarthy’s sense of comic timing is pure genius. Together they make a dynamite team. The Heat is a tongue in cheek parody of a cop buddy movie. It barely pretends to have a plot. The story is really about friendship – particularly the friendship of women. Sandra Mullins (McCarthy) and Sarah Ashburn (Bullock) are both dedicated, hard-driving, honest women working in a man’s world, but their personalities are radically different. The writers could have had them bond over any one of these commonalities, instead their unlikely friendship is based on their common characteristics of intelligence and intuition. That’s why I loved this movie; besides the fact, it’s so damn funny.
If vulgarity bothers you – better stay home. It’s vulgar all right, but in a way that turns vulgarity on its head and makes us (the audience) see how ridiculous it is. McCarthy’s genius as an actor allows her to perform this sleight-of-hand while sat the same time staying in character and making us believe in the integrity of Sandra Mullins.
I saw the film with a friend and when we walked out she said,” I felt like I was watching the real characters, not the actors.” Bingo.
Slapstick is a fine art. It has to be executed with perfect timing to be truly funny rather than just silly. Both these women are masters at the game. The thing is they are both actors first and comedians second, allowing them both to create a context in which every action the character takes is believable.
Director Paul Feig allows us enough of a glimpse into the backgrounds of each Ashburn and Mullins to establish some psychological validity for their characters. It’s fascinating to me how quickly America took to psychology. Maybe, because we are so entrenched in the cult of individuality, the idea of an ego made perfect sense to us. How ere it be, film makers have been mining Psych 101 for the gold ever since Hitchcock.
I loved that the nasty misogynist attitude of the general male population is presented as annoying obnoxious background noise instead of the thing the women bond over. It pisses them off, but they are used to it. It’s come with the territory, but it is acknowledged! And in such a way you can’t miss it for the crude, unfair, spiteful, unwarranted prejudice it is. Mullins and Ashburn are both so obnoxious in their own way, they seem to call it on themselves, but the film makes it perfectly clear that this is how these men feel about all women. No matter who they are or how they look it won’t earn them even a smidgen more respect. No matter how outrageous or compliant these women might act, the men won’t ever really see them as peers. Of course Ashburn and Mullins already know this – it’s part of what gives them the courage to be themselves and go forward with the work to which they both feel such deep commitment.
Cop buddy movies always feature courage – both moral and physical courage. This film is no exception. These women are brave. Sarah Ashburn also exhibits exceptional emotional courage. She is able to admit her mistakes, acknowledge them and learn from them. Furthermore, both characters are flexible – able to adapt to changing circumstances and think alternatively. In my experience, that kind of adaptability always requires courage.
The film also hits on the class differences we so rarely acknowledge in America. It even slips in a little poke at our awful broken system for dealing with abandoned and orphaned children.
Finally, the movie acknowledges another component of women’s friendship – deep affection, heart, compassion. The Heat empowers women because it shows us what true friendship looks like. I know because I see my own friendships reflected here. Intelligence, intuition, courage, compassion – these are the touchstones.