Identity Thief, the latest movie to capitalize on Melissa McCarthy's newly established box office bankability, opens this Friday. McCarthy, a favorite of anyone possessing eyes and a soul since her days as Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls, is finally getting the star turn we all knew she deserved. Hilariously funny, whip smart, and legitimately lovely in interviews, McCarthy's success is something to be celebrated. McCarthy being front and center is a boon for women everywhere; her extreme talent is helping normalize different bodies in popular media. I'd honestly buy tickets to watch her put on water wings and mow a lawn.
That said, I'm not sure if I'm going to see Identity Thief.
I don't know how down I am with a movie that, by all accounts, includes some hardcore jokes about McCarthy's weight. She's closer to an average-sized American woman than most people in popular media, and that's a very good thing. Seeing different body shapes makes us more comfortable with seeing different body sizes. However, since we're so accustomed to seeing size 2s everywhere, we don't even know what to do when we see someone bigger on screen. (HINT: we refer to them as Bilbo Baggins.)
We also make larger women largely invisible, and when we do see them, their weight must be a constant topic of stinging observation and conversation.
In the world of this movie, a romantic interaction between the two leads would never be possible. In a society where matches between fat men and thin women — and old men and young women — are routinely given a pass, there's absolutely no way a Hollywood comedy could conceive of anything other than Jason Bateman's character being disgusted by Melissa McCarthy's size. Her sexuality is made into a low-brow joke.
What's most annoying is that writer Craig Mazin — a former fatty who's never going back! — just packs this thing full of fat hate.
In the most egregious example, McCarthy and a cartoonish cowboy (played by the chubby Eric Stonestreet from Modern Family ) have a ridiculous sex scene where you don't even see their bodies. Because sex only happens in the face. And fat bodies are more appropriate in the horror genre, where you pay to be frightened, shamed, and disgusted.
From the Village Voice's review:
But her big comic set-piece sex scene, teased so wildly in the film's promotional campaign, is a miserable dud. Diana and her partner (a good ol' boy picked up at a motel bar) pretzel each other into what we're supposed to believe are increasingly complex positions, but Gordon refuses ever to show an inch of her below the chin-everything is in howling Les Mis-style close ups. That choice is, by accident, one of the funniest things in the movie. The crew had to come up with shot after shot suggesting the specifics of these conjugations without ever once exposing us to what the lovers actually look like. What does it mean when Hollywood is more comfortable showing us a woman getting punched than that woman in bed? Meanwhile, Bateman's character is locked in a motel bathroom, griping about how grotesque he finds sex between people who aren't in the shape he is. Prim and perennially out of sorts, he's like a sizeist C-3PO.
There's a reason Rex Reed, the woman-hating* idiot film reviewer at New York Observer, calls McCarthy "tractor-sized," "obese and obnoxious," and a "female hippo" in his review of the flick, it's because that's how we're supposed to see her. (Also, he's a jackass who's too stupid not to say what he thinks everyone else is thinking.)
Yes, much of her undesirability can be explained away by the grossness of her character, but imagine the roll being played by a burping, farting Charlize Theron in a bouffant. There's no way she'd have a comical sex scene with a fat cowboy, and when she finally "learned her lesson" at the end of the movie, she'd be boning Bateman all the way to the credits.
Wouldn't it be nice to live in a world where Melissa McCarthy is allowed to be a person, not just a comic set piece? Her talent dictates that she'll rise above whatever the material is, and so I know Identity Thief will have some good laughs. However, I don't know how willing I am to see one of the few Hollywood films where fat people aren't made invisible, just to see them mocked.
*Famous for saying Sarah Jessica Parker looks better now that her mole is surgically removed, and that Kim Catrall's new face looks like it still has some of the sutures in it. Cool guy.