The opening credits of The Heat — the buddy cop flick starring Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock, written by Kate Dippold and directed by Paul Feig that's out today — have an old-school Blaxsplotation vibe to them: A funk song plays over shots of the gritty city. And the movie itself feels slightly like it's from another time, a time of lethal weapons and bad boys, with the requisite car chases, gun standoffs and explosions. But the fact that this movie is happening in right here and now is pretty important.
Here's the gist of it: Sandra Bullock plays Sarah Ashburn, a tightly-wound know-it-all FBI agent. Right away we're aware of the fact that she's good at her job, but so arrogant, snotty and intolerable that no one she works with likes her. Bullock's in the first scenes of the movie, and she's so annoying that it's kind of painful to watch, which, eh, kind of makes for a rough start.
A case leads Ashburn to Boston, where she is forced to work with undercover cop Shannon Mullins, played by Melissa McCarthy. McCarthy explodes onto the screen, swearing up a fucking storm, getting seriously physical (one of the first things she does is pull a guy out of a car through the window) and gleefully steamrolling her way through the story. She's got a snappy, snarky filthy comeback for every situation — "fuck" is a favorite and you'll hear hundreds of F-bombs — and the facial expressions to match. Watching her is sheer joy.
The movie hangs on the idea that these two are very different: class vs. crass, brains vs. brawn, by-the-book vs. borderline crazy. Which sounds very par-for-the-course and been there, done that. Nothing new, right? But what makes The Heat work is that we haven't seen it like this before. We don't see characters like McCarthy's Mullins: No makeup-wearing, shitty hair-having, crappy clothes-clad, foul-mouthed, HILARIOUS plus-sized badass. Guys do this all the time in Hollywood — get scruffy and nasty for a starring role — but actresses seldom have the chance, unless they're playing victims. Instead, Mullins is some kind of disheveled, don't-give-a-fuck cuckoo superhero, and her rapid-fire jokes and scathing skewering remarks steal the spotlight in every scene.
Not every single joke in the script lands — a few fall flat, especially ones about Bullock's age and single status. But just a few. They're outnumbered by the moments that are funny, shocking, gross, weird and oddly delightful. (It should be noted that while some of the best jokes are in the trailer, a few appear to be outtakes and vary slightly from what made the cut in the actual film.)
A few reviews are calling the movie formulaic and disappointing, but it seems to me that Paul Feig's done a pretty good job of injecting the formula with a fun new twist. As Owen Glieberman writes for Entertainment Weekly:
The Heat is fresher than a lot of the male-centric movies it takes off from, because there's little about aggressive guy banter that hasn't been worn to the ground by Hollywood.
Because even though Asburn and Mullins are very different, they're both human, they're both women, and even if their respective backgroud stories are painted with wide strokes, they understand each other, and their eventual bonding moments feel authentic. What makes this important is that in terms of things we desperately need — as moviegoers, as women, as a society — The Heat delivers. It's a fun, zany, entertaining way to spend a couple of hours on a hot night/day. It's not a masterpiece, but I definitely had a moment in which I laughed so hard I could not breathe and a tear came out. Furthermore, in a YET ANOTHER summer of testosterone-fueled, dude-centric flicks, here are two grown women costarring in a story that's not about babies, brides or (falling in love with) boys. Thank fucking God.
Further reading: The Heat — Written By Kate Dippold [Women And Hollywood]