Melissa McCarthy’s new movie Identity Thief opens today. It looks atrocious. Seriously, I wonder how these comedies get made. That’s besides the point though. I want to talk about McCarthy herself. I think she’s very talented. Her small roll in This is 40 was one of the highlights of the film. But honestly, I didn’t find her that funny in Bridesmaids and I never watch her sitcom Mike and Molly. I worry that after her “breakout” roll in Bridesmaids as the big, loud, vulgar and obnoxious friend, she’s already been typecast and forced to try and replicate the same performance over and over again. She’s playing the same character from Bridesmaids in Identity Thief and the upcoming girl power buddy-cop flick The Heat with Sandra Bullock.
So, why do audiences think she’s so funny? It’s not the material. Some of her improv is amusing, but not inventive. I honestly think that it’s because viewers can relate to her. Call it the Honey Boo Boo effect. Audiences want to see someone like themselves or a person who can be looked down upon— imperfect, foul mouthed, uninhibited, confident. Those are acceptable qualities, but they are not inherently funny; the same way in which swearing has now replaces jokes as being the go-to comedic device in the past decade. [“Fuck” on it’s own, with little context is not funny, and swearing used excessively ultimately detracts from its power.]
This leads me to believe that audiences are laughing at her and not with her. What if Kristen Wiig or played her role in Bridesmaids? Would seeing Wiig, or any other young, attractive actress shit herself be as funny? Would Wiig be praised for her bravery or willingness to do anything for a laugh? I don’t think so.
McCarthy is not the first talented person to fall into this trap. Look at Will Farrell. His last five film rolls all seem to be a riff on the same loud, dumb, doofus. Farrell became a star on SNL for his ability to adapt and play different roles based on the needs of a sketch. Unfortunately, he hasn’t found that balance in Hollywood and has since diminished his brand.
McCarthy (and Farrell) are not stupid. I do not fault them for their film choices. They’re getting paid well for these movies and if they want to make the same movie for the rest of their careers, more power to them (Adam Sandler seems pretty content with it).
No one sets out to make a horrible, unfunny movie. But somewhere between the script and the screen, the same things seem to always happen. Studios get involved, lines change, improv is introduced and what was once an edgy, compelling comedy is now the same old generic mainstream bullshit.
I’ll pretty much guarantee that both Identity Thief and The Heat will flop. But if you loved McCarthy in Bridesmaids, you’ll probably still love her upcoming films. And that tells me more about you, than her.