Paul Feig knows how to handle filthy women. After his work with a drug dealer in Weeds, a junkie medic in Nurse Jackie and a civil servant gone mad in Parks and Rec, Paul Feig decided to take on his most ambitious project both in terms of scope and the amount of Hollywood harlots he was taking on at once. Bridesmaids saw him attempt to tame six of the sleaziest, foulmouthed and deliciously depraved female talents in Hollywood history, including Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Rose Byrne. Clearly it was too much for the poor bastard so his follow up elects to decrease that number back down to two. But, glutton for punishment that he is, he’s made one of that two Melissa McCarthy.
To balance out the controlled chaos Mel Mack would no doubt leave in her wake, he has partnered her with the prim, proper and appropriately professional Sandy Bee. Sandra Bullock plays FBI Agent Ashburn, a book smart know-it-all that has alienated every agent in her department. On the promise of a promotion she travels to Boston to bring down a notorious drug dealer by making a deal with his message boy. Only problem is McCarthy’s character, a blusterous ball of thunder by the name of Mullins, got to him first.
When you start watching The Heat the thing that pops out the most is how dirty the setting looks. You’d think that as this film is primarily a comedy the look would be slick and glossy, but instead it’s gone for a level of grit you would expect from a Wire spin off. Filthy houses, dirty streets, even the performers delivery is less than perfect, going for authenticity rather than comic timing. It shows a desire to be taken seriously as a procedural and reveals a respect for the setting. No matter how silly or slapstick the jokes become the film never lets you forget the setting of Boston is a real place and the problems the cops are trying to fix are all too genuine. The added authenticity works in the films favour as most of the humour revolves around us believing in the characters as human beings and many of the punch lines would be left flat if we could not empathise with their problems.
And obviously this being a film about female cops, the number one problem is sexism, right? Wrong. Sexism is never brought up as a major theme in the plot. Its often mentioned but is never brought to the forefront (perhaps they realize messages work best when kept in the background). It’s refreshing to see a movie about female professionals in a traditionally male role just getting on with their jobs. In not mentioning feminism the film achieves something truly feminist, a progressive female focused story where being female isn’t a crux of the plot.
Whatever the message is, it isn’t important. This is a comedy, the jokes are funny and that’s what counts. A great deal of the jokes in The Heat are not only laugh out loud funny they are the lens through which we see the central characters. The introduction we have to Mullins’ tells us all we need to know about her in the first ten seconds. She is loud, crude, rude and her idea of justice is as terrifying as it is hilarious. There is a moment three quarters of the way into the film that not only provides one of the most outrageous gross out gags in the picture, but delivers a revelation about Ashburn that suddenly makes her rapidly deteriorating character make a lot more sense. It’s one of the smartest pieces of writing I’ve seen in years.
If the movie has a problem I would say it was the affection it shows to McCarthy’s character. She’s a no nonsense bad ass with an immovable sense of integrity and the film doesn’t go two minutes without shoving that concept down our throats. They were always running the risk of evangelising her character into the ground and in my opinion they go too far and put her over the edge. Her character is always right, her character is always the guiding moral compass. Positively aggravating considering how downright rude and mean spirited she can be. Most damming though is that her character is smarter and a better detective that Ashburn, a revelation the film decides to shove down our throats three times. This means all the redeeming features are hers and Ashburn’s are stripped away, one by one. This makes for an interesting character development but also weakens the relationship between the two. They can’t be a cohesive unit when Ashburn is that much of a burden, because why would Mullins, someone who shows no quarter to fools, put up with her for that long?
It also makes it less funny. Characters like that work because they are idiots, especially in comedies. Their more obnoxious tendencies are easier to stomach when you see them getting tazered for the bile they spew out of their mouths. Imagine how tedious The Hangover would be if Zach Galifianakis’s character was constantly depicted as being simultaneously the biggest idiot and the smartest person in the room? Perhaps it’s supposed to be playing with audience expectations but it just comes off as inconsistent when compared to the rest of her facetious character.
Despite that The Heat is one of my surprises of the year. I thought I was going to hate it, after all the poster makes the film look like it’s about a late eighties female rap duo. But what I got was a hilarious, heartfelt movie that keeps trying to push its audience’s expectations to places they may not understand but will surly love anyway.