Many forces have converged to make this the best possible weekend for The Heat, the new buddy cop comedy starring two of Hollywood’s most game and charming actors, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. There’s a record-setting swelter across much of the country that ups the draw of some easy laughs with good company in an air-conditioned theater. The hunger of a female moviegoing public that’s endured a long June of capes and bro jokes. And I’d add to this list Tuesday’s barn burner thrill ride of watching/tweeting about/bowing down before Texas Senator Wendy Davis, who stood for 13 hours in protest of a bill she believed would dangerously undercut women’s health. Politics aside, it was a bravura performance of a fiercely capable and passionate woman having her most important day at the office ever. Women want to see women on screen they recognize and sometimes aspire to be. And that’s part of why it was so fun last night to watch Bullock and McCarthy, both operating in top form, bring it.
It’s great news that The Heat is going to make a ton of money. (Friday’s box office estimates has the Paul Feig-directed film bringing in $13.6 million, nearly $5 million ahead of the new Channing Tatum/Jamie Foxx sweaty action movie White House Down.) Great news for everybody involved. Though I worry how much we, the moviegoing public will benefit from the success. I dread the same game-changer stories on Monday about the surprise power of female dollars at the box office. The problem is it’s always the same “surprise”–the unexpected success of Something’s Gotta Give or Sex & the City or Bridesmaids or Magic Mike or Pitch Perfect. But the game seems to remain the same because then there follows the same unacceptably long slog in between movies for women to rally around.
So for those of us without the power of green-lighting movies, what can be done? Here are a few ideas:
What if we stopped always comparing movies that star funny women to Bridesmaids? Granted, that movie is near perfect and should be considered one of the gold standards for modern comedies. But you never hear anyone saying “I don’t know, the Internship was okay, but it was no Bridesmaids.” I remember a particularly infuriating line from Leonard Maltin’s review of the underrated Anna Faris comedy What’s Your Number?: “As someone who—swimming against the tide—didn’t care for Bridesmaids, imagine my surprise to find another female-driven, female-written R-rated comedy so entertaining.” So he didn’t like that one movie by and about women but then he did kinda like another movie by and about women? The Heat is a really funny movie that might not be as pristine as Bridesmaids and that’s okay. Bridesmaids can’t always be the point of reference for films starring women, even when that film is made by the same director. Not every one of Judd Apatow’s movies is as good as The 40-Year-Old Virgin. That doesn’t mean Hollywood suddenly gets nervous about putting a male lead in an R-rated comedy.
Some guys swear in movies and revel in gags about farts or sex or whatever. Some women likewise embrace the raunch. It’s time to stop thinking that if a woman makes a joke about someone’s mouse balls she’s trying to act like a man or that the screenwriter is trying to go toe-to-toe with the guys. Women can be crude and in-your-face—it’s called choice, friends! Though I’m not yet sure anyone—man or woman—is as genius at it as Melissa McCarthy. (And one of the reasons her fits of gutter oratory are such a pleasure to behold is that behind every foul blast that comes out of her mouth there is also the sense of deep vulnerability and goodness.)
Treat the material seriously. Mondo released this amazing poster for The Heat last week, nailing the best essence of the movie. What it succeeds in doing is gleefully, reverently selling The Heat as a genre movie that happens to star a couple of bad-ass broads as opposed to pushing a soft sell of two ladies who have oopsy daisy found themselves in a movie with guns and perps. I love a chick flick as much as the next gal. But that doesn’t make me a lightweight or a dum dum and I don’t want to be treated like one by a marketing campaign.
Finally, surely we can rally some smart person in Hollywood to get to work immediately on a movie about Texas Senator Wendy Davis starring Connie Britton. Y’all, seriously.