Melissa McCarthy has more than one setting, but you wouldn’t really know that from her recent slate of film characters.
Ever since she made a splash–and earned an Oscar nomination–with her Guy Fieri-inspired bridesmaid, McCarthy seems to have set herself up to repeat a certain type of role: loud, crass, and obnoxious. Her next three projects, including the new-in-theaters Identity Thief and June’s The Heat are all described as raunchy comedies, and she has a few more projects in the works with her new production company that sound as though they will go that route as well.
She can do much more than these roles might suggest–Gilmore Girls fans already knew that.
As Sookie St. James, the best friend of Lauren Graham’s Lorelai Gilmore in Amy Sherman-Palladino’s beloved series, McCarthy was charming and manic and emotional and flawed. And most of all, she was funny–consistently funny, and it had nothing to do with her body type. She played a full character, not a broad stereotype. Even her role in CBS’s Mike & Molly has a sweetness to it. That’s why it’s troubling to see McCarthy continuing down a different path in her feature film choices.
This isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with her raunchy characters. Bridesmaids‘ Megan was a truly inspired creation. And to unselfconsciously take on roles like Megan and Diana in Identity Thief requires a bravery and commitment that few actors have. But as this idea of the obnoxious female character gets further away from the Bridesmaids mold, it begins to look less like comedic brilliance and more like exploitation. Megan was fun, warm, and lusty, and just happened to prefer no makeup and Cubavera shirts. Diana, well–they play for laughs the fact that she can only run 10 yards before she’s basically brought to her knees out of exhaustion.
“Comedy to me is all about the bumps and bruises and weird tics,” McCarthy said in EW’s 2011 Comedy Issue. “It’s everything you find out about somebody when you fall in love with them that on paper is really creepy but you find adorable.” In Gilmore Girls, McCarthy’s Sookie was clumsy, but a brilliant chef. Even when she took pratfalls, she was never made into a spectacle. Actors have to use their physicality, and McCarthy should use hers to her advantage, but it doesn’t have to be her whole act. And I’m afraid that’s all Hollywood wants from her.
McCarthy’s career as a film star is just beginning, and she’s clearly capitalizing on the Bridesmaids effect. My hope is that Identity Thief and The Heat do well enough to allow her more choices in future roles. She’s thoughtful and ambitious, and I just hope she remembers that she has more range to explore.