Two-Pronged Girl Power
Their styles are systematically different. Sandra Bullock is a “cocky” and uptight FBI agent, one of the best in her field but also resented because of her cavalier method and arrogant condescension. Melissa McCarthy is a messy Boston police officer whose intuition is usually right but execution devolves into unethical territory, a punch line for her less courageous, straight-laced colleagues. The Heat is, strictly speaking, nothing more than a buddy-cop movie, entering the pantheon of countless duos before it. But, in many other respects, it is so much more, because its main characters are women.
Now, by no means am I granting this movie a success solely because it switches up the gender norms in a patriarchal setting. From Starsky and Hutch to The Other Guys, the buddy cop film has thrived on incongruent partner personalities and its respective male camaraderie. Rarely, however, has the genre found room for tandem female law enforcement agents, and even more rare have they been funny. Director Paul Feig, as he achieved in Bridesmaids, is seemingly the lone male director to find and maximize the comedic talents of women on screen. He continues to prove that farts, foul language, and physicality are not the sole humorous possessions of the Y chromosome. This summer- as is usually the case- that is mostly enough.
The plot is by most accounts the cliché arc of two disparate types that eventually must come together and fight the baddies. Bullock plays Agent Ashburn and her fellow agents resent her cavalier attitude, something her boss (Demian Bechir) takes special note of as he considers his replacement. McCarthy is Officer Mullins, who simultaneously intimidates and gets laughed at by the other officers, exhibiting her physical presence around her Boston neighborhood. A drug bust by Mullins puts the plot wheels in motion and she teams with Ashburn to investigate a drug lord and the chain of substance distribution. The stakes don’t feel too high. The important question is how will these two congeal in each other’s presence?
The answer entertainment-wise is predictable, but also quite engaging. Mullins spurts out expletive-laced rants and unforgiving truths that frazzle Ashburn’s neatly groomed hair and by the book temperament. McCarthy, since finding mainstream shock liberation in Bridesmaids, has begun to champion an unkempt and unhygienic appearance and style that somehow appropriately exaggerates her quick wit and confident convictions. Here she spews out every concoction of lewd language, mismatching textbook insults with unusual body parts. “Tattle-tits” she yells at Ashburn, one of the many nicknames directed toward her partner. The harshest jokes come at the expense of albinism and human anatomy, whether it be tic-tac sized objects of emasculation or vaginal “misrepresentations.” Bullock brings her tightly wound characters from the past (namely Ms. Congeniality where she played another F.B.I agent) and spins them into new personal realms. Her Ashburn is shrewd but lonely- evidenced in her high school yearbook with only two signatures from teachers. It becomes a butt of jokes but also an effectively utilized totem of intimate knowledge.
Mullins has her own personal issues witnessed readily at her family dinner table; ma, pa, brothers and girlfriends sharp shoot Boston accents reminiscent to the domestic dysfunction in The Fighter. She is resented by her loudmouthed kin for locking up her drug-addicted brother (Michael Rapaport) and has been ostracized from the household ever since. The sentimentality creeps in as both discover each other’s pitfalls and it’s here where the fast-biting chemistry begins to flourish. Typically, but still hilariously, this occurs in a montage bar scene, where alcohol turns partners into bros, or in this case “bras.”
For all of the tropes Feig and writer Kate Dippold choose to coordinate, the one they leave out is by far its biggest achievement. While Mullins snidely pokes at Ashburn’s inability to find a relationship, The Heat never turns into a side mission for middle-aged women to find true love. Both partners find contentment in their jobs and duties as active authorities opposed to being damsels waiting to be caught. Feig has displayed his disdain for romantic clichés, witnessed best in his critically acclaimed TV series Freaks and Geeks in which his main character Lindsay Weir never turned into ultimately just someone’s girlfriend. One of the more overlooked themes of this film may be simply that women don’t need a man to find happiness by film’s end.
McCarthy in her brief stint of large films has found success splitting time with others, being that sidekick to a Jason Bateman or Kristen Wiig. She continues this dynamic in the snappy retorts between her and Bullock that would make Aaron Sorkin proud but at times can become overbearing and monotonous. A barrage of semi-famous television comics including Michael McDonald, Taran Killam, and Marlon Wayans help augment the duo, especially in moments of graphic gross-outs and gun shots.
Speaking of which, guns, hand-grenades, and bazookas are all aestheticized once again, but this time more in mocking manner. Similar to the film’s diverse soundtrack, which opens with “Fight the Power” and fast forwards to LCD Soundsystem, The Heat doesn’t know exactly which direction it wants to tread its tires. You’d like a movie of this sort to dig a little deeper than what’s already been excavated before. But as one girl yelled out in frustration during my screening to someone during a tense scene, “It’s a movie, she’s gonna be fine!” Regardless of the context, within the summer blockbuster slate, I’m sure many wouldn’t mind hearing that more often.