Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bringing THE HEAT (2013) with Bullock and McCarthy

Mondo posterWomen are being funny again, how about that! The premise of THE HEAT is simple, and very familiar: two mismatched cops are forced to work together against their will, and in the process of fighting the forces of evil, they bond and become best buds. The plot would be clichéd if it weren't for the gender twist, because in this case, we've got a pair of gal pals instead of a budding bro-mance.
“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.” (Karen Valby, Enterainment Weekly)
As someone who stayed awake until the early hours of the morning watching the Texas filibuster proceedings with bated breath, I couldn't agree more. As a girl who grew up loving the original STAR WARS trilogy and INDIANA JONES (I swear, every time we ordered pizza for dinner), seeing two women tearing around the city blowing things up, suffering, sweating, and swearing through the pain, feeds my action-hero soul.
mullins ashburnAlthough a summer kids movie about monsters going to college reigns as box office number one, Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock in THE HEAT maintain a strong second place. And for very good reason. Rolling Stone says:

"WINNERS OF THE WEEK: Women. Last week, it was predominantly female audiences who pushed Monsters University and World War Z to box office glory. This weekend, it was women in front of the camera. Namely, the women of The Heat, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, who pushed the all-X-chromosome buddy-cop comedy to an estimated $40.0 million debut... LOSERS OF THE WEEK: Men. Specifically, the testosterone-fueled twosome of Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, whose action thriller White House Down seriously underperformed expectations."
How awesome is it that a female buddy-cop comedy kicks the butt of a testosterone-fueled action thriller!?

bullock mccarthy

Not only is THE HEAT hilariously, explosively, entertaining, it also had quite a lot to say about how society's view of women is changing. Notice I didn't say how our view of women should change or will change or need to change - the movie is in no way a sledgehammer feminist statement (not that I would mind if it were). But the movie reflects how many of the challenges women have faced in the past are being acknowledged and overcome.

In the Workforce

You've probably heard the term "glass ceiling" when referring to that invisible force that keeps women from achieving positions of authority in business. This issue is given a nod in THE HEAT when Ashburn (Bullock) is denied a promotion because she is unpopular with her coworkers, despite the fact that she has closed more cases than anyone else and is, in effect, the best candidate for the position. Cheryl Sandberg has frequently spoken about how often women who are assertive and decisive are not as popular with their coworkers, male and female alike, as their male peers with the same attitude to work. Ashburn is so unpopular (for being good at her job, mind) that those under her command actually ignore her orders on the ground. Unbelievable - and yet surprisingly unsurprising.


Overt Sexism at Work

While in some cases, like the popularity issue, sexism at work can be subtle, in other ways it is still bubbling at the top. Toward the end of the film, we see a room full of men laughing at a female cop, calling her a mental case. Ashburn puts them all in their place with some choice words, not all of which are printable. The man leading the charge is a chauvinistic albino whose outdated opinions about women cops even piss off the bad guy. Basically, the film is sending the very strong message that overt sexism is no longer acceptable. The movie is calling the BS card on sexism, and it's about bloody time!

Personal Life

Ashburn's personal life is so tragic, she doesn't even live alone with her cat - she just lives alone. If she were a man, her apartment would be a bachelor's swinging pad. Bring out the smoking jacket and brandy! Instead it's an empty, love-starved prison with a lonely spinster cop as its only resident. So sad :'(


Shannon Mullins (McCarthy) is essentially a direct gender reversal of your average single male copper. She dresses like she wants to, lives in a dingy flat with week-old sandwiches, and has an arsenal in her refrigerator. She seems to have had as many one-night stands as James Bond. When she dumped a guy in a bar with the usual "It's not you, it's me" lines, I had this crazy urge to jump up in the theatre and holler "payback!" Although I by no means condone this behavior by either gender, it felt pretty good to see a woman treating men with a similar objectification that has plagued the female characters of action flicks since the beginning of time.

Although Ashburn "virgin" trope, any attempt to hypersexualize her image is completely mocked. For the club scene, in which the agents must attempt to bug the bad guys phone at a nightclub, Mullins literally tears Ashburn's clothes off her body. Operating under the assumption that all it takes is a lot of bare skin and the dudes will be putty in your hands works pretty well - the second they come out of the bathroom a sleezball at the bar hits on her. And despite Ashburn's bad dancing and obvious efforts to get close to the suspect, he almost immediately admits that she's the "only woman over 40 to give me a boner." Douche. This is one of the funniest scenes in the whole movie, mostly because the men are so stupid, and so typical.


Final Analysis

Neither The New Yorker nor The New York Times were very impressed with THE HEAT. The male reviewers at both institutions completely missed the point of the movie. A.O. Scott (NYT) says "the story is sloppy and thin and the jokes are strained or tired and the level of violence is a bit jarring." Oh, poor baby! Was the nasty-wasty blood too scawy? I wonder if this sissy-boy actually understood the jokes. I wonder what film Richard Brody saw when he comments:
"The fusion of a sentimental tale of friendship, a mismatched-cop buddy comedy, and a bloody crime story yields a very long movie; the many formulas never mesh, and some formidable actors stumble trying to keep pace with its out-of-synch meters." (The New Yorker)
The fast-paced movie I saw was rich with action, humor, and just the right amount of humanity. The chemistry between the two lead actresses was phenominal to watch. Every side character throughout the movie brought his/her own weight of value to the project - there were no superfluous characters, everybody served a purpose to further the story. And did I mention how incredibly funny everyone is in this movie? I haven't laughed this hard in a long time! I wasn't the only one either. Both times I went to see THE HEAT this week, the packed theatre was rocked with laughter.

I give THE HEAT a 9/10 and encourage everybody to go see it. Let's see if we can't rock the generalization that "women will see guy movies but guys won't see women movies." Remember, every ticket you buy is a vote for better entertainment.

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