Yesterday Vulture‘s Mark Harris posted a piece about how great Melissa McCarthy is, how unique her achievements have been and how Hollywood and media types have been unfairly slagging her for making the same film over and over. The article is well-written and worth reading but here’s the truth: With the exception of her concerned-mom character in St. Vincent and, okay, to some extent her character in Spy, McCarthy has more or less been playing the same gal.
I’m talking about an angry, immature, neurotic, sociopathic obsessive who acts out her anger or indifference to social norms more and more until the world pushes back at the end of Act Two (or the beginning of Act Three) and says “whoa, girl…you can’t keep doing this, you have to take a look in the mirror and admit your issues,” etc. In response to which a chastened McCarthy takes a look, feels sad, takes a step or two in the right direction and rebounds with a better, stronger game. Like it or not, but this is more or less what her movies are about.
I got into a Twitter dispute this morning with Guy Lodge, who was cheering the Harris piece. My basic point was that McCarthy seems to lack the character and the artistic cojones to up her game in the vein of Woody Allen‘s shift into the big-time when he made Annie Hall (’78).
McCarthy and husband-partner Ben Falcone are operating on a much lower level than Allen. They’re out to make big megaplex dough in the real Hollywood realm of 2016, which translates to the fact that audiences no longer want to see Annie Hall-type flicks in theatres (megaplex comedies today pretty much have to be rude, loud, fecal and assaultive). Plus the team of McCarthy-Falcone seems to lack the necessary integrity to even try to make a good, character-driven movie out of the kind of woman she played in St. Vincent.
McCarthy’s career is all about the comic basement (formulaic reliance, broad strokes, making fun of her pre-Boss girth, crude physical schtick). I’ve sat next to McCarthy fans during all-media screenings and ticket-buyer showings and I know who and what they are. They’re not very worldly or sophisticated, trust me. If McCarthy-Falcone were to make a modest, character-driven film about her St. Vincent single mom looking for love — i.e., struggling to pay the bills, meeting some kindred-spirit guy who gets her, loves her for a few weeks or months and then dumps her or something along those lines — her fans would probably stay away in droves.
McCarthy fans don’t want grilled salmon with parsley and lemon juice and a modest serving of steamed potatoes on the side. They want hot fast food in tin-foil wrappers and an order of fries. She and Falcone know that, of course, and that’s why they’re doing what they’re doing.