I adore movies, and have had something of a love-hate relationship with Hollywood (Hollyweird?) for some time now. Obsessive nerds like me will argue endlessly over the merits and flaws of our entertainment pursuits in a way that is understandably baffling to mundies, but being obsessive and a bit bonkers over the things we love is, in my opinion, what makes us nerds.
That being said it’s become more difficult over time to get me physically into a movie theatre when a film is first released. It’s spendy to see a film in theatres, so I reserve my movie-going dollars for films with special effects that make the big screen experience worth it. Big explosions, aliens, winged creatures, anything with “Trek” in the title, that sort of thing.
For this reason, despite being interested when it first opened, I did not see the movie The Heat until this past weekend.
To give credit where its rightfully due: The Heat is in many ways exactly the movie I’ve been asking (okay maybe yelling at and begging for) Hollywood to make for some time now.
But first, the negatives:
1) The film has a well deserved ‘R’ rating due to profanity. I’m not a fan of cursing, but I understand the writer’s desire to make tough, Boston cops sound like tough, Boston cops.
2) The movie has a high level of casual, comedic (non-gory) violence. Not quite slapstick, more like the way Lt. Riggs would bash a bad guy over the head (repeatedly) in one of the Lethal Weapon movies in order to obtain the information he was looking for. There’s a lot of pulling firearms on people for highly unnecessary reasons.
If any of those things will bother you this is not the film for you.
Now for what they got right:
1) I believe this is the first ever female-lead action hero with a body shape and size that is atypical from the Hollywood standard.
2) The plot and every character in it make absolutely zero reference to the aforementioned hero’s body shape and size. This film contains a fat character with no fat humor or angst whatsoever, and from all evidence presented the character has a positive self-image and is not dieting.
And that is exactly the thing I’ve been asking for. Overweight characters have been in movies for almost as long as there have been movies, but their plots inevitably revolve around stereotypes regarding their body shape and size. Some examples:
· She’s beautiful and sexy… despite being fat.
· She’s completely hideous… because she’s fat.
· All fat girls are funny!
· She’s fat so she must be freakishly strong too.
· She’s fat so she’s desperate for sex with anyone who will have her.
· Of course she’s trying to lose weight!
· Of course she has bad self-esteem!
· You think she’s just a silly fat girl but no, she’s smart and likable too!
· She’s obsessed with food… because she’s fat.
· She will eat any and every food available… because she’s fat.
· She’s unhealthy by default, inherently lazy, and can’t perform physical tasks well.
· And my personal least favorite – let’s all laugh at the fatty’s expense.
A lot of these tropes are negative, but some are positive too. Regardless, they have one thing in common: they make characters with non-Hollywood-standard body shapes into walking plot points that revolve entirely around their non-Hollywood-standard body shapes. They aren’t people, they’re FAT people. This adds to the pervasive and dehumanizing cultural mentality that a fat body is abnormal, non-standard, and a thing to be reviled, ridiculed, constantly focused on, and most importantly brought under control.
Melissa McCarthy’s character in The Heat is both tough and strong, but it’s because she’s a cop, not because of her weight. She is physically capable, ready and willing to run after a suspect, vault over a fence and climb right out the window of an offending vehicle. Far from lagging behind slimmer characters she is portrayed throughout the movie as charging fearlessly ahead of them. Although the bad guys do insult both her and her partner (played with nerdy gusto by the always delightful Sandra Bullock) there isn’t a single insult or joke that’s directed at her weight. She isn’t seen eating or obsessing about food a single time, and she is portrayed as attractive to men, sought after, and not desperate for any attention.
As a comedic action hero, I’m not going to say the character is an accurate representation of a normal person, but everything abnormal about her has nothing whatsoever to do with her weight.
This movie was so funny it gave my husband a laughter-induced asthma attack. It had an interesting plot, strong supporting cast, and the chemistry between McCarthy and Bullock was really fantastic. If you enjoy humorous buddy/cop films like Beverly Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour, you will like The Heat.
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