Thursday, June 13, 2013

Could you accept Melissa McCarthy as a romantic lead?

...In her unassuming way, Ms. McCarthy has quickly earned a freedom to play a wider range of characters than her female peers, and to play them as hard, crude and over-the-top as her male counterparts. Her rising celebrity means she can have roles rewritten for her and movies green-lighted by signing onto them; it has also made her a target for some unexpected and shockingly personal criticism. But Ms. McCarthy isn’t looking to be a pioneer any more than she wishes to be a punching bag: What she wants from her comedy is the chance to play in a world without consequences. 
“You push so far past the normal boundaries of what’s O.K. in society,” Ms. McCarthy said excitedly over a lunch in April, on a trip to New York to host “Saturday Night Live.” “I’m always fully aware of, ‘You can’t do this.’ ”
I'm about to share a secret with you. Not many people are aware of this, so if this shocks you in any way, well, I apologize in advance, but I feel this is something that must be revealed to the world at large. I hope you're sitting down for this. Ready?

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Fat people exist.

I should know, because I am one. Have been for many years. If I were to be perfectly honest about it, it's not always easy to live with. The fact that I'm also fairly tall tends to offset the fat part somewhat; I don't have a tremendous, Kevin James-type pot belly, but you would never mistake me for an average-sized dude. Regardless, I make no excuses for my condition; it is entirely of my own making. My bicycle is busted right now, so I don't bike as much as I used to, but when I lived in Columbus, I biked all the time. I do, however, walk as much as I can, as often as I can. Walking is the simplest form of exercise and I go through lots of shoes.

I'm still a guy, though. When strangers on the street call me "big man" or something similar, it's usually with a certain measure of respect (I hope, anyway). The jolly-fat-man image is still a prevalent one in our culture - kids still believe in Santa Claus, for instance. I just name-dropped Kevin James; no matter what you think of his movies, he's just the latest in a long line of fat-guy comics in Hollywood: Jack Black, Chris Farley, John Candy, John Belushi, etc., all the way back to Fatty Arbuckle. My point is that I may not always like my body image - and indeed, most of the time I tend to be camera-shy for this very reason - but it's very rare that I'm made to feel bad about it by society.

Unlike fat women.

Which brings us to Melissa McCarthy. I admit, I haven't seen any of her films or TV shows, but I have been following her recent rise in popularity with some interest. Later this month she's gonna appear in an action comedy with Sandra Bullock called The Heat, and if it gets good reviews, I might go see it. In an advance review of the movie, however, Alex made me aware of something that surprised me for a moment, but then didn't really surprise me upon reflection: apparently there are some posters for The Heat in which McCarthy has been airbrushed - BADLY - to appear skinnier.

In the New York Times article I quote from at the top, McCarthy makes it clear that the success of her Oscar-nominated role in Bridesmaids has led to more job offers and that she's able to rise above the haters and I think that's awesome. That said, if she's being typecast as the crazy fat lady, and if some people still are resistant to marketing her as she actually looks like, well, can you truly call this success?

I don't wanna get into a larger discussion of obesity in general and so-called "fat-shaming" in specific. What I wanna know is this: can we conceive of a time in the near future where we, the movie-going audience, can accept seeing McCarthy, or an actress like her, beyond the limited box we place them in as a result of their looks? 

Personally, I think McCarthy is adorable, and would love to see her as the star in a Julia Roberts-like rom-com one day - preferably one where her weight isn't an issue - but I fear that we're still a long, long way away from that if she still has to worry about her image being airbrushed on movie posters. Hollywood is a business, and they're under no obligation to champion causes, so I understand that McCarthy has to find her niche however she can. If that means playing the crazy fat lady, well, so be it. I hope she plays it better than anyone who's come before or since.

Still, a movie like The Heat is somewhat different, and for that reason alone I hope it's a good movie, and that it does well.

Thoughts?

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Related:
Can a woman be sexy and "empowered" too?

4 comments:

  1. If there's a "fat girl" who ever has a chance of landing a straight up rom-com where she just happens to be a fat girl and isn't about her being fat I'd peg Rebel Wilson getting the job first. She's actually be able to establish a bit of a sex symbol status for herself.

    Speaking of Kevin James, he is unfortunately larger than he has ever been in his entire career, especially after recently being the thinnest he had ever been.

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  2. The chick from Pitch Perfect right? I'll have to take your word on that one. I do remember you telling me about her before though.

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  3. I sure hope so! I think she'd be great in a well-written romantic comedy, especially since many of the characters she's played have already been shown as sexually active/desirable. There's a running joke in THE HEAT where she keeps running into needy guys she's had a one-night stand with, and she has to blow them off. And of course her Bridesmaids character is almost predatorially sexual! And even when she was on Gilmore Girls she had a romance that led to marriage and kids.

    A show like The Mindy Project is setting a good precedent, I think, since Mindy Kaling goes through weight fluctuations and is open about her "curviness" or whatever you'd call it. She's writing her own show that focuses on the romantic adventures of her character, who doesn't look like conventional rom-com leads but has a very active dating/sex life. If McCarthy can star in a movie like that, preferably written by women who aren't fat shamers, I think it'd be great!

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  4. Looks like things are changing, however slowly. I'm gonna have to watch Bridesmaids one of these days...

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