Identity Thief was not what I expected it to be. Just kidding! It would be nice if I could say that, right? Wouldn’t you be pleasantly surprised if I told you that Jason Bateman doesn’t play the generic sucker who wears the same pair of dockers in every film? That Melissa McCarthy isn’t made into a walking fat joke? That the trailer just caught the most lowbrow cracks meant appeal to the mass American markets whose tastes and critical sensibilities are so grossly underestimated by the folks who brought you Horrible Bosses, and the Change Up? Well, sorry. Cause that’s not the case. But you should’ve seen the looks on your faces! Because just like really getting your identity stolen, this movie makes you really uncomfortable. And not in the high-comedy farce way. But let’s talk about this.
Jason Bateman plays Sandy Patterson, an uber-responsible suit with a cog-in-the-wheel job at an investment bank. He calculates monthly savings. He only uses his credit card for gas and coffee. (pfft.) In short, he plays that straight man character we’ve all come to know him as. But it’s not the irreverent, winking straight man we love him as in Arrested Development. Not the Jason Bateman who stands in as your friend’s dad from middle school whom you had a confusing crush on. It’s of the variety that he plays in like The Change-Up or Extract, or The Switch. He’s the nice guy who chronically finishes last, whose blind scruples prevent the wild success he deserves. And that’s his problem. But we want to see him get even, because we know he has darker urges lying beneath that nice guy membrane. Yes, we’re living vicariously through him. There’s a little Jason Bateman in each one of us—or at least, that’s what the empathy of this character hinges on.
Sandy is on the verge of a big promotion when he gets phone-scammed by con-artist Diana (Melissa McCarthy). Which she can pull off because- Ha! His name is a commonplace female name. They don’t let you forget this. It is the root of a great deal of jokes that make Bateman the nancy boy. Neither do they let you forget that McCarthy’s figure is not that of the traditional Hollywood actress. There is a fat joke like every 45 seconds. The first one is an attempt by McCarthy to crowd surf at a bar, and the throngs of people fail to catch her. Get it? Because she’s larger than a size 2. America loves a crack at actresses who don’t fit the aesthetic mold.
As Bateman tries to support his family on a 50,000 dollar salary (he lives in Denver, and I guess people can do that there) Melissa McCarthy is buying jet-skis and making it rain in the club. She opens 6 credit cards in his name and maxes out all of them. She gets arrested for public intoxication, misses her court date, and then the real Sandy Patterson is arrested. So in order to salvage his job and save himself from imprisonment, Sandy Patterson goes on a mission to find the person who stole his identity and bring her to justice. Movies make the world seem so nutty!
And while the film, I guess, is supposed to be a buddy comedy, Sandy is repulsed by Diana. Not merely by her moral turptitude but by her appearance. While on the road, he sharply jerks the car to make McCarthy hit her head. Twice. Sandy laughs, and we’re supposed to laugh with him. But in the end, the two become very close friends. Strictly platonic. I mean, we’re not talking about a fat man and a thin woman, which would totally happen cin the romantical sense. We’re talking about a Catfish the Movie dynamic. But because this is a Hollywood comedy, a “sincere” conclusion is pulled out. Diana teaches Sandy to take what he wants. Screw the world before it screws you! ‘Merica! And Sandy teaches Diana to love herself somehow? And that she she’s more than a petty thief. So she turns herself in, and goes to jail where her diet will be regulated. Our character foils give each other twin gifts—be more of an asshole, and own up to your punishments.
McCarthy, whom we’ve come to love as the powerhouse improviser and character actress who kills in Bridesmaids and Mike & Molly, is reduced to a caricature of a piggish femme-lin(female gremlin, you read it here first), deemed unfuckable because of her weight. If she’s not scrappily punching people in the windpipe, she’s lecherously drooling over Bateman or any other living thing with a penis. Whatever sexuality she has is a punchline. At the film’s end, Diana sincerely reassures Sandy’s wife(played by Amanda Peet) that no fooling around occurred on the trip. If we switched out McCarthy for Mila Kunis, this scene would plant seeds of suspicion. But because it’s this actress, because her size makes her into a cartoon character who could never be a threat, it’s a joke.
Every actor needs to make a buck. I get it. And not every comedy is great. Most of them are full of clichés and stale one-liners. Many of them aren’t smart and incisive. A lot of them aren’t even silly. But it would be great to see actors like Bateman do something where he’s not just some morally righteous stiff in need of a lesson in loosening up. We know he can do better. It would be fantastic to see Melissa McCarthy as something other than a cartoonish refrain to justify American society’s ethic of sizeism. We know she can do better. Both actors have high box office clout, and it would be great to see them write roles for themselves. Something worthy of them, because I can’t imagine that they love watching themselves in this. All one can hope is that the makers of Horrible Bosses, The Change Up, and now Identity Thief stay far away.