Melissa McCarthy’s new movie Identity Thief is making a lot of money at the box office, but it’s been at the center of some controversy, namely related to New York Observer critic Rex Reed’s review, which calls McCarthy a “female hippo” and “tractor-sized.”
Unsurprisingly, Reed faced a lot of backlash concerning these unnecessary comments. Now he’s responding to the criticism, blaming Universal for fanning the fire: “This is an organized group of people, believe me. And it’s all being fanned because of Universal’s desire to sell tickets to a bad movie.” Right, because Universal told you to write a review mocking an actress’s size…
Then Reed pulls out the most cliché excuse for making an inappropriate comment in the book, saying, “I have too many friends who’ve died [from obesity-related issues],” and “I object to using health issues like obesity as comedy talking points.” Do we really have to hear one more person use “Some of my best friends are… [fill in the blank]” as an excuse for saying offensive things? If Reed is so concerned about obesity issues, using words like “hippo” isn’t going to make any kind of social progress. Reed then mistakenly calls McCarthy “Melissa Manchester.” Nothing like getting the person’s name wrong when you’re semi-apologizing to them.
I haven’t seen Identity Thief, because it has received terrible reviews, including from our own reviewer at Crushable. However, I do object to the film’s use of McCarthy as fodder for fat jokes. One of Reed’s main points, made impossible to take seriously because of the ridiculous choices he made in saying them, is that McCarthy has been made into a big stereotypical joke at the expense of her body. I can’t say I disagree with him, but attacking her for it in such classless terms isn’t going to help matters. Rex says in his review:
“Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) is a gimmick comedian who has devoted her short career to being obese and obnoxious with equal success.”
Actually, he’s wrong about a few things here. A quick look at Melissa McCarthy’s IMDb page shows that her career actually hasn’t been that short. She’s been acting since 1997. And she hasn’t devoted her career to being “obese and obnoxious.” I was first introduced to her as Sookie on Gilmore Girls, a lovable character whose size was never an issue, let alone a joke. McCarthy also had a likable role on the short-lived series Samantha Who? That’s not even mentioning her Emmy-winning role on the sitcom Mike & Molly. It was Bridesmaids that introduced her to a wider audience, and unfortunately that was the role that drew praise from viewers and the Academy. It seems like I’m in the minority, but I didn’t enjoy Bridesmaids as much as I would have liked, mostly due to McCarthy’s role. I wish she hadn’t received an Oscar nomination, because it has pigeonholed her as an unattractive laughing stock movie character, and McCarthy is capable of so much more than that. She seems to be trying to play into people’s love for that character type by taking roles in Identity Thief and the upcoming comedy The Heat.
But playing into the fat jokes and incorrectly generalizing McCarthy’s acting abilities, as Reed has done, does absolutely nothing to encourage a different view of women’s size in pop culture.