A recent article in The New Statesman looked at the idea of the ‘strong woman’ in the media. A woman, the author Sophia McDougall argued, is just as flawed as a man. There are a million, needle sized pieces that make up the complete picture of womanhood. Just having a ‘strong woman’ in your cast is not enough. Yes, have a strong woman in your line up, but don’t let the Black Widow be the ONLY example of womanhood. What about women who ‘sometimes put up with other’s shit because in real life there’s often no practical alternative’? Could The Heat be the film that answers that call?
Directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) and written by Katie Dippold (Parks and Recreation), The Heat is an action comedy starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Bullock is Sarah, a bookish, straight edge FBI agent who is ridiculously successful in her job but not so in her social life. McCarthy is Shannon, a hard as nails, Boston detective with very little time or patience for anything outside of her job and her jailbird brother. Both are held at arm’s length by their male counterparts, less because of their sex but because of their grating personalities.
Like Nicholas Angel in Hot Fuzz – a film which we were reminded of a lot during The Heat – Sarah’s brilliant detective skills, the arrogance that comes with them and her stringent following of ‘the book’ have made her blind to the fact that she is not liked in her department. Meanwhile, Shannon has made such a name for herself as a Dirty Harry-esque, shit-kicker that her department fear her more than respect her. We’re not fully entering the arena of the nuanced, but like Bridesmaids we’re not just dealing with women standing on the sidelines collectively rolling their eyes at the antics of Seth Rogan and his cult of man-child. Neither are we dealing with the Katherine Heigl school of ‘I just want a man to wuv me’. In fact, it’s to The Heat’s credit that any romance in the film is confined to about 5% of the story.
Like most mis-matched partner capers (48 Hours, the aforementioned Hot Fuzz, Another 48 Hours, Turner and Hooch, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), The Heat brings our two protagonists together to uphold a common good. In this case, bringing down a drug cartel. Sarah wants to approach the situation with almost Sherlock Holmes precision, whilst Shannon is happiest threatening to blow off people’s balls. If you’ve seen any comedy action films, you’ll be in familiar territory. Dippold’s script is more content with making you laugh than it is breaking any moulds. And on that front, it certainly delivers. Even if it does often stray too far down the path of ‘Imma gonna adlib here for about 15 minutes and it is going to be funny. Oooo, he he. I said a swear.’
McCarthy can play these kind of characters in her sleep, and it’s great to see her toy with a script that at least has a dab more intelligence than the shit bath that was Identity Thief. Bullock, meanwhile, has never been the strongest comic actor but is a perfect foil to McCarthy’s brand of potty mouth humour.
Does it answer McDougall’s prayers? Maybe not. But then we’re not sure the film even has an agenda. And whilst The Heat may not be the strongest contender for comedy of the year, in a year that gave us the spirit crushing Hangover Part III, we’re happy to see that there are people at least trying to be heard over the farting and belching of Frat Pack comedy.