The film Bridesmaids has gotten a lot of attention this past year: a female-friendship focused film written by and starring women is pretty hard to come by. Notably present among the film’s recent Academy Award nominations was the Best Actress in a Supporting Role nod for Melissa McCarthy.
McCarthy is known not only for her role in Bridesmaids, but for her role in the TV series Mike and Molly and The Gilmore Girls (another rare show with a female cast, following a smart and savvy female protagonist, Rory). She’s also been the victim of some serious body-shaming in the media.
But the choice of McCarthy over other actresses seems to have grated the last nerve of Time magazine film critic Mary Pols, to such an extreme that she felt the need to write an entire column outlining the reasons that McCarthy was undeserving of the honor.
Winning an Oscar for a comedic role doesn’t happen too frequently. Pols makes sure to point this out, and also claims that her distaste for McCarthy’s nomination isn’t because her role is a comedic one – being good at comedy can be really hard, she admits, and McCarthy has great timing in that area:
Pols admits that maybe she should just “be grateful” that a woman was recognized for comedic work. If I were McCarthy, my response would be “thanks, but no thanks, I don’t think I need your pitying resignation.”
Pols’ comment that “the Academy’s record on giving the incredible skill set it takes to pull off good comedy its due is sketchy at best” is hard to keep in mind when she claims that McCarthy’s character is “a grotesque,” that is, an over-the-top caricature with a “boxy wardrobe and newsboy cap” that reminded the critic of an old “ambiguously gendered character” named Pat that was popular on Saturday Night Live in the 1990s.
McCarthy’s character was different because she was a “cartoon of aggressive sexuality, wildly, crudely lusty” according to the critic – so the thing that made the difference between McCarthy’s character and the gender ambiguity of Pat was aggressive sexuality, something one generally attributes to men and is clearly a turn-off for Pols.
So, what is this caricature of overweight women that Pols claims McCarthy is playing into? I’m not really sure.
She compares this supposed “caricature” of an overweight woman to the racial caricature that Ken Jeong plays in The Hangover franchise – a character who plays so intently into Asian stereotypes and degrades multiple cultures that I cringed at the ads for the films – saying that McCarthy’s character had “equally offensive shenanigans” but instead of parodying an Asian culture, parodying “an over-the-top plus-sized lady.”
Why is aggressiveness or crudeness being attached to McCarthy being plus-sized, and how is even the parodying of crudeness related to her being plus-sized?
She claims that if you have any doubt about McCarthy using her weight to be the permanent punchline of her character, just check out the credits – you know, after the film, when the cast and crew names are scrolling down the screen – when McCarthy becomes “a joke about the outsized appetites of fat girls.” Because she is, you know, eating a jumbo sandwich.
This moment of the credits is what should look to as evidence of her using her weight as a punchline? I never got that impression, but I guess if you’re giving a plus-sized woman a sandwich, some people will think it automatically becomes a parody if she eats it in a funny way.
Pols claims that Kristen Wiig’s character had a more nuanced development, that we saw other characters grow, and that McCarthy played a stock character who didn’t change at all. But here’s the thing – Wiig was the main character in this film, not a supporting character – someone who was supposed to have a developing character arc. Her role also wasn’t as funny.
But also, McCarthy’s character did seem to evolve, and by the end of the film people actually connected to her. As her character advises Wiig’s character how to change her attitude, she revealed herself to be a woman who had pushed herself through social difficulties and someone who didn’t let anyone get in her way. She can be pushy; some people probably thought she was obnoxious. But a grotesque?
There are plenty of nominees that many people won’t agree with, for a variety of reasons. But it seems the critic was blinded by her apparent disgust at a woman who was acting too masculine – aggressive, “disgusting” and with swagger – for her own taste to see that McCarthy gave this character heart or that she was a character worth understanding.