It’s no secret that women in comedy have always been a distinct minority. If you take a look at the past four years, the number of comedies featuring male leads completely dwarfs the number of comedies featuring female leads. Even when women score leading roles in comedies, most of the time those roles center around some sort of relationship with a leading man. The number of female driven non-romantic comedies over the past few years can be counted on one hand. When these movies work their way into the spotlight, they’re treated as a sort of novelty; i.e. “Wait, you’re saying that women can be funny too? That’s crazy!”. One of the biggest examples of this in recent years was Bridemaids, Paul Feig’s 2011 female ensemble comedy that reminded audiences of something that shouldn’t have even been forgotten in the first place; women are every bit as funny as men. Three years later, Feig is back again with another sadly rare offering: a female buddy-cop comedy. There’s nothing very new or exciting about its plot or the Odd Couple relationship dynamic that it revolves around, but the comedic talents of the cast alone make The Heat a serious contender for best comedy of 2013.
The Plot: 6/10
Uptight FBI special agent Sarah Ashburn is paired with testy Boston cop Shannon Mullins in order to take down a ruthless drug lord. The hitch: neither woman has ever had a partner — or a friend for that matter.
Considering the fact that neither buddy cop movies nor comedies usually have very atypical plots, it probably won’t be too much of a surprise that the story here isn’t anything you haven’t seen before. Mismatched detectives are forced to work with each other and move from hating each other’s guts to becoming the best of friends all while trying to foil some greater evil. Think The Other Guys, only the guys are girls. I doubt anybody will disagree that the plot is anything but a genre cliche, but what people will disagree on is whether or not that really matters in terms of how enjoyable the movie is. In my opinion, it doesn’t but as I said that’s mostly because I rarely expect anything but predictability from comedy plots.
The Writing: 8/10
At first glance, the character development here isn’t anything special. Every character is some level of buddy cop stereotype, the two leads in particular. The absolute worst offender is Sandra Bullock’s character, Ashburn, whose combination of arrogance and Starsky-ish obsession with the rules makes her incredibly annoying during the first half of the movie. Luckily, once the first act is out of the way and the movie transitions into the “friendship-building” second act, there’s a level of vulnerability and insecurity that’s added to her character which makes her much more endearing. The same applies to Melissa McCarthy’s character, Mullens, who starts out as a pretty abrasive, foul-mouthed caricature but is given more and more layers as the movie goes along. I really liked the level of devotion to her family the script developed in her character, it made her feel much more like a real person and less like the walking punchline she was in Identity Thief.
From a dialogue standpoint, the movie feels like a mix between scripted and unscripted. You can tell that McCarthy and Bullock have a good amount of chemistry, and it would be easy to picture a lot of the exchanges here being improvised by the two. The real measure of a great script isn’t by how witty or funny it is on paper but by how well the words work with the actors on camera, and I give first time film writer Katie Dippold a lot of credit for making the script fit in with the actresses involved. My only issue here would be that the writing occasionally struggles to find a balanced tone. Things start to get surprisingly dark near the end of the movie, and there are a few transitions between emotional heavy scenes and comedic bits that are a bit jarring. There are a few scenes that almost feel like they were going for more of a dark comedy vibe, but it just doesn’t fit in very well with the rest of the movie.
The Acting: 8/10
The real reason the movie works isn’t because of the script or the story; it’s the performances. In my opinion, this stands as the best performance Melissa McCarthy has given to date. If she can keep scoring roles with the combined levels of toughness and tenderness that she’s able to convey here, she’ll soon be up next to Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Julia Louis-Dreyfus on my list of favorite female comedians. Unfortunately, Sandra Bullock has never been and likely will never be on that list for me. That being said, the combination of her character’s eventual development and her effectiveness as a foil for McCarthy made her more bearable here than I’ve found her in years.
The Comedy: 8/10
Along with the plot, the other issue that I’ve been surprised to see come up so often in reviews of this movie is that it doesn’t have the actual laughs to back up it’s formulaic makeup. I absolutely disagree in this case, I laughed just as hard during The Heat as I did during This Is The End. For audiences who aren’t completely on board with the unpolished raunchy humor of the latter, I believe The Heat will prove to be the most worthwhile comedy of the year. Admittedly, not every joke lands and it really does take a while for the movie to find it’s tone. Once it does, though, it hits far more often and far more effectively than it misses.
As a final note, there are going to be a lot of unavoidable comparisons drawn between this and 21 Jump Street, and I am the first to admit that the latter is ultimately the better film. To clarify, I consider the two to be equally funny, but I thought that 21 Jump Street did a better job of shaking up its character’s stereotypes than The Heat did.
The Verdict: 7.5/10 – Superior
+ McCarthy and Bullock play incredibly well off of eachother
+ The script allows each lead to use their strengths to their fullest extents
+ It really is refreshing to see the buddy cop genre finally get a little estrogen in the mix
– The plot and character tropes are nothing you haven’t seen a million times before
Rotten Tomatoes: 62 %
Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 7.5/10
The Code is Zeek: 2/5
Average: 7.1/10 – Good