I get to the point that I forget what seeing a real movie in a real theater with real movie lovers is like. But tonight I sat with other reverently quiet humans at the Museum of the Moving Image as a true-blue projectionist sanctified us with Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas on a big-kid screen. And lo! it was good.
Shoulder to shoulder we worshipped. For this was a real movie, thank you lord. O Brother Stanton driving into the dark past as your hopes fade in the rearview mirror and your two true loves claim each other in an ugly chrome future in the sky. O Sister Kinksi, staying out of our sight until we are blind to everything else. O faded blondes and busted bombshells and disappearing manchildren and cardboard movie stars floating above our highways. Say amen, somebody. O hamburger wrappers flapping in a sorry wind while an even sorrier Ry Cooder plays upon our fears. O lonesome hotel rooms and empty eyes and deep indigos and shattered desert light and–testify!–o rusting American cars gliding into that good night. Blessed be. O baby steps and shuffling steps and Chaplin steps and Long, Tall Sally steps. Hallelujah! O unsung swan songs and heartbroken grins and big, big neon skies. I have seen the light!
What to do with Melissa McCarthy? It’s a question I ask myself with a surprising regularity.
When we reviewed Identity Thief on Talking Pictures, I foundered while trying to explain why I wasn’t her biggest fan. God knows I was loath to come down on one of the few successful large woman in mainstream comedy. Add to that how much I loved her as obsessive-compulsive cook Sookie on Gilmore Girls, how eminently likable she comes off in interviews, and the fact that she’s one of the funniest comic actors around and you can see how I was at a bit of a loss.
Besides Albert Brooks, McCarthy was the only amusing part of the unfortunate This Is Forty, and she’s capable of revving herself into a veritable Cadillac of an insult machine. But in her movie shtick boils a pure vitriol that always pulls me out of my admiring reverie: As a rule, she throws out even more vile than is directed her way. I give her credit for not playing the jolly fat lady. I give her credit for not making herself the butt of every joke. But I’m not sure if I give her credit for what she does instead.
For in films McCarthy refuses to make herself the true butt of any joke, instead playing comedic alpha dog to a degree few others do these days. (Maybe Chris Rock, which admittedly puts her in excellent company.) Take her sexuality. Rather than poking fun at her decidedly un-Hollywood physicality, she wields it adroitly. In her three biggest movies, Bridesmaids, Identity Thief and The Heat, she’s depicted as intensely sexual powerful. In Bridesmaids she also may read as laughably predatory but in the end that joke’s on us: she captures her very willing sexual bird of prey (played by her real-life husband). I’m not crazy about the subsequent sexy-sex scene—the two fuck while wolfing enormous submarine sandwiches—but even as I type those words I can hear how prudish they sound. Sure, it does seem she’s mocking her own size by playing up the gluttony angle: aha! a fat woman is turned on by eating! Butshe commits so fully to the premise that we’re laughing with rather than at her.
From Superbad to Pineapple Express to The 40 Year Old Virgin, I’ve always dug Judd Apotow and his free-association nation of weed-addled, court-jester-smart, body-dysfunctional projects and stars. What can I say? Despite the fact that they treat women like mean mommies, the gross dork in me likes the gross dork in them—all gross, dorky metaphors attendant. Maybe it’s because, at heart, the Apatownies seem like the good boys I flirted with in high school until I landed a boyfriend with a car.
In This Is the End, the latest in the Apatow lineage (it’s written and directed by Seth Rogen and his professional BFF Evan Goldberg), title is pretty much destiny not just because of this movie’s apocalyptic premise but because an expiration date looms for this crew’s boys-will-be-boys schtick. You can only play impotent and guileless for so long when you’ve developed as much Hollywood clout as these kids have. To their credit, they seem to know it—even building questions of are we good people? and does that matter? into this crazy-ass story of who among them would survive should the Rapture ever rain upon their heads. Rogen plays himself as does pretty much everyone else in his universe, including James Franco, smoovegrooving Craig Robinson, Rihanna, Paul Rudd, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, an orgiastic, coke-whoring Michael Cera, an axe-wielding Emma Roberts (paging mean mommy), Jonah Hill, Mindy Kaling, my boyfriend Jason Segal, and, uh, the Backstreet Boys, and it’s great fun to see them send up how they’d navigate Judgment Day, not to mention a typical Hollywood partay. Once most of them have been offed, Rogen, Franco, Hill, Robinson and Baruchel hide out at Franco’s pad and fight over their scant resources, including, naturally, their one remaining spank book. While the story may take its cue from their now-30ish physiques by sagging in the middle, it includes many, many funny bits. And while the winkingly meta self-mockery may exude a whiff of have-your-jay-and-smoke-it-too, that don’t mean it don’t get you hiiiiigh. I say, hit it, baby—though maybe via a home-delivery system at 3 am—and rest tight with the knowledge that this crew may not be damned to devolve into Grownups 2.