The Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy vehicle Identity Thief may have not been the critics’ darling when it was released back in February, but that didn’t stop it from opening at number one; in fact, it’s currently the eighth highest grossing domestic release of 2013. There was one critic, though, who in spite of being among many who lambasted the film, earned a particular hatred from the general public: Rex Reed of the New York Observer. Why? Reed’s review was not so much of the film itself, but of Melissa McCarthy’s body shape. And now, several months later, Melissa has finally addressed Reed’s uncalled-for comments in the best way possible.
Melissa’s response comes as part of the New York Times’ current profile on the Emmy-winning actress, “Melissa Goes Over the Top”—but let’s back up a little and take a look at Rex Reed’s “review” first. In it, Reed described Melissa as “tractor-sized” and “a gimmick comedian who has devoted her short career to being obese and obnoxious with equal success”; Jason, meanwhile, elicited his sympathy, immediately following up his “gimmick comedian” comment with, “Poor Jason Bateman. How did an actor so charming, talented, attractive and versatile get stuck in so much dreck?”—implying that it was some sort of horrible fate to star in a high-grossing comedy opposite one of the best-respected comedic actresses of our age. I don’t blame Jason for Reed’s stupidity but it’s unfortunate that Reed chose to play it out with Jason as the object of his sympathy.
It was heartening to see how many people, from other professional critics to everyday filmgoers, slammed Reed for his failure to comment on the film and his reliance on smashing someone down for their body shape to carry his review. One commenter summed it up perfectly: “Look,” she wrote, addressing Reed directly, “from what I can tell, you’re calling it like you see it—yes, Melissa McCarthy is overweight and plays obnoxious characters. However, I’d like you to look at her male counterparts and ask yourself which of them has ever brought you to such hostility before. Jonah Hill, Seth Rogan, Jason Sudeikis—the list of overweight and unattractive men who are cast in wildly popular comedic roles goes on. This is because as a culture, we can tolerate an ugly man as long as he’s funny, but a woman has to be both attractive and talented (in that order) to be deemed worthy of a leading role. Check yourself, Mr. Reed- you’re part of the problem.”
That commenter is absolutely right.
Melissa didn’t respond to the review at the time of its release, because as we all know, one should never feed the trolls—even if those trolls happen to be critics for generally respected print publications. But in “Melissa Goes Over the Top,” Times reporter Dave Itzkoff asked, so Melissa answered. “When Ms. McCarthy was asked about the review over lunch in April, her characteristically cheerful tone evaporated,” Itzkoff writes. “In a softer voice, she said her initial reaction to reading it had been, ‘Really?’ and then, she said, ‘Why would someone O.K. that?’”
Melissa went on to say, “I felt really bad for someone who is swimming in so much hate. I just thought, that’s someone who’s in a really bad spot, and I am in such a happy spot. I laugh my head off every day with my husband and my kids who are mooning me and singing me songs.” She noted that had the incident occurred when she was 20, “it may have crushed me”—but that now, it’s actually her kids who allowed her not only to cope with it, but to rise above it. Raising two daughters in “a strange epidemic of body image and body dysmorphia,” she said that articles like Reed’s “just add to all those younger girls, that are not in a place in their life where they can say, ‘That doesn’t reflect on me.’ That makes it more true. It means you don’t actually look good enough.”
Then the restaurant’s fire alarm went off, and Melissa quipped, “I imagine that’s my publicist. The gods didn’t want us discussing this.”
All I can say is: Way to go, Melissa. You just keep doing what you’re doing, both in your professional life and in your family life. If this is the way you’re raising your daughters, they’re going to be just fine—and that’s really a credit to you and your husband (who, by the way, is Ben Falcone, AKA the air marshall object of her character Megan’s affections in Bridesmaids). Rock on, because you are FABULOUS.
Now if only we could convince the folks who made the poster for Melissa’s new movie, The Heat, that they need to stop Photoshopping people to death…
Lucia Peters is BettyConfidential’s senior editor.
Photo Credit: StarTraks Photo