Let me take you back to 2011. We are lost in a miasma of weed haze brought to us by the Seth Rogan gross-out comedy. Like the high his films constantly toted; we laugh, but we mostly gag and long for some fresh air. That air arrived in the form of Bridesmaids, which not only put women back on the map of the comedy genre, but also provided us with the first starring role for Melissa McCarthy. For years the warm funny woman of Gilmore Girls McCarthy shone as Megan, the gross, loud and unstoppable force that stole our hearts and placed McCarthy firmly on the throne as ‘Queen of American Comedy’.
But McCarthy was always more than just a sidekick to Kirsten Wiig and soon she came back with films such as The Heat and Spy, (previously reviewed here (MsMono post). But her truly great performance was undoubtedly in her 2018 role as Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Directed by Marielle Heller, Can You Ever Forgive Me? stands out in a world full of ‘clumsy but adorable’ heroines and ‘misunderstood’ hero’s’ by demonstrating films shouldn’t just be about characters that are easy to like, they should be about characters that aren’t likeable and, importantly, characters that don’t care if you like them. The film is quietly ground-breaking, creating dynamic shifts in the Hollywood paradigm of what a film ‘should’ be. As Lee Israel, McCarthy brings the perfect amount of brutality and sharp wit to the role – showing audiences that we do not have to like a character to care deeply about what happens to them. The films puts characters above all, focussing on their personalities and relationships shifting the giant tectonic plates of Hollywood storytelling, but quietly and without sacrificing the story to an easy marketing ploy.
However, though the last year has barely broken McCarthy’s stride, it has seemingly ended her streak of brilliant roles. Even when we were glued to our screens, Super Intelligence McCarthy’s only 2020 release, completely tanked. And sadly, it hasn’t stopped there. Thunder Force released on Netflix on April 9th, has received a similarly frosty reception.
In modern day Chicago, McCarthy plays Lydia, who seeks to rekindle her friendship with super scientist Emily, Octavia Spencer. In a predictable and, alas, not so hilarious twist, the two characters gain superpowers and team up to become the crime fighting duo Thunder Force. Watching the film, there are undoubtedly some funny moments; Jason Bateman rocks up with crab pincers for arms and who doesn’t have time for that? But the film lacks the feeling spontaneity that I feel McCarthy is known for. Even the choosing McCarthy and Spencer as superheroes seems like a self-conscious marketing ploy; ‘How can we not stop two chicks in their 40’s?’ is an actual line in the film, demonstrating the lazy writing in a sadly formulaic piece.
Watching Thunder Force, I remember a similar time when Seth Rogan was given films on the premise that people would watch them because they like Seth Rogan and I am forced to ask whether or not history is now repeating itself. Has the hero lived long enough now to be the villain? Let us hope not and Melissa’s next role on Thor: Love and Thunder reminds us why she is the American Queen of comedy once more.
By Ella Spottiswood
Ella is a Freelance Director/Producer and the co-founder of Soldi Films. When she isn’t making, watching or talking about films, she is writing about them here!