Two cops working together to take down bad guys on the streets of a big city. This plot sounds pretty familiar, right? That’s because it’s been done numerous times, from Lethal Weapon to Bad Boys, Rush Hour, The Other Guys, and 21 Jump Street, to name a few. This summer’s The Heat follows the same formula, with one major difference: the cops are both women. Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy star in this hilarious summer sizzler about Sarah Ashburn (Bullock), an FBI Special Agent, sent on assignment from New York to Boston to imprison a devious drug lord. Upon her arrival, she quickly discovers that she can’t shrug off Shannon Mullins (McCarthy), one of Boston’s most notorious detectives, from the case and the two must figure out how to work together to accomplish their mission. They are both very effective at their jobs, albeit with very different techniques. Ashburn is methodical and follows the rules, professionally and personally. As a straight-laced, tough cop, she’s extremely confident in her capabilities, often to the disdain of her coworkers. Mullins is the opposite. She almost always breaks the rules to catch the perpetrator and has a rap sheet to prove it. She doesn’t care what the world thinks of her and she’s doesn’t try to impress anyone. Book-smart vs. street smart, tactful vs. brazen, once they realize that they have to work together, it turns out they make a great team.
The Heat was written by Katie Dippold (MadTV, Parks and Recreation) and directed by Paul Feig, best known for co-creating NBC’s Freaks and Geeks with Judd Apatow and directing 2011’s Bridesmaids (he also has a few choice acting credits that include Counselor Tim in Heavyweights and the science teacher in the first season of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.) With a keen interest in showcasing the power of female-driven comedy, Feig and Dippold created a film that showcases confident women working in positions of power, with romantic storylines relegated to the background of the plot for a change. In an interview with The Huffington Post’s Zaki Hasan, Feig stated that “my hope is always to just make people not care if it’s men or women in a movie, they’ll just go, like, ‘That looks funny,’ and guys will not be afraid of a movie with two women on the poster.” (Click on this link to read the full interview.) While Feig’s statement makes sense, the film industry as a whole doesn’t seem to have caught up with this “progressive” mentality. Many of the films starring women in the lead roles have romance-driven plots. Some exceptions exist, of course, including The Hunger Games and Brave, though they are few and far between.
In the wake of The Heat’s release, Entertainment Weekly’s Keith Staskiewicz noted in the June 28, 2013 issue that the film is “the first true buddy comedy starring women in more than two decades.” That’s pretty bizarre, considering that so far just in 2013 we’ve been given such films as The Hangover Part III, The Internship, and This Is the End. Not surprisingly, all of these movies failed to pass the Bechdel Test, which is a method of assessing movies and other pieces of media (it could easily be applied to TV) to identify gender biases. For a movie to pass, it must:
1. Have at least two named women
2. These women talk to each other
3. They must talk about something besides a man.
Sounds simple, right? The qualifications seem so easy to pass it’s almost laughable that the test even exists. But major Hollywood films fail the test all the time, including, but not limited to, Identity Thief, 21 & Over, Oblivion, Mud, Jack the Giant Slayer, Now You See Me, After Earth, and The Purge … and those were just from the first half of 2013.
As for the films that do pass the test, it’s not often that the movies’ leads are exclusively female, and it’s quite rare for the film to fall into either the “buddy” or “cop” genres, whether they are comedies or dramas. The Entertainment Weekly article identified Thelma & Louise as the last true buddy film with female leads before The Heat. The article also lists Outrageous Fortune (1987), starring Bette Midler and Shelley Long, and 9 to 5 (1980) as standout female buddy movies. (Note: it seems like Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997) would also count as a female buddy movie, which would shorten the gap from 22 years to 16 years, but still…over a decade and a half is a long time considering how many male buddy movies were released between 1997 and 2013.) While it’s clear that The Heat isn’t the first female buddy movie, it’s not so clear as to whether any other female cop films even exist? Cagney & Lacey, a police procedural about two female detectives working in a Manhattan precinct, aired on CBS for seven seasons in the 1980s, but what about movies? If anyone’s aware of one, let me know. The fact that female-driven comedies draw so much discussion still to this day because they are comedies driven by females shows that Hollywood has a long way to go before gender biases are eliminated. Remember the hoopla surrounding the release of Bridesmaids? Paul Feig shouldn’t have to discuss the fact that his (comedy) movies have female leads. The topic of female comedians and whether women can carry a film came up in interviews with Feig for both Bridesmaids and The Heat. Was Todd Phillips asked these kinds of questions about men while promoting The Hangover? I don’t think so. Bridesmaids and The Heat grossed $288 million and $224 million worldwide respectively. That’s a LOT, so why is it still so surprising to have a movie with female leads when they can clearly make tons of money? It’s a good question, one that will hopefully be irrelevant in the near future. Because really, who doesn’t want to go to the movies and see a scene like this?
The Heat will be released on DVD/Blu-ray/iTunes on October 15th, so if you want to watch a hilarious movie, make sure to check it out!
Things to consider:
- Justin Timberlake’s new album, The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2, comes out today!
- Danielle Fishel, a.k.a. Topanga Lawrence of Boy Meets World, will be writing a memoir! Read more about it here.