The Heat, the new action flick starring Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock, is brash, funny, and memorable. Though McCarthy, the star of Mike & Molly, became famous with her role in director Paul Feig’s last movie, Bridesmaids, the film that supposedly proved that women will pay big bucks to see smart, irreverent comedies, The Heat can in no way be called a chick flick. In fact, The Heat is the first lesbian buddy cop comedy ever — it just doesn’t know it yet.
It’s also the first (or second if you count Rebecca De Mornay’s Feds, which purists don’t) female buddy cop action comedy and it’s so funny that it’s guaranteed to stand the test of time on the video shelves (or digital libraries?) alongside classics like Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon. Bullock plays Sarah Ashburn, an uptight FBI agent sent to Boston to find a killer; McCarthy is Shannon Mullins, a anything but by-the-book Boston cop who’s sort of a female Dirty Harry with a heart. And though first-time screenwriter Katie Dippold might not agree, the flick includes all the elements of a classic lesbian love story: the initial culture clash, the intimate bonding, the shared outsider status, the emotional merging, and entry into the sisterhood of Sappho.
Even though the film establishes that the two women have either had sex or relationships with men, there are no classic straight girl tropes — neither gets the geek-to-goddess makeover a la Miss Congeniality; nobody falls for the guy and has an emotional awakening a la The Proposal; neither realizes that all they ever needed was a man a la any Meg Ryan movie.
So we put the question of the film’s lesbian subtext and plenty more to director Paul Feig, the man who won critical cred after cocreating Freaks and Geeks (with Judd Apatow) and great financial success after directing Bridesmaids.
The Advocate: There were some great buddy cop movies that I loved when I was younger, like Running Scared and 48 Hours. Were you a fan of the genre?
Paul Feig: Yeah, I was. The ones that I was the biggest fan of were 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop. What I loved about them was they were real; they were funny, but they were real. And the danger was real and the violence was real, in a way that made you invest in the story while you were also having a good time. That kind of blew my mind at that point because I hadn’t really seen comedy done that way. You know, either comedy was really crazy and funny or it wasn’t. For comedy to have these dark elements but still you’re laughing hysterically at the performances was really cool. So that’s what I wanted to bring to this one.
Someone asked me if buddy cop comedies in the past usually had the same mix of drama and comedy, and I said, well, let’s take Beverly Hills Cop and break it down. And we I could see so many of the touchstones that were really similar.
Yeah, no, it’s a tone that’s gotten lost in the mix in that last, I don’t know, 10 years or whatever. Everything I do I want it to have a very realistic quality to it, even though it’s going to be funny. It’s that through-line that grounds the characters and makes them not silly that really helps me connect to a story like this.
Those films share a similar bent in terms of their take on violence. Of course, the bloodiest scene in The Heat had nothing to do with violence.
Right. It was just about deconstructing Sandra’s character.
It’s kind of amazing that this is the first real female buddy cop movie.
Yeah, it is crazy, right, in 2013? It just kind if illustrates how slow on the uptake Hollywood has been with women.
I’m wondering, why do you think Hollywood has green-lit more buddy action comedies about male cops and police dogs than they have about women cops?
[Laughs] I think they have a business fear that women won’t respond to these types of movies, that they won’t show up; I feel like there must be equations all over Hollywood and data that backs this up, but the same time I can put only so much credence in that, because I’ve had things in my career where I’ve gone, “I want to do this,” and [studio types] go, “Oh, no, you can’t do that, it won’t work." And then somebody else does it and it’s a huge hit, and you’re like, “You said they couldn’t” and it’s “Oh, well, you know, they did.” And you think, Psh, thanks for nothing! Like, why couldn’t I have tried it too?
I would really just like to break down that wall between kind of you know, a chick flick — it’s like they think women in the movies are chick flicks. No, there are chick flicks and the romantic comedies that are a little bit more poisonous to guys, but that doesn’t need to be the steady diet that you’re being fed by the movies.