Take One: The Nines (2007)
The three things that struck me most about the twisty-turny Ryan Reynolds sci-fi drama were Melissa McCarthy. (Reynolds’ much-bared torso came a close fourth). In the film’s three loose-linked segments she plays: Margaret, a perky PR handler; Melissa, a TV actress version of ‘Melissa McCarthy’; and Mary, a housewife. There’s plenty of mystical musings about 9s being everywhere and meaning everything – though thankfully not as much number mumbling as there was in The Number 23 – but it sort of makes its own kind of brain-beaten logic by the end.
The second and third sections give McCarthy lengthy scenes opposite Reynolds: she aces “Melissa"'s cringe inducing pissed-off moment where she’s told she’s being dropped from a TV show by this narrative’s version of Reynolds, and in the is-it-a-show-or-is-it-reality? final segment "Mary" gets an emotional scene which nicely shows off McCarthy's vulnerable side; in both segments she’s quietly phenomenal, often showing Reynolds, and everybody else, up.
But the actress really excels in the first section, as the troublingly bubbly PR keeping Reynolds’ fire-starting actor under house arrest with knowingly witty pleasantries.
I didn’t mean to eat my way into a ten-year shame spiral, but I did!
There’s an unsettling Truman Show-esque weirdness to this Melissa incarnation that the giggly sarcasm she uses can’t hide. With three roles, McCarthy gets to display triple the versatile character work in one decent movie.
Take Two: The Back-Up Plan (2010)
There’s only one good reason to watch The Back-Up Plan and it’s McCarthy. She's in a mere handful of scenes, but she's the one joyously likeable aspect making the investment worth persevering with. If you latch on to McCarthy as focal point, you can make it through this variation-on-a-theme RomCom. (This variation dishes up artificial insemination via Jenny from the Block as its novel MO).
She plays Carol, one of a pair of new-age mothers who practice alternative birthing, spiritual feeling and clap-happy wellness. McCarthy embraces her small, purely-for-laughs role with gusto. She chants and bangs on a drum during her partner’s birthing scene; she plays it, as she does all her scenes here, with a knowing expression as if she might just burst into laughter at any minute (hence why keeping your eye on her is essential in wringing maximum funny-bone potential from the film – she inspires complicity).
It’s perfectly natural, sometimes the bowels just release...”
she offers, whilst mimicking that exact action with her arm yet still managing to bang her ‘birth drum’. Here, as with several other of her roles, McCarthy is more implicit to the comedy than her more famous co-stars. It shouldn't be too long now until comedic set pieces, or, actually, entire comedies revolve around her.
Take Three: Bridesmaids (2011)
First a couple of statistics: over the last thirty years, since 1980, and looking only at same-film-same-year paired lead/supporting Actress Oscar nominations, there have only been four out of thirty-one female pairings nominated for comedy roles: Hawn/Brennan in Private Benjamin; Andrews/Warren in Victor/Victoria; Griffith/Weaver (Joan Cusack also) in Working Girl; Cher/Dukakis in Moonstruck. That last pair, who both won, was in 1987 – twenty-three years ago. Time for another, don’t you think? Kristen Wiig and McCarthy look like the best candidates to me. Doesn’t it just feel... right that they should be nominated? I don’t think “mere” Golden Globe nominations will suffice. Oscar nominations would be icing on the cake for Bridesmaids to complete its estrogen-fuelled assault on comedy cinema.
But irrespective of possible award success, McCarthy, as Megan, is splendid in the film. She’s one of the essential components of the bridal-based hilarity. Her comic timing is exemplary in every scene: on the plane, leg aloft, confidently seducing a not-an-Air-Marshall-Jon (Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s husband) with the ‘heat from her undercarriage’; stealing nine bowed and barking party favours; sinking to new lows for comedy highs during a dress fitting accident (“don’t look at me!!”); and her pitch-perfect line delivery and smartly filthy manner , particularly at the pre-wedding gathering (“I'm glad he's single 'cause I'm gonna climb that like a tree”).
But there’s also heart and depth to McCarthy's performance. It's in the moment when she playfully literalises the phrase ‘life will bite you on the ass’ by shaking Annie (Wiig) out of her moody funk, only to follow it with a funny and heart-wrenching speech about her school years and subsequent adult success. Astutely, McCarthy just about prevents her voice from breaking into tears as she delivers her lines. Taken with all her earlier moments, this seals the deal: her supporting performance is one for the ages. For any possible Oscar voters reading this *cough* McCarthyforthewin *cough*
Three more key films for the taking: White Oleander (2002), Life as We Know It (2010), Gilmore Girls (TV/2000-2007)