Arguably, Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids (2011) success can be seen as a milestone as it allowed mainstream audiences to see women banter in the same comedic tone as the men over in The Hangover films. Conceptually more solid and just funnier than its male counterpart, Bridesmaids striped away the romantic aesthetic from romantic-comedy that often relegates women in cinema these days. The Heat adheres to the same general framework as Feig’s previous film, though siphons off external secondary characters in favor of a more focused, albeit clichéd, buddy-cop film. Like Bridesmaid, The Heat succeeds on the basis of good material coupled with sharp comedic instincts from its two leads.
And those instincts have not gone unnoticed; Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy realize their characters wonderfully. McCarthy’s crassness may have swerved overboard in this year’s early abomination, Identity Thief, but when saddled with the appropriate material and sparring partner in Bullock, her vulgar domineering is successful. While largely a reactionary device to McCarthy’s presence, Bullock gives The Heat a level-headed sense of panic that is critical for any of the film’s major punch-lines to work. Often the butt of jokes, no single comedic moment left me more satisfied than Bullock’s well-timed tongue-in-cheek comment on tongues and cheeks. It’s by no means the best joke in the film (it is, for what it’s worth, incredibly cheesy) but it shows a clear understanding of Bullock’s character and the type of jokes she would make when the opportunity presents itself.
Katie Dipplod, whose script outputs include episodes of Parks and Recreations and MADtv, utilizes exhausted plot devices and genre convention is to establish context. This is then subverted through rapid comic inferences, often provoking the essentially new concept of having two women as central protagonists. It’s not in any way novel, but the execution here is about as good as it gets. This is largely a success through Feig’s mise en scene, who’s proven to be a capable director. From his framing of a pack of tic-tacs bouncing off a man’s head to embattled partners struggling to get through a doorway, Feig’s instincts are subdued to that of his material: never does he intrude on the work of his actors and always does he position and hold his camera to capture the hilarity of a scene.
The Heat does have a plot of sorts, though it’s all undercut by its two leads. By no means a bad thing, Feig and Dipplod don’t give much leverage to any of the film’s narrative jumps –the narrative developments in The Heat barely register a pulse. It’s only in the film’s more high-octane action sequences does the plot rear its head; coincidentally, it’s where the film loses its way. But the first hour is an exercise in hilarious physical comedy and verbal acrobatics between two talented performers. Following dreary features like The Hangover Part III and the aforementioned Identity Thief, The Heat’s ability to actually be funny almost strikes me as an anomaly. It’s likely to be the best mainstream comedy of the year.