After last week’s reminder that Rex Reed hates fat people, not to mention the disappointing reception for "Tammy" (though it has a few defenders), Melissa McCarthy could probably use a friend right now. Enter Kyle Smith, film critic for The New York Post and The Atlantic Wire’s pick for the Most Cantankerous Critic in America in 2012.
Smith’s latest piece sees him elevating McCarthy as the queen of comedy at the expense of another beloved comic actress, Tina Fey, of whom Smith is evidently not a fan. "Fey may be witty and cute and sophisticated (and improv-trained)," he writes, "but it’s McCarthy who makes you laugh: Note the element of force involved. When Melissa’s up to bat, you’re the baseball." Fey, he says, "is worth some $45 million, and she wants us to feel angry-sorry about how oppressive being a woman is."
After attributing Fey’s popularity solely to her Sarah Palin impression and naming her "America’s Lite Comic Feminist," Smith continues:
Alas, this meant comedy that sounded like the jokes page of Ms. magazine. "And now, like a supermodel’s vagina, let’s all give a warm welcome to Leonardo DiCaprio," Fey said at the Golden Globes. (Ha ha. Vagina!) That creep Leo, he should make a statement about women’s appearance issues and date women who look like Amy Poehler.
Smith has lambasted Fey in the past in a post that claimed her recent gig co-hosting the Golden Globes with Amy Poehler contained "too much estrogen" and was only saved by "reigning dude Matthew McConaughey" while the Globes’s spread-the-wealth approach (only "American Hustle" and "Dallas Buyers Club" won more than one trophy in the film categories) was akin to "a mom squad making sure every Little Leaguer gets a trophy."
I’m not one to take people to task for things they do or don’t find funny (exceptions: disliking Gene Wilder, liking Friedberg/Seltzer), so let’s leave Smith’s taste in comedy out of it. Far more galling is his dismissal of any comedy that’s not broad and raucous as the kind of stuff that belongs in women’s magazines, or the condescending use of the words "witty" and "cute" as backhanded compliments to Fey. Smith seems to think that women belong in comedy only if they can hang with the bros, and asserts that that’s what the people want, too. After all, McCarthy’s projects trounce Fey’s in terms of popularity.
Except not always. Smith cites the box office failure of "Admission," but he doesn’t mention the success of "Baby Mama," or that the gross of "Date Night" ($152 million) isn’t that far off from that of McCarthy’s "Identity Thief" (about $174 million). Nor does he note the enduring popularity of Fey’s "Mean Girls," which seems to take over the internet every other day. And while "30 Rock’s" ratings are modest in comparison to those of McCarthy’s show "Mike & Molly," Fey’s show is one of the most beloved sitcoms of the past decade.
The popularity angle, however, isn’t nearly as insidious as Smith’s reduction of Fey’s candor on the difficulties of being a woman in Hollywood because she’s financially successful — despite all those supposed box-office disasters — and "inexplicably took her shirt off in a classroom in ‘Mean Girls.’" You heard it here, ladies, you’re already equal enough, and don’t dress that way if you don’t want to be objectified.
What might be most depressing about the article is that in defending McCarthy, he also reduces her to "a ballsy, brassy broad" who’s not afraid to be as raunchy as the guys. That might be a mode McCarthy excels in, but she was equally strong as the loveably manic Sookie St. James on "Gilmore Girls," and one of her best moments in "Bridesmaids," her tough love talk with Kristin Wiig, is as much about her plainspoken goodheartedness as it is about her fighting and biting. And as a number of people pointed out in their reviews, "Tammy" shows the depth of McCarthy’s range as a performer and as a writer, even if it’s not wholly successful. Better for her to stretch her larger-than-life screen persona than to pigeonhole herself as the loud funny big lady.
Maybe Kyle Smith isn’t a friend McCarthy would like to have.