‘CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?’ Showcases a Maturing Melissa McCarthy, Not Much Else

Lee Israel is a washed up biographer, having once flown to the heights of the New York Best Sellers list only to plummet into obscurity, a flamed out Icarus of an author. Even her agent despises Lee’s pissy, ill-tempered approach to work and world, which makes selling her niche work ever the challenge. When Lee finds herself out of work, with debt piling up, and no sign of a book advance on the horizon, she turns to counterfeiting literary letters to make ends meet, making some new friends along the way.  Read More


Out in Theaters: ‘GHOSTBUSTERS’

It’s been a long road to the theater for Paul Feig and the girls of Ghostbusters. Beset by accusations of vagina-washing from a very vocal (and rather pathetic) corner of the internet, a less-than-reassuring first trailer and a borderline insufferable Fall Out Boy/Missy Elliot rendition of the iconic “Who You Gonna Call?” theme song, the remake of Harold Ramis’ much-adored 1984 supernatural-comedy had many hurdles to summit. But rather than scale the obstacles in its path, Ghostbusters dispenses a powerful proton pack of carefully constructed charisma, nostalgia-fueled callbacks and no-holds-barred performances, blasting the besmirching naysayers to smithereens like cardboard cutouts of Slimer in a Chinatown back alley. Read More


Out in Theaters: ‘THE BOSS’

Melissa McCarthy extols virtues of bullying as hardball go-getter in The Boss. McCarthy’s latest, a rags to riches to rags to brownie empress saga, is a decidedly un-PC yet still paint-by-numbers comedy-cum-drama, written and directed by husband Ben Falcone. Falcone and McCarthy last collaborated as writer/director and star/writer on the critically reviled Tammy and if anything can be said of The Boss, it’s that the duo has still not perfected the formula. A gaffe-a-minute affair puckered with sequin turtlenecks, trite physical gags and the occasional guffaw-worthy ribbing, The Boss continues Hollywood’s trend of planting the theoretically funny McCarthy in mostly lame-brained, decidedly derivative and narratively bankrupt outings. If not entirely without laughs, The Boss is still poor enough in them to qualify for unemployment.  Read More


Out in Theaters: SPY

Like Funyuns, Melissa McCarthy is an acquired taste. In her least delicate projects, she vaults around the frame, sharting and cursing to the apparent delight of squealing audiences that I just don’t relate to. Even in Paul Feig‘s Spy – a film that affords her at least an attempt at a three-dimensional character – a wide margin of the comedy is rooted in McCarthy’s heft and just how riotous it is to see a fat lady try to do normal lady things. Tee-hee. Read More


SXSW Review: SPY

Like Funyuns, Melissa McCarthy is an acquired taste. In her least delicate projects, she vaults around the frame, sharting and cursing to the apparent delight of squealing audiences that I just don’t relate to. Even in Paul Feig‘s Spy – a film that affords her at least an attempt at a three-dimensional character – a wide margin of the comedy is rooted in McCarthy’s heft and just how riotous it is to see a fat lady try to do normal lady things. Tee-hee.

As with McCarthy projects past, Spy projects a cipher of reality in which fantastical things transpire in the name of “comedy.” McCarthy attempts to mount a European motorbike but it flops over. In footage showing her spy academy training, she flips and rolls with the best of them before punching nuts like a cracked-up monkey. She even fails to glide over the roof of an automobile in a scene literally aped from Feig’s The Heat. It’s funny because she’s fat and little more. I wish there were more to it than that, but there’s not.

With Bridesmaids, The Heat and now Spy behind them and Ghostbusters on the horizon, Feig and McCarthy have cooked up some kind of unbreakable collaborative bond. Their partnership is odd to say the least – being betwixt an aged, three-piece wearing gentleman and a scuzzy, willing-to-do-anything plumpette – but like other talented individuals who have failed to see their way out of a faltering relationship (ahem, Johnny Depp and Tim Burton), Feig and McCarthy continue to be just the bee’s knees to one another. Feig’s gushing introduction of McCarthy at the SXSW premiere (“My favorite person in the world”) left little to doubt as to the kinship shared between the two. It’s all good to be BFFs but maybe a skosh of constructive criticism wouldn’t hurt.


Consider the face-palming failure that was McCarthy’s long-gestated dream project (Tammy). With that in mind, I for one have serious doubts for McCarthy’s comic sensibilities and with what I’ve seen of her – from Identity Theft to Tammy – I just don’t see the comic star that some envision her as. It’s true that Feig once lead her to a (totally undeserved) Oscar nomination but maybe it’s time for this red sea to part ways. Because underneath the failures of Spy is evidence that both McCarthy and Feig have the ability to thrive, if only they could get out of each other’s way.

The film opens with an extremely on-the-nose James Bond tip-of-the-hat with agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) tossing a well-populated mansion in search of a nuclear weapon. From a distance, McCarthy’s Susan Cooper provides tech support – altering Fine of incoming henchmen and advising him which rooms to duck into for cover. When Fine uncovers the big bad, he pulls a Vince Vega and accidentally turns the man’s brains to crimson mashed potatoes. For what it’s worth, the sequence is disarmingly cutesy and sinfully hilarious and it reminds one why Law was once considered to play James Bond.

Throughout the film, Feig’s actions sequences are surprisingly strong in their glossy execution but, unlike celebrated contemporary Edgar Wright, Feig doesn’t know really know how to pull off physical comedy on camera. Rather, his shots supposedly attain comedic effect because McCarthy’s too big to be pulling off the stunt or she pukes after she does them. While Wright uses clever visual cues, camera movements and framing to deliver a rare form of in-camera comedy, Feig’s films just throw in the kitchen sink, crams his camera in the space and lets it roll without a taste for subtlety or a mastery of his craft.

You likely wouldn’t believe me if I told you but the comic king of Spy comes in the shape of Jason Statham – an agent who talks a big game but lacks almost entirely in follow through. His lofty opinion of himself has him showering us with a list of prior accomplishments – “I was dead for five minutes one time,” “I once had my arm ripped completely off…and reattached it with my other arm,” etc. – and, surprising though it may be, he pulls off the deadpan bit with hearty aplomb.


Miranda Hart, Allison Janney and Bobby Cannavale all bounce in and out of the picture at one point of another, providing very little in terms of actual comedy while Rose Byrne as an ice-cold vixen with an atom-bomb up for sale actually packs in a few nice laughs. A brief interlude with Zach Woods make me grin and showed that Feig was maybe even willing to challenge his status quo with a little gore but it’s a promise that stands unfulfilled. Over and over again, Feig returns to McCarthy and how she looks like a lonely cat lady, or a mini-van driving mom, or a coupon-clipper and ha, ha, look she’s trying to do something not totally lame! Let’s point the camera and laugh at her. Were I McCarthy, the oft mocking material would slice a chink in the ol’ self esteem armor and, personally, it’s hard to watch her knocked down again and again even if we know redemption is surely in the cards.

In large part due to smarmy secondary characters the likes of Law, Statham and Bryne, Spy does slip in some low laughs, sometimes even at the hands of McCarthy. And though I get the sense that this is supposed to be empowering – as if McCarthy score one for the girls when she doesn’t inevitably f*ck everything up – but, if we’re being honest, I don’t know if I buy it. As Melissa McCarthy and Miranda Hart celebrate their victory with a “girl’s night out”, the intention to pander towards female audiences is grossly obvious in what is essentially a reheated formula of the Feig/McCarthy machine that we’ve seen before. Having digested Spy, I feel as if I can forecast exactly what is in store for the all-female Ghostbusters; fat jokes, slightly funny improv comedy and female failures turned female success stories. And maybe a kitten sweatshirts or two for good measure.


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Out in Theaters: ST. VINCENT

I could watch Bill Murray read a phone book. Or hose down a patch of dirt. Correction: I did watch Bill Murray hose down a patch of dirt. For about five minutes. This is what makes up the end credits of St. Vincent, a somewhat sentimentally told tale of a sun-ripened curmudgeon softened by the articulate innocence of the new runt neighbor kid. The kicker is a brilliant ploy to get people to stay through the bitter end: frame Bill Murray chewing a cigarette, rambling along to Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm”, playing with a watering hose. I’d watch Murray butcher Dylan all day.

Eleven years after Lost in Translation, nine years out from Broken Flowers, Murray’s career has been more an internet sensation than anything resembling that of a hard worker’s. He picks his project like I shop for pomegranates. Very carefully, except sometimes when, fuck it. And good on him. But don’t get me wrong: Bill Murray is the best thing that has ever happened to the internet and, quite possibly, humankind. He lends his face to each and every Wes Anderson project, to the undying thanks of this critic (though he hasn’t had anything particularly juicy since what I just might consider his best ever role as Steve Zissou in The Life Aquatic). He mic dropped perhaps the ultimate all time cameo in Zombieland (the man really needs to be knighted the king of meta). He even tried his best for gold with the critically dumped upon Hyde Park on Hudson, the FDR handjob in a field story. With St. Vincent, Murray’s not only returned to comedy but to the spotlight. Where he belongs.

Throughout the years, the one thing that has made Murray so infinitely watchable is his 8-mile thick slab of sarcasm, a trait that writer/director Theodore Melfi exploits to the fullest. With a (not totally consistent) Brooklyn accent, Murray’s drab sense of banter makes him the perfect jackass. Here’s a guy who’ll crash into his own fence, blame it on the neighbor and insist she pay for it. And yet, we’re still able to like him through it all. He gets cut off at the bar (with child in tow), smashes a glass and is kindly escorted out. Who other than Murray could pull off such a feat?

After a night of particularly committed drinking, Murray smashes up his face like he owes himself money. Bleedy, grumpy and hungover, he emerges from his dinky man-cave the next morning to a moving truck smashing its way through his yard. Without holding back a full blown hissy fit, he meets new neighbor Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her shrimpy son Oliver, played by notably not annoying newcomer Jaeden Lieberher. Maggie’s a single mom and an MRI tech so her hours are numbered. When Oliver gets a beat down at his new Catholic school – Chris O’Dowd plays his irreverent but nonetheless clerically collared teacher – he’s sans keys and can no longer get into his house. With a politely timed “Excuse me, sir?”, he asks to take shelter in the very, very humble abode of the crotchety “but interesting” neighbor, Vincent.

At first, Vincent treats Oliver as one would a louse with halitosis. He makes him a plate of sardines and saltines (a dish my inner-child would very much not be opposed to) and calls it sushi. He takes him to the bar to get some drinking done. “Shut up” is the word of the day most days. He’s the babysitter equivalent of Taz, after a bottle of bourbon and a bong rip. Along the way, the two become accidentally close (as they always do in movies of this sort.) A trip to the horse races is laced with a real mix of uplifting dramatics and laugh out loud humor. There’s a montage to follow that will get you grinning like a loon. But it always comes undone. Vincent won’t ever leave good enough alone and Melfi won’t let his lovable asshole off that easily.

There’s tension were it needed be – bookie tough guy Terrence Howard adds nothing to the bigger picture – and that distracts from the emotional honesty at St. Vincent‘s core but as it crescendos towards its heart-rending finale, you’ll find yourself uncommonly willing to forgive it its sins. Scenes Vincent shares with his hospitalized wife are few – almost leaving me (shockingly) wanting more – and handled with delicacy and care, the touch of a director with real sensitivity. The more layers of the onion we peel back on old man Vincent, the more pavement is laid for the barrage of third act lumps in your throat.

By most accounts, St. Vincent shouldn’t work. It’s too tender in some parts, too chewy in others, like a microwaved steak. The conveniences are many, the happy resolution unnaturally tidy. Cruddy, pervy old men, though cruddy and pervy, can be made of gold. We’ve seen it before. It’s basically the Weinsteins’ retelling of Bad Grandpa. And did I mention Naomi Watts is a pregnant Russian prostitute? That casting alone is unthinkable strange, but it somehow works. And like the choppy cadence of Watts’ prego lady of the night, it moves indelicately, but ultimately wins us over. It just goes to show that maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but when you’re old dog is Bill Murray, you don’t need any new tricks at all. Then, the old ones do just fine.


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Out in Theaters: TAMMY


Begin Again played with alcoholism; Tammy’s the kind of movie that’s alcoholic. The whole thing seems inebriated, like it was shot with a camera in one hand and a shot of booze in the other. Never mind that Susan Sarandon spends the film chugging whiskey and brews, or that Melissa McCarthy can’t seem to make it a mile without blowing something up. People you watched in movies back in the ‘80s and ‘90s keep popping up in random places as if you stepped into a bizarro Hollywood career rehab. Hey guys, wanna fit Dan Aykroyd in this movie? What about Gary Cole? Sure. Screw it.

Watching old people make whoopee isn’t fun for anyone. Neither is diabetes. Tammy has a lot of both, usually at the same time. There’s a lot of amusement mixed in with things you’d rather not think about: unemployment, aging, prison. If you want to watch someone crash a jet-ski, you might as well watch America’s Funniest Home Videos and skip Ben Falcone’s hour-and-a-half long road-trip comedy.

I went into Tammy expecting fat jokes and toilet humor. There are a lot of both, but they’re not as bad as you’d think. McCarthy turns a lot of nothing into something. The film opens with her crashing into a CGI deer. Nothing’s funny about it, but the film draws it out for a minute. She recovers: after getting fired from her job at KFC-esque “Topperjacks,” where everyone dresses like a rodeo clown in parachute jumpsuits, she throws a tantrum. As a glorified loser she plays up the moment, throwing burgers and insults. She heads home to find her husband (Nat Faxon) eating a romantic dinner with the next door neighbor (Toni Colette). You don’t want to feel bad for her, but she turns up the embarrassment. It’s sweaty comedy: she has to burn a lot of calories to get any laughs, but damn it does she try hard.


At first you don’t know what to think about Susan Sarandon as McCarthy’s drunken grandma. Sarandon’s made her career playing a mom—it’s difficult to imagine her suffering as a Grandma. When she heads out to road-trip to Niagara Falls with McCarthy and pulls out the liquor, you can still see the youth in her smile. Along the way they keep getting into crazier situations: jet-ski’s get Viking burials at an all-Lesbian 4th of July party, cars get blown up, the two end up in jail. At one point McCarthy holds up a Topperjacks with a paper bag on her head and a rolled up bag covering a finger gun—all this just to bail Sarandon out. The two go back—hostile paper bags on heads—to return the money.

Awkward romance finds itself in this film too. Sarandon hooks up with the aforementioned Gary Cole in the back of a car while McCarthy and Cole’s son (Mark Duplass) sit on the trunk. They move to a hotel room and McCarthy’s left to sleep outside. Amidst the old people fornicating, Duplass’s character falls for McCarthy’s wacky charm and somehow a relationship develops. This is awkward on many levels, and doesn’t really make any sense. McCarthy’s Tammy has absolutely nothing going for her, so why would Duplass’ character have any interest at all?

As much as it struggles with itself, Tammy is brutally honest. Though there’s a lot of heavy topics packed in, the film knows how to turn the discomfort into candid comedy. Kathy Bates and Sandra Oh play a lesbian couple with a passion for explosions. They make light of their struggle as a same-sex couple, and it’s genuinely funny even in its seriousness. Bates brings a lot to her role and delivers some touching moments. Sarandon’s alcoholism breeds some comedy within the sadness too.


Hidden in all the fat jokes and potty humor is a vulnerable McCarthy, who knows how to take it and when to give it out. Though there are a lot of dumb jokes you’d expect from an Adam McKay/Will Ferrell produced comedy, there are some gems too. Her robbery antics at the Topperjacks struggling to jump over the counter and stealing hot pies gets a giggle. Her dance to “Thrift Shop” collects a grin. McCarthy puts the belly in belly laugh.

Wickedly funny at points, there’s a lot of internal strife—you know where Tammy wants to go but it takes the long way there. Despite its simplicity, McCarthy and Sarandon are quirky and fun, though far from smart. Who figured Sarandon would have any sort of comic timing? They’re not the first pair you’d want to road trip with, but at least they’re something to laugh at. If anything, Tammy is a reminder that no matter how bad life gets, it can always get a lot worse. 


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