In a recent film review of Identity Thief for the New York Observer, the author, Rex Reed, decided to center his criticisms around star Melissa McCarthy’s weight, saying that she was “obese and obnoxious,” “humongous,” and reminiscent of a “female hippo.” I wish I could say I was contributing to the fiction column, but this is all true. Here is my response:
Dear Mr. (or is it King?) Reed,
I have never read one of your film reviews and until this moment, I did not know anything about you. I think it is safe to say that this will be the final review of yours that I will ever deign to indulge in.
You recently wrote a review of the latest hit comedy Identity Thief, which was released in cinemas on Friday, February 8th. I’m not sure who is to be held responsible for publishing it, but that’s another complaint for another day. I’m no expert when it comes to film reviews; I just know a bit about where they appear, how they are structured, and what they contain. I do know, however, that film reviews, by definition, are meant for reviewing a film. This can include a critique of one or more actors from the film—a critic is more than welcome to express his or her opinion of individual performances—but I have never read a film review that was centered around an actor’s weight.
In our modern, thin-focused entertainment world of Keira Knightleys and Mischa Bartons, it is easy to overlook some of our more “normal” looking celebs. I understand this. What I don’t understand, however, is the idea that an entertainer with a body mass index of more than nineteen has any less credibility than the skeletons who shove their metatarsals into Jimmy Choos and swaddle their ribs in Giorgio Armani before gracing the red carpet with their near-transparency.
Melissa McCarthy, rising star of Bridesmaids and Mike and Molly fame, is no exception.
While I don’t consider myself a super fan of Ms. McCarthy, I know that she is a talented comedienne and probably a perfectly lovely person. I am also pretty sure that her performance in Identity Thief, whether you like it or not, probably has nothing to do with her appearance. So your remarks about her being a “female hippo,” “grotesque,” and “tractor-sized” are nothing short of irrelevant, not to mention unreasonably mean-spirited.
Mr. Reed, I could go on and on about the unusual alliteration of your name (or the fact that it vaguely reminds me of an ancient Greek play in which a troubled king kills his father, has intercourse with his mother, and eventually gouges his own eyes out) or your rather startling salt-and-pepper eyebrows, but I won’t. Do you know why? Because you are, as you say, a film critic; you watch films and you tell others what you think of them. You have a job, much like Ms. McCarthy. Your superficial qualities have nothing to do with said job. The same goes for Ms. McCarthy: she is an actress. She takes on other characters. She entertains us. She makes us laugh. Fin, as they say in the film world.
I am a woman (I know, they let me near a computer, I’m shocked too) and an acting major in college. I know the gist of Ms. McCarthy’s job, and what you have for breakfast in the morning isn’t a prime concern in terms of the art. Is she healthy by our standards? Probably not, but you know what? I think she knows that and I think it’s honorable that she is confident with herself and seems to really enjoy what she does. She’s not a spokesperson for Weight Watchers and she’s not splashed across the covers of glossy magazines with a flawless bikini body. We know. But she’s fun, she’s down-to-earth, and she does her job with a smile. That’s what it’s about.
Mr. Reed, you have no idea what I look like. You don’t know what color my hair is, how straight my teeth are, or how prominent my love-handles are. But if you’ve been reading, you can tell that I am educated, I choose my words carefully, and you better believe I’ve got a little fight in me. And that’s all you need to know for our intents and purposes.
I still plan on seeing Identity Thief. I loved Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids and the trailers I’ve seen are really funny. It’s clearly not deep, edgy, or a work of art to define our generation, but I don’t think that’s what it’s trying to do. It’s a comedy, and I think we all need to laugh a little, maybe even a lot. So despite the fact that the leading actress is not thin but still comfortable with herself (THE HORROR!), I think I will be enjoying her latest movie. If I like it enough and I have a good time, I’m not beyond getting back in the queue for seconds or thirds. I may even bring along a big ol’ pint of Ben and Jerry’s.
Mr. Reed, for the sake of all of us, I really hope you focus more on your actual job and don’t let your shallow and misogynist views get in the way of that.
Cora Swise is a freshman B.F.A. Acting major. She likes black and white movies, tofu, and Tumblr.