Dramatic actors are versatile. This is a fact. But the world is a different place for comedic actresses, one where redefining an established identity isn’t always as easy as signing on to a new project. We see actresses like Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Mann and I am practically laughing my face off at how brilliantly funny they are. In their films, on television, in interviews, and everywhere I see them, they are both glamorous and hilarious and I love them. But I can also be pretty confident that they’ll be the same level of funny every time I see them–no more, no less. Don’t get me wrong, consistency can definitely be a good thing, but it’s also very safe and sometimes, dare I say it, a little boring.
It’s a tricky world out there for female comedians. While SNL alumni and sassy stand-up stars soak up the spotlight, few funny women are out there taking risks the way Melissa McCarthy is, with her continuing to surprise us with the range of roles and styles she takes on. With this Friday’s Spy, I’m excited to see what she does with a slightly less outrageous lead role and how it will showcase her particular style of humour. Regardless of whether it’s a success or a flop, one thing we can be sure of is that Melissa McCarthy will keep surprising us, and I’m excited to see what comes next.
Here are just a few examples of how she has proven her versatility as an actress again and again:
- Gilmore Girls
I was a huge Gilmore Girls fan back in the day, and not just because I decided early on that Rory Gilmore was both my fictional best friend and my role model. Beyond the endearing mother-daughter banter and romantic entanglements of both lead actresses, what made the show so great was the quirky cast of secondary characters, including the adorably clumsy and lovably naïve chef at the Independence and Dragonfly Inns, Sookie St. James.
Sookie was everything you would want in a main character’s best friend: understanding, supportive and funny, but not in an “in-your-face” kind of way. She filled out the narrative flow of the series with some light background comic relief and always had one or two wacky problems of her own to counter-balance all of Lorelai’s drama.
“Norman Mailer, I’m pregnant!”
The air-marshal loving, puppy-stealing, cruise-ship-fall-surviving Megan of Bridesmaids. A crude, “tell it like it is” kind of character, Megan was arguably the best part of the movie. Offering some of the most outrageous and hilarious moments, including some aggressive sandwich-related sex scenes with her real-life husband Ben Falcone while the credits rolled, she is probably the most un-Sookie character you could imagine. Megan represents McCarthy’s powerful comedic chops and her ability to be shocking, disgusting and endearing all at the same time.
“I’m glad he’s single, because I’m going to climb that like a tree.”
- St. Vincent
After a string of raunchy comedies, St. Vincent saw McCarthy taking a backseat to the lead performances of Bill Murray and Jaeden Lieberher. She played a working single mother trying to rebuild a life for herself and her son after a difficult divorce. Here McCarthy shows that, while she’s obviously insanely talented at slapstick and in-your-face comedy, she can also still pull off the sympathetic, down-to-earth roles in a way that’s genuine and believable.
“Why is he mowing your dirt patch?”
- Mike & Molly
In addition to the family drama sidekick, the raunchy ensemble member, the loveable hot mess lead character and the sympathetic supporting actress, McCarthy wears yet another hat in her career: star of mediocre sitcom Mike and Molly.
I’m not personally a fan of this show, so I won’t go into this too much except to point out that sitcom acting is a whole world away from the other types of roles McCarthy has mastered. She’s not playing backup to another character, not relying on shock-humour that crosses the line, not winning over audiences with dramatic, sympathetic storylines–it’s a whole other ballgame, and she’s been pulling it off for six seasons! Granted, it’s not a groundbreaking series, but Mike and Molly caters to those who enjoy the kind of safe, wacky, watch-while-eating-dinner-with-your-grandparents kind of humour, which is an audience big enough to keep the show comfortably successful.
- The raunchy leading lady (The Heat, Tammy, Identity Thief)
In addition to the unforgettable Megan, McCarthy has also rocked a few less memorable, but equally out-there roles in Identity Thief, The Heat and Tammy, establishing herself as a powerhouse when it comes to outrageous humour and the capably filling the spotlight in lead roles.
“I’ll shut the door on you. You lay down here and put your head in the door. And I’ll slam it about 157,000 times.”