Identity Thief is not a good movie. By any means. It’s long, ill-paced, poorly written—we could go on. (In fact, we did!) Most critics have come down hard on the film, but Rex Reed at the New York Observer has taken things to a whole other level—and one completely unrelated to the cinematic flaws of the comedy: Melissa McCarthy’s weight.
Rightly drawing attention to the film’s “stupefying screenplay,” Reed’s review begins like many others. Then, suddenly, out of left field comes the description of McCarthy as “tractor-sized.” He then goes on to summarize the film as “plung[ing] Mr. Bateman and his female hippo” into various unbecoming situations. Pardon? Fat-shaming is hardly anything new, and McCarthy has spoken at length about her weight and the acceptance of her own body. (A feat which isn’t easy for many people, not matter what their size.) But perhaps this was merely a slip on Reed’s part, a Freudian one that displays a body-bias, but not maliciously intended? Nope. In his conclusion, Reed returns to highlight McCarthy’s body type, then takes it one step further: “Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) is a gimmick comedian who has devoted her short career to being obese and obnoxious with equal success.”
Comedy is subjective. There’s no guidebook when it comes to pinpointing just what certain people find funny. If Reed doesn’t find McCarthy humourous, that’s perfectly fine. Resorting to name-calling instead of criticism, however, hardly illuminates the situation. To be sure, McCarthy’s character is meant to be grating—she’s loud, dresses poorly, and wears unfortunate makeup (the three capital offenses for women in so many Hollywood films). Moreover, Identity Thief plays upon her weight, subconsciously or not, using it to code her as poor, desperate, and unfulfilled. Instead of unpacking just why this might be (and what it says about our societal values), Reed plays right into the fat phobia, uniformly dismissing a comedian, who he admits is only now coming into her own. Simply put: There’s enough wrong with Identity Thief without resorting to such schoolyard antics.