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Lynn Crosbie

Melissa McCarthy: A hot, steamy, scandalous success Add to ...

“You feel that steam heat? That’s from my undercarriage.” That’s the belle de jour, actress Melissa McCarthy, speaking as the disquieting Megan in the movie Bridesmaids – a role for which she has received an Academy Award nomination in the best-supporting-actress category and fame, which may be viewed as a powerful avalanche, entraining more attention each day.

But it’s beyond fame now; she’s garnering a hot, steamy, scandalous success – scandalous because of the appalling vastness of the character she plays; the dimensions of her unvarnished obscenity and blunt, shark-like appetites.

McCarthy is hardly the first Rabelaisian performer by a long shot. But, sticking out very much like a sore thumb among her fellow nominees, she is the first large-and-in-charge female and blue comic to grace the uppity Oscars lists.

Mary Elizabeth Williams, reviewing Bridesmaids for Salon last year, called it “a triumph for vomit, and feminism” and “your first black president of female-driven comedies.”

However uneasy we are with the fatuousness of that comparison, Williams correctly identified the significance of the film – and what Bridesmaids, which recently became the most popular video-on-demand of all time, means to pop, culture and to the notion of female friendship.

As Bridesmaids continues to captivate us (the cast will be presenters, it was recently announced, at the Oscars ceremony), McCarthy’s fame grows along with it.

After shedding her skin as Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls in 2007, McCarthy reappeared three years later as Molly Flynn on CBS’s Mike & Molly, a comedy about two morbidly obese Chicago natives who meet at an overeaters anonymous gathering and fall in love.

The show was a success straight off, but it was McCarthy who drew all of the heat.

Last year, she won an Emmy for her performance on the show, and, after a charming ceremony in which all of the nominees charged the stage, a stunned McCarthy thanked everyone but Billy Gardell, the colossal Mike himself.

“I know I’m forgetting somebody!” she whimpered, as if seeing a future unhampered by sharing a TV bed with a mountain who sleeps with a rumbling sleep-apnea mask.

McCarthy then hosted Saturday Night Live and has been cherry-picked for bigger, upcoming roles including the Knocked Up sequel, This Is Forty. Last week, she and her husband Ben Falcone got the green light from CBS on a TV pilot for their new, so-far-untitled comedy project.

Why is McCarthy so huge? Why not, say, Kristin Wiig, who starred in Bridesmaids and is also an Oscar nominee as co-writer of its screenplay? Because McCarthy is almost insanely likable. The sophisticated actor reads, also, as if she’s our funniest, wildest friend.

In Bridesmaids, Megan – vulgar, absurd and funny – is Wiig’s character’s only true friend at one point, and by the film’s end all the women are exposed to be beautiful monsters: female friends, ultimately.

On Mike & Molly, she is sharp, and bossy, but soft-spoken and kind to the near-lunatics who surround her; divested of her Megan rash and hideous sports clothes, she is a large woman who is also beautiful, something new on TV, and in the world.

Roseanne Barr was extremely overweight, but this seemed tied, ineluctably, to her Roseanne character’s laziness and working-class appetites (the Connor family food was always processed junk with a side salad). And Roseanne was beautiful only to her gigantic husband, who punched a man in a bar for trash-talking his “fat wife.”

Molly’s weight is not even an issue on the show: She is, after all, only a third of the size of Mike.

Last week’s Valentine’s Day episode featured her sharing the romantic day with Mike’s partner’s girlfriend due to strange circumstances; on Two and a Half Men, in the preceding slot, the men’s adversarial girlfriends bonded while trapped alone during a monsoon.

The coincidence is notable because it speaks to the Bridemaids Effect (or the McCarthy Effect): a growing sense, on TV and in movies, of the significance of female friendship.

Not shop ’n’ bitch, cookie-dough-binging, man-talking friendship, but friendship that cannot be defined as anything but whole and true, that runs the gamut from lascivious and coarse conversations, to sad, curt remarks, to great affection and great irritability, and to dislike, both passionate and careless.

Filmed in the manner of raunchy male capers (with the requisite slo-mo walking scene), Bridesmaids does gender genre films one better and is, amazingly, a story about how women enjoy and endure each other.

If roles for women are finally changing, who better to lead the charge than the unlikely heroine, Melissa McCarthy?

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