Calling Melissa McCarthy A "Female Hippo" Isn't Being A Critic; It's Being A Bully

In the world of the internet and sensational journalism, it’s easy for the line between constructive criticism and outright bullying to be blurred.

This past week, long-time film reviewer Rex Reed decided to forego being an actual fair and discerning film critic and became a bully when he fixated on Melissa McCarthy’s weight in a pan of the film Identity Thief.

In his review, Reed calls McCarthy “a screeching, humongous creep”, a “female hippo” and “tractor-sized”. By the way, “tractor-sized” appears not to describe the character McCarthy plays, but as a descriptor for the actress herself. Like how I would use “British” or “charming” before the name “Idris Elba“.

Look, it’s not unusual for an actor or actress to be criticized for their appearance in reviews. It’s not. Film is a visual medium, after all, and casting directors, costume designers and hair and make-up artists are tasked with finding performers who not only can perform a role the best, but to help them physically embody it.

Take for instance the actors in Thor. No, seriously. Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth were both up for the part of Thor, but Hemworth’s towering height, Scandanavian-esque looks, and muscular physique make him look like the paradigm of a bone-crushing Norse warrior. Hiddleston is also tall, but more slender and languid in his movements. He has an intelligent brow and deft tongue for delivering dialogue. He probably could have done an outrageously good job as Thor in the acting department, but physically he fits the mythos of Loki more. Send the two actors to the gym for a few months with different training programs, suit them up in superhero suits and give them wigs of glory and you have two very different Norse gods.

What I’m saying is that in major motion pictures, the looks of the actors do matter. A film critic has every prerogative to point out if someone’s look–either natural or envisioned by the director–makes the story suffer.

The thing is Rex Reed wasn’t doing that with Melissa McCarthy. Moreover, Reed was making a very cruel exception of McCarthy. If you read his other recent reviews he doesn’t say much, if anything, about the way the lead actresses physically look and how that does or doesn’t affect the story.

In his Hansel and Gretel review, he calls Gemma Arterton “one of the dullest of all Bond girls“, but that’s a stab at her perceived on-screen charisma and not of her waistline in comparison to the likes of Naomi Harris or Eva Green. In his Parker review, he doesn’t say a single thing about the way Jennifer Lopez looks on screen. He criticizes Catherine Zeta-Jones’s “mannish suits” in Side Effects, but he doesn’t criticize Zeta-Jones for her looks. He’s criticizing director Steven Soderbergh and his costume design team for taking a simple and stereotypical route in painting the “delectable” heterosexual star as a “believable” lesbian.

So, it’s not just that Rex Reed didn’t like the aesthetic look McCarthy brought to the character in terms of telling the specific story. And it’s not as though he’s critiquing her talent onscreen, either. He’s purposely fat shaming Melissa McCarthy for having the audacity for being an overweight female comedian in a major motion picture.

Of course, Reed would probably argue that he is in fact critiquing her talent. After all, he does put in a dig about how McCarthy “is a gimmick comedian who has devoted her short career to being obese and obnoxious.” While it’s his right as a film critic to look unfavorably on “gimmick comedians” or “obnoxious” performers, this specific criticism is hands down untrue.

If Rex Reed had done his research – that is to say, “his job” – he would have discovered that Melissa McCarthy has not had a “short career” at all.

First of all, she started her career in the 1990s by doing stand up in New York and studying acting at The Actor’s Studio. Also, she’s a Groundling, which means, that like Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Will Ferrell, Phil Hartman and Lisa Kudrow, she worked her way through The Groundlings’ improv and sketch training center and has spent decades honing her comedic craft. She met her husband and producing parter, Ben Falcone, in an improv team they were in for years together. Basically, she paid her dues the hard way. So far, there’s no gimmick here or an emphasis on her looks. It’s just hard, patient, creative work.

Her on-screen work started in 1997 when she worked behind the scenes and had a bit part on The Jenny McCarthy Show.  Then she got bit parts for a few years until she landed the role of Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls. I love Gilmore Girls. I’m guessing you love Gilmore Girls. We’ve all seen Gilmore Girls. Sookie St. James was the opposite of gimmicky or obnoxious. She was layered and sweet. Then she plugged away on Samantha Who and Mike & Molly before finally winning her breakout role as Megan in Bridesmaids. Again, nothing gimmicky or obnoxious.

What Melissa McCarthy proved in Bridesmaids and her Saturday Night Live hosting gig is that she is the equal of Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey in terms of comedic brilliance. In a Splitsider review of her SNL hosting gig, McCarthy is compared to Chris Farley not in terms of appearance, but in the value that her unwavering physical courage and emotional commitment brings to the success of any sketch.

Rex Reed’s review of Identity Thief is disgusting because it proves that women are still not valued by their professional contributions, but by whether or not men perceive them as conventionally beautiful. Melissa McCarthy has proven herself to be an exceptionally talented comedian and even if Identity Thief isn’t her best showing, there’s no reason to criticize her weight as an actress. Simply say, “this isn’t McCarthy’s best role.”

If there is a silver lining to this horrific review it’s that a lot of people are mad about it. A lot of people, including myself, see the outright injustice of it. Which means, that even though people like Rex Reed exist with their patriarchal viewpoints on a woman’s worth, the tide is most definitely changing.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=505631526 Liz Haebe

    You would think that after all of the accolades Melissa McCarthy has received in the last few years, we could focus on how talented she is. How dare anyone point out her size? Who cares? When I think of her, I don’t think size, and I would hope that most other people didn’t either. It’s not okay for a well known film critic to say things like this, and it’s not okay to print it, and it’s not okay to act like this is his opinion about a MOVIE. Sure, it’s your opinion, Rex Reed, but it’s also completely rude and mean, but this has NOTHING to do with a movie. Does Identity Thief look like something I’d want to see? No, but I just don’t think it looks funny. I would, however, watch it JUST because of Melissa McCarthy, so what does that say?

    Maybe it’s time for Rex Reed to retire…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1045590032 Cassie Woodall

    Personally I’ve loved Melissa McCarthy since she was Sookie. And then when she was on Bridesmaids, it, to me, proved that she was a true comedian and actress. I love her, and I think she’s beautiful, too!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=557397065 Jacqueline Christina Noguera

    This says a lot more about Dinosaur Rex Reed than it does Melissa McCarthy. He’s a mean, nasty, wannabe hack.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72700761 Rachel Jackson

    Preach, preach, preach, preach! Melissa McCarthy is amazing. And in my heart, she will always be Sookie.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1379525778 Monique Areano
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=660156943 Tara Horvath

    C’mon, Rex. What if we judged how you critique films by the fact that you’re gay? Just because there aren’t movements out there supporting obesity (thankfully!) as there are homosexuality (thankfully!), doesn’t mean that overweight people are fair game. Write a review about how bad Angelina Jolie is in a movie because she needs a hamburger or two, and we’ll see how well that flies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=809679055 Adele Winston

    Some years ago this point was challenged in the British courts when a reviewer of a TV series made a remark about the size of an actress’s behind. The actress happened to have an extremely successful writer for a brother and he bankrolled the court case which established that making rude remarks about an actress’s behind, rather than her talent, was a VERY expensive indulgence.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=726266495 Joelle Poitra

    Screw what the critic says! Melissa McCarthy inspires me. What a person looks like does not define what they’re capable of and she proves that. She proved it when she won an Emmy, she proved that when she was nominated for an Academy Award. So to the critic, I say she’s definitely more than what you see.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=690662171 Mysti Berry

    The review of this same movie in Variety, by Peter Debruge, is like a breath of fresh air (he blames the writers for the weaknesses of Identity Thief). This is what a review looks like when you have done your homework:

    “With “Identity Thief,” Melissa McCarthy proves she’s got what it takes to carry a feature, however meager the underlying material. Sustaining the same brand of unpredictable energy that made her such an effective scene-stealer in “Bridesmaids” and “This Is 40,” McCarthy plays the tornado to Jason Bateman’s uptight nebbish, an accountant who drives halfway across the country to confront the zealous con artist who stole his personal information, maxed out his credit cards and tarnished his good name. Though this adult-skewing comedy looks like a midrange performer at best, McCarthy’s credit rating should skyrocket.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=29800806 Summer Bozeman

    Can I please refer you to this post on Tumblr (http://andrewgiraffields.tumblr.com/post/39785918717/remember-when-sookie-was-played-by-a-fat-actress), in which the original poster references Melissa’s character Sookie on ‘Gilmore Girls’ when he says, “#remember when sookie was played by a fat actress and there were literally no jokes about her weight on the show? #remember how she wasn’t defined by her weight? #remember how she got to date and get married and have kids and not be just the token funny fat friend of the main character? #remember when she got her life together and was happy before lorelai and that wasn’t seen as threatening?”

    We need more Sookie in our lives. In general.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001788252628 Kayla Burns

      Yes! That is one of the many things I love about Gilmore Girls.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=661207525 Tinna Breiðfjörð Guðjónsdóttir

    Great actress ! Loved her in Gilmore Girls… I miss that show.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1268777050 Mara Sandroff

    I haven’t seen Identity Theft (and probably won’t, as it’s not my type of movie, to be honest), but I’m a big Melissa McCarthy fan, and I love the points you brought up in your article and how thoroughly you researched your argument. Thank you for this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003873302907 Marisa Dymond

    She is an amazing, talented actress. I wonder what that critic looks like…..

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=522094871 Lindsey Schwarte

    Well Said!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=729815263 Lisa Sonstegaard

    I didn’t even know Rex Reed was still around. He is no longer relevant and this is only a reflection on HIM. I haven’t seen the movie, but she is a fantastic actress.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=513415919 Jennifer Burger

    All I can say is Melissa McCarthy is an awesome actress! When I watched Gilmore Girls many years ago, Melissa was one of my favorites, and her banter with Lauren Graham was spot on. As someone who has also struggled with weight, I am always saddened to see critics talk negative about an individual’s physical appearance. What’s his point? To make her realize that she’s not a size two and be the catalyst to her weight loss? News for Rex, she knows she’s not a size two and is open about the struggles she’s had over the years with trying to lose weight. His negative opinion is just a low blow, and says more about his ability to objectively review a movie than anything else.

    For more on what she says, check here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/06/melissa-mccarthys-weight-struggles-wishes-she-were-magically-a-size-six_n_2081920.html

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000981864204 Cherees Ruckman

    Thank you for standing up for Melissa McCarthy. She is an awesome and I have been a fan of hers for a really long time. She is proof that hard work and dedication really pays off no matter what size you are.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=115400320 Anna Hambrook

    Eloquently written! Thank you for this! The more we unite and stand up against this, the closer get to eliminating this kind of bullying and making this world a more loving, nurturing place for girls to grow up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=696619351 Katherine Presley

    So well written and I completely agree with everything you said – he’s a movie critic, not God. I personally think this movie would be less funny if a size zero, leggy woman played the role of an identity theif…although I’m sure Kirsten Wigg would also have been hilarious. And I LOVE GILMORE GIRLS. My best friend/roommate and I have seen every episode and quotes from the show have worked their way into our everyday diologue. I think she is ab fab (GG reference of a reference) in Gilmore Girls but I also think she did a spectacular job in Bridesmaids and she embodies her characters similar to Johnny Depp. When I’m watching a Johnny Depp movie, I don’t see Johnny Depp or one of his many other characters, he’s completely new in each movie and I only see him as that character in that movie – I don’t see Edward Scissorhands when I’m trying to watch Pirates of the Caribbean. Same with Melissa McCarthy – she’s Sookie, she’s Megan, she’s Molly.
    I just think it was absolutly ridiculous of him to say anything about her weight and in such a rude and bully way, and I think she is gorgeous, especially in the face she has a beautiful face!! She was on the cover of some magazine talking about Mike and Molly and she looked stunning!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003814322963 Anne-Marie Dyal

    This makes me sad. I grew up in the 80’s when nothing less was expected of you but to look like a Whitesnake video vixen. It was terrible. I had no boobs which = no life. I was fine with it. I was thin and flat and terrible looking by those standards, THEN welcome the 90’s. Supermodels everywhere. Skinny was smeh mostly. You were thin but- had..well..boobs. ( I didn’t). Welcome to Motherhood! I get Boobs!! YAY! Hello Boobies!- Ugh wait- now we’re just fat.

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