Calling Melissa McCarthy A "Female Hippo" Isn't Being A Critic; It's Being A BullyMeghan O'Keefe

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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  • Silversage Healthnutrition

    Someone such as Mr. Smith, who has lived the life he has and has the journalistic experience he has attained, should be more enlightened concerning a great many things including bullying. His cruel and unreasonable blasts at Ms. McCarthy are base and small minded and speak nothing about her talent nor the film Smith was supposed to be reviewing. There is no place in serious journalism for such behavior. Bullying and decrying an artist’s physical qualities for the sake of being mean should be off limits. It is time critics, reviewers and all journalists rose above the shoddy and gossip-driven drivel that has become so common in all aspects of the media.

  • Beth Cook

    I love Melissa McCarthy–she is talented and hilarious!!! To try and knock her down because of the way that she looks or her weight has got to be the stupidest thing that any critic can do considering how much people in general like and respect her. I hope that this “review” gets Rex Reid fired!

  • Lois Catherine Smith

    Meghan – I applaud your article and want to know how we fire a critic. His comments are absurd and obnoxious! Thank you for stating the truth and thanks to Melissa for being herself. I hope she hears the support she has and ignores Reeds’ bullying of her. Hasn’t he heard that bullying is no longer acceptable?

  • Sharon Thompson

    Rex Reed has been, and always will be, rude, obnoxious and a bully. He made it into a paying career. I think we all recognize the critique for what it was – a ploy for attention. When I told my daughter about this article, she said, “Rex ‘who’?”
    Isn’t it time we stop giving his opinions any credence at all?
    Nice try Reed – maybe next time? I think NOT!

  • Kym Moschgat

    Here, here, Meghan O’Keefe!!! Times be a changin’!!! Watch out Rex Reed. We’re coming for YOU!

  • Mary Lynn

    Love her! This guy was being a prick! I was waiting for something like this to appear on the site supporting her. I mean, even if the film wasn’t good the guy was out of line pointing out her weight when he isn’t fit himself. I wouldn’t necessarily say he was a bully but more of a prick with no sense of humor who is clearly insecure himself. Love her. Love Mike and Molly, Bridesmaids, etc. Melissa McCarthy FOREVER!

  • Lauren Nemecek

    Melissa McCarthy defies the stereotypes. She IS gorgeous, and funny, and genuine. I will never understand how anyone can make it a point in their lives to belittle someone else because of their weight. While I struggle myself, and have always been told that when people bully it means they are insecure about themselves, it does not make it right, or any easier to hear. Nor should it be tolerated. So many schools are going to zero tolerance in regards to bullying, too bad society still hasn’t adopted that rule yet. My only hope is that Rex Reed feels the shame of his comments and publicly apologizes in the same manner he criticized Melissa McCarthy. I know I plan to post a comment on his page.

  • Kate Bee

    Melissa McCarthy is a beautiful example of what talent and hard work can bring you. Nothing, especially something as trivial as physical appearance, should come in the way of you and your dreams. I admire Melissa McCarthy because she’s talented, not because she fits into skinny jeans, which I’m sure she could rock if she wanted.

  • Ana Lugo

    nojoke, whenever I see Melissa McCarthy I think to myself, “God, she’s so pretty!”
    I really hope she doesn’t allow other people’s misguided views of her affect how she feels about herself.
    She’s in the prime of her life. She’s talented, she has a beautiful family, she pretty much has everything going for her! so of course, bitter, self-loathing, wannabe actors (ie critics) are gonna try to poop all over that… it’s what they do… I just hope she remembers that when someone criticizes you, it says more about them than it does about you…
    people who are ok with themselves don’t feel the need to put everyone else down… so if anything, feel bad for them, Melissa McCarthy, ‘cuz they’re obviously having a hard time with life..

  • Andy McIntosh

    This discussion shows another example where we men can learn from women. The initial impulse for most people, I’m guessing, is to strike back at Mr. Reed with the same vitriol and meanness that he displayed in his review. What I’m seeing here and other places in the responses from most women in a definite and well thought out assertion of anger towards his remarks without stooping to his childish personal attacks. As others have said already, he has shown much more about his lack of character rather than anything worthwhile about the movie he was reviewing or of Ms. McCarthy.

  • Hayley Misseldine

    I am so sick of actresses being judged by their looks! Why can male actors be amazing and talented, but not conventionally attractive – yet nothing is said about their appearance, only their talent. The fact that female actors are judged on talent and appearance is just the most annoying and offensive double standard and it just needs to stop!

    • Joe L Hughes

      Ask John Candy and Chris Farley how fun it is being the accepted fat guy.

  • Stella Ann Pederson

    Melissa is a beautiful women that is for sure. So she is overweight,she can loose it if she wants to, but you Rex Reed are ugly with all your nasty comments and you cant fix ugly!

  • Hans Johan Svensson


  • Matthew Edey

    Oooh… “female hippo” and “tractor sized”….. ? is THAT the best you can come up for a critique Rex Reed? As the title of this article already implies, you need to find other inspirations for your criticisms besides the elementary school playground.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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:

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