Melissa McCarthy has a manic energy, and boy, does she know how to wield it. The Illinois native got her start in the comedy scene at the legendary improvisational theater company The Groundlings, where she pursued her passion for creating silly characters, wearing wigs, and making people laugh. Following her time well spent on the famous Chicago stage, she’s appeared in a number of laugh-out-loud comedies, from Identity Thief, This is 40, and Bridesmaids, to Spy, The Heat, and Tammy. Within seconds of her being on screen, she sounds the alarms that she is a force to be reckoned with, as she metaphorically (and sometimes, quite literally) punches you with jokes.
The Emmy winner and two-time Oscar nominee has an impressive range within the comedy genre itself. She can be dorky, just take a look at the action comedy Spy where she plays the risk-averse and accident-prone CIA analyst Susan Cooper who is launched into the fast lane when she volunteers to go undercover on a secret mission, or Gilmore Girls, where she plays the always upbeat and glass-half-full Sookie St. James. But honestly, McCarthy is at her best when she’s an asshole with a heart of gold.
Melissa McCarthy Steals Scenes With Comedic Aggression and Rage
Even though McCarthy had been acting on screen since the late 1990s, her “big break” moment came in 2011 with the smash hit Bridesmaids, which was written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo and directed by Paul Feig. McCarthy plays scene-stealer Megan, the can’t-read-the-room bridesmaid, and sister of Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) fiancé. Megan is both easygoing and unexpectedly emotional, but above all, she is intense. When Wiig’s Annie is down on her luck, Megan pops by her place and attempts to throw life’s unexpected hardships at her to toughen her up and give her the strength she needs to proceed. This literally involves her getting on top of Annie and shoving her and calling her names. “I’m life, huh! Is life bothering you?” she taunts, before yelling, “I’m life, and I’m going to bite you in the ass!” and, let’s just say she’s true to her word.
McCarthy’s turn in Bridesmaids was so brilliant, it earned her an Oscar nomination. This is a huge feat for any performer, but a massive one for comedy, as the genre is almost always (sigh) ignored by the Academy. A year later, McCarthy upped the rage in This is 40 as Catherine, a mother protective over her son after Leslie Mann’s Debbie calls him a “little bitch” and Paul Rudd’s Pete goes to bat for his wife and defends Debbie on the playground.
McCarthy’s fury is unleashed in the principal’s office when she has had enough of both parents who she believes are putting her son in an unfairly negative light. “Debbie told my son that he looked like Tom Petty, in a negative way,” she says as she simmers with rage. The more evidence she provides, the more Debbie and Pete dismiss her claims as “ridiculous.” This ignites the fire we needed. “Maybe if I looked more like this fake bullsh*t couple! Looks like they’re in a bank commercial. That’s what you look like, like you’re a bullsh*t bank-commercial couple.” Do yourself a favor and watch the blooper reel from this scene during the end credits to see some gold that was left on the cutting room floor.
In ‘The Heat’, McCarthy Is Mean But Only Because She Cares
The comedy titan has since stepped into a number of leading roles and has thankfully leaned into the aggression. The characters she plays almost always mean well but never know how to appropriately show it. There’s always an intense, expletive rage that bursts out of each character which she directs at the people she loves most. Perhaps the best example of this is in the buddy cop comedy The Heat, which partnered her swearing Bostonian cop Mullins with Sandra Bullock’s uptight FBI agent Ashburn. The two, as expected, butt heads rather quickly. Their personalities and approaches to life could not be more different. But the more turmoil the pair goes through together, the closer they become. Don’t worry, though, there’s still plenty of McCarthy anger to go around.
Mullins and Ashburn try to go undercover at a club, and Mullins has no patience for her partner’s get-up, which screams “business causal” not “casual dancing.” An enraged and frankly disturbed Mullins takes Ashburn into the bathroom to get her in the proper attire. Ashburn is quite pleased with her professional look, especially her jacket. “You look like you’re going to set up a table and do their f*ckin’ taxes! Take off your jacket,” Mullins barks. “I don’t know how it’s happening, I think it’s getting worse, ” Mullins says in a frustrated panic as she watches Ashburn try to de-FBI her appearance. “My fear is that I’m going to put you in a bikini and you’ll still look like a f*ckin bank teller…I’m saying your face, and whatever is underneath this shitty outfit, is maybe not terrible.”
An Angry Melissa McCarthy Is the Best Melissa McCarthy
Thunder Force is probably the oddest—but funniest—entry in McCarthy’s filmography. She and Octavia Spencer play childhood friends who reconnect and undergo a treatment in which they become superheroes. McCarthy’s anger is quite palpable when she has reservations about the entire scientific process. She wants to cooperate so badly, but cannot take the lack of pop culture knowledge seriously. When Emily’s (Spencer) daughter shows up to go over the order of operations, Lydia (McCarthy) clocks her outfit and calls her out for dressing like Urkel, the classic TV character from Family Ties. But, when neither she nor anyone else in the room can put their finger on who Lydia is referring to, she lets them have it. “You got glasses and suspenders, you know, and you seem super smart…You know who Urkel is!”
There’s no shortage of freakouts or bouts of hostility that come from a good place. On her hit show Mike & Molly, she was frequently letting her mother and sister have it. In Tammy, she plays the walking disaster that is the titular Tammy, who tries to get her life together, but also, steals from Topper Jacks, the fast food place she works at. McCarthy is a thief stealer and throat puncher in Identity Thief, but by the end, she’s apologizing for her behavior and befriending the man she previously hoodwinked. She even tried to avenge the death of her father in a Saturday Night Live sketch in which she plays a woman at a ladies’ night who is determined to bond with her peers but also wants to avenge her father.
No question about it: Melissa McCarthy is one heck of a performer. She can make you tear up in projects such as Can You Ever Forgive Me? and St. Vincent and guffaw at your screens from her outrageousness in This Is 40, Bridesmaids, and The Heat. An angry McCarthy is always welcome, the more volatile and well-meaning, the better.