Best Actress of the Decade, Entry No. 24: Melissa McCarthy

To celebrate the last decade 2010-2019 we are counting down the best actresses and discussing some of their most notable and memorable performances of the last decade. With the help of Film Twitter, the ITOL team have selected 30 actresses. Entry No. 24 is Melissa McCarthy, and guest writer Billie Melissa discusses McCarthy’s career over the last decade

By Billie Melissa

“No one is better at making anger and aggression hilarious” is a quote from my mother, a long-term admirer of Melissa McCarthy. Her larger-than-life characters are unapologetic and vivacious, crossing generations and reaching into hearts globally. She has become a mouthpiece for the woman whose narrative fixates on something beyond that of conforming to the male gaze.

In the years that proceeds “Bridesmaids”, she carves her name in the slapstick history books racking up leading roles that lend themselves to her comedic capabilities.

Her first credit appears in 1997 (a testimony to the longevity of her charm) with her cousin in “The Jenny McCarthy Show”, but, arguably, it wasn’t until 2011 that her career took new heights. The loud, eccentric, impenitent and Academy Award-nominated Megan is where the household name starts. I remember seeing “Bridesmaids” and feeling like it was the first-time women were allowed to be as outrageous and blithely disgusting as men on screen. Seeing McCarthy saddle up next to Wendi McLendon-Covey (Rita) as she craps all over the fanciest sink in Milwaukee is one of the most intensely hilarious moments on screen. It was women taking hold of comedy with McCarthy in tow.

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Melissa McCarthy in Spy (2015) © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox.

In the years that proceeds “Bridesmaids”, she carves her name in the slapstick history books racking up leading roles that lend themselves to her comedic capabilities. Arguably, her most prosperous collaborations land in the lap of Paul Feig. Since “Bridesmaids”, the dynamic duo has nailed more critical hits such as “Spy”, “The Heat” and the all-female “Ghostbusters”. Each tailored neatly to McCarthy’s skill set, giving her scope to exhibit her carefully cultivated talent.

Despite all this, McCarthy’s charm doesn’t always land. “Life of The Party” and “The Happytime Murders” found themselves a bashing on RottenTomatoes with critics expressing they were “wasting the efforts” and “falling flat” of McCarthy’s signature genius. Such quips as these are often a detriment to the integrity of a performer’s career, but the persistence and joy at McCarthy’s core make her the exception.

No other actress could encapsulate Israel’s gauche attributes with proficient levity to deliver a note-perfect performance. Israel and McCarthy are kindred spirits, flip sides of the same coin.

Something interesting happened in 2014. McCarthy slipped into a supporting role in Theodore Melfi‘s “St. Vincent”, a dramedy centring on a cynical Bill Murray (Vincent) and his relationship with McCarthy’s son, a young Jaeden Lieberher. Her role, Maggie, was a little more muted than usual. It was the first time I had seen McCarthy play with subtlety. Of course, her audacious roles were not without nuance, but the physical comedy wasn’t necessary to get the laugh. There were no frills, no eccentricity. It was new. Watching her play with sensitivity as she apologises for swearing and grapples an impending divorce added a new layer to her prodigious talent.

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Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, and Jaeden Martell in St. Vincent (2014) © 2014 The Weinstein Company

Though never have I revered more at a McCarthy role than Lee Israel in Marielle Heller‘s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”. No other actress could encapsulate Israel’s gauche attributes with proficient levity to deliver a note-perfect performance. Israel and McCarthy are kindred spirits, flip sides of the same coin. It was fascinating to see her kaleidoscope of talent in full bloom with New York as her playground, and the words of Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty as her toys.

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Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film

There’s a line somewhere mid-conversation of Lee and local bookseller, Marjorie; “Caustic wit is my religion”. In many ways, it captures McCarthy’s career in eight syllables. Such repartee falls classically to the hands of men. Historically, women have missed out on these conversations on the silver screen – we get sent from the dinner table to tend to domesticities, while the men stay and rally witticisms, but what they didn’t realise is in the room next door, lives our private world of intellect. Finally, the camera has shifted into those rooms to reveal our intelligence and intimate understanding of one another. Now women may showcase that same caustic wit to the world, and Melissa McCarthy is one of the masters.

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