The Heat will not get as rapturous reveiws as Bridesmaids, nor will it be considered as revolutionary, but it's actually a sly advancement for women in comedy as a film that, if you look hard enough, busts down some pretty big doors.
As different as the two films are — Melissa McCarthy and director Paul Feig aside — it's hard not to think of The Heat as a direct descendant of Bridesmaids, which, to hear many movie pundits tell it, finally proved that women could be funny and sell lots of movie tickets.
Bridesmaids was supposed to revolutionize the movie landscape, but that didn't quite happen. "Look back to Bridesmaids," veteran film producer Lynda Obst told Kevin Fallon of The Daily Beast. "It was really funny and did well internationally and created new stars. It proved that there was a female market. Instead, the story became that the movie overperformed. Like 50,000 scripts turned up on managers’ desks for two weeks, but no one was willing to take a shot on them."
Now, The Heat is spurring its own trend pieces, most of them wondering if the movie will open the door to more female buddy comedies. Martha Lauzen of San Diego State University's Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film told The Atlantic Wire that the more apt metaphor for films like these is that they "inch open the door but they don’t throw it wide open." And yet, while The Heat may not be as zeitgeist-y as Bridesmaids, Feig has —thanks to, in no small part, his writer Katie Dippold—made a film that is a step forward for women on the big screen from even that original effort.
Feig knows he's got a lot of people watching him in these efforts. In promoting The Heat, Feig has become a one-man army advocating for women on film, particularly in comedy. He has enough quotes on the matter to fill up a Huffington Post listicle, and he even wrote a column for The Hollywood Reporter back in May explaining "Why Men Aren't Funny" in a clever rebuff of Christopher Hitchens' infamous Vanity Fair piece. Not satisfied with just these two films, he's next working on a female spy movie, which is billed by The Wrap as a "realistic" James Bond type comedy, not a Get Smart-esque parody.
Bridesmaids was also not a parody, even though it took some romantic comedy tropes and turned them on their heads. The wedding plot was simply a way to tell a story about friendship and life. It also was a good vehicle for raunchy, gross-out comedy. Still, Bridesmaids is about women in the feminine world of weddings. It got knocked even for the fact that Kristen Wiig's lead character was a baker, in what seemed like a frustrating embrace of feminine cliché. The Heat is about women in the male world of law enforcement, and as tough, aggressive, and violent women in law enforcement, Ashley Fetters at The Atlantic calls their characters "subtly radical." The Heat—in a slightly subversive way—deals directly with the way women are treated by men in the workplace. One character, an albino DEA agent played by Dan Bakkedahl is explicitly misogynistic, loudly complaining about how women act with their "emotions" and how their "estrogen" messes things up. He immediately becomes the film's suspected villain.
We don't want to overstate the role of this conversation in the film. As Linda Holmes writes at NPR, The Heat succeeds because of its "delightful combination of self-awareness about the fact that it's a rare buddy-cop movie about women and total commitment to being a buddy-cop movie, not a female-buddy-cop movie." But The Heat is also something of a metaphor for the entertainment industry in a way Bridesmaids never was. (It should be noted, though, that Bridesmaids is a great movie whose importance should not be understated.) The way its heroes Mullins and Ashburn take down the (male) bad guys is tantamount to the way the movie itself hopes to take down the male-centric movies at the box office, which has been dominated by (so-called) supermen this summer. Just look at the film's climactic moment, in which (spoiler alert) a villain gets shot in the dick. If that's not symbolic, we don't know what is.