Fans of the occasionally sassy, but always-reliable sidekick played by Melissa McCarthy on Gilmore Girls could never have predicted that she’d be running the show: naked and in a cheap motel room, no less.
That’s exactly what transpires in Identity Thief, as McCarthy’s character Diana takes time out from fleeing trouble to make some of her own, with a randy Eric Stonestreet (of Modern Family fame). Diana has been living high on the hog as “Sandy Bigelow Patterson” on the outskirts of Orlando. Too bad the name, cards and the funds all belong to Sandy the accounts rep (Jason Bateman), who is living in Denver.
The real Sandy has a one-week deadline to defend himself from the crimes he’s accused of, hunt down the identity thief, and bring her back cross-country to Colorado to clear his name.
In addition to getting nude in the Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) film, McCarthy gets ultra-physical with her role: she throws punches, reportedly making Bateman’s nose bleed for real in one scene, she perfects dozens of pratfalls, she gets hit over the head with a guitar and gets run over by a car (“Trick is to just relax your legs,” she says). It’s all very un-Gilmore Girls of her.
Because before there was Sookie Stackhouse, lover of all things undead on True Blood, there was Sookie St. James, loyal friend to Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham). McCarthy played the dutiful, ditzy chef who dished out food and advice and occasionally got an interesting side plot all her own. But the part by no means showcased her gift for comedy, or her stand-up roots.
Steady TV work and supportive-friend roles followed, in the likes of The Back-Up Plan and Life As We Know It. Mike and Molly currently showcases the sweet silliness of a couple (co-starring Billy Gardell) who meets at an Overeaters’ Anonymous meeting. The role earned McCarthy an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, but it was still laughs lite.
That was before Bridesmaids. The comedy co-written by Kristen Wiig about a bevy of maladjusted women who prepare for their friend’s wedding featured a no-holds-barred McCarthy as Megan, a plain, somewhat androgynous sister-in-law-to-be to Maya Rudolph’s character. Megan is a scene-stealer, burping her way through dress fittings (“I’m not even confident which end that came out of”), suggesting female fight club for the bachelorette party, stealing puppies from the ladies brunch, and famously hitting on air marshal John with the pickup line: “You feel that steam heat? That’s from my undercarriage.” (The fact that John was McCarthy’s real-life husband, with whom she has two young daughters, somehow made the gag funnier.)
But instead of being a one-note joke, McCarthy made Megan the type of woman you’d want to be friends with, despite her lack of grace, or the fact that she uses the sink as a crapper. During a speech where she coaxes Wiig’s character out of her depression (and then smacks her, of course) Megan emerges as a high achiever, and the person you’d most want in your corner.
She steals the spotlight in Judd Apatow’s biographical This Is 40, too, as the off-kilter mom of a Tom Petty lookalike. Outtakes reveal just how far the actress will go to get the right take, and how her ad-libbing made co-stars Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd a hysterical mess.
It’s taken a while but McCarthy has become everyone’s favourite everywoman. And no, it’s not just because of the un-Hollywood waistline: it’s the 42-year-old’s bright-eyed, uncynical delivery… Roseanne without the meanness. No one is overestimating the expiration date for a plus-sized actress over age 40 in Hollywood, but McCarthy fans are just happy to see her kicking the sidekick moniker to the curb for as long as she can.