Back in 1985, noted cartoonist Alison Bechdel introduced the world to what would become known as the Bechdel Test– a gauge of whether a movie (or any other piece of fiction) showed gender bias against women. The criteria sound simple enough: (A) the movie must have at least two named female characters and (B) they must, at some point, talk to each other about something other than a man.
Turns out, it’s harder than you think; precious few movies so far this year have passed the test. Director Paul Feig’s latest, The Heat, though, not only aces the test during its first ten minutes, it’s also the funniest film to hit theaters so far this year. And those two facts aren’t necessarily unrelated.
Starring Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock as oil-n-water cops (okay, Bullock is an FBI agent), The Heat unapologetically follows the conventions established by male-driven classics like 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon, but the fresh idea of having women (particularly these two women) play the lead roles helps elevate it from what could have been yet another Bad Boys.
Ashburn (Bullock) is a straight-laced, by-the-book field agent in New York who always solves the case but makes no friends in the process. When she gets sent to Boston to help with a major drug bust, she meets up with Detective Mullins (McCarthy), a seat-of-her-sweatpants, street-smaht cop.
Mullins is so profane it would make Django blush. Ashburn is so Puritanical that even Disney would tell her to loosen up. Together, they’re a perfect pair, and the result is a buddy cop movie that truly shines. Not only that, it’s one of those movies that you will undoubtedly need to see again, since audience laughter drowns out much of the dialogue.
Feig, whose Bridesmaids also passed the Bechdel Test (and comedy test) with flying colors, wisely let McCarthy and Bullock take this baby and just run with it. Most of the dialogue (especially from McCarthy) is clearly improvised, and it gives the movie a much more organically funny feel. And that’s no disrespect to screenwriter Katie Dippold (TV’s Parks and Recreation), who shows that her comedy chops are worthy of promotion from the small screen.
There are moments where The Heat sags a bit, particularly during some of the sappy “I love you, (wo)man!” parts, but by and large the comedy comes fast and furious, and the movie keeps a solid pace throughout.
The Heat is a little more violent than you might expect (though, speaking of Django, nothing like that), and the profanity is certainly among the more colorful and pervasive that you’ll see on screen this year, but incredibly funny performances from Bullock and McCarthy (as well as a cavalcade of nifty cameos and supporting actors) make it clear that The Heat not only passes the Bechdel test, it will also pass the test of time.