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Alison De Souza
Friday, Jul 4, 2014

Showbiz

Big queen of comedy

The Straits Times | Alison De Souza | Friday, Jul 4, 2014

How big a star is Melissa McCarthy?

Big enough that the boss of a major movie studio bought the script for her new film Tammy before he had read a single word of it.

After her scene-stealing performances in blockbuster comedies such as Bridesmaids (2011) and The Heat (2013), the 43-year-old has become a Hollywood juggernaut by playing outrageously obnoxious characters.

The movies get laughs in part because of how ordinary she looks - something that makes her success all the more remarkable as one of the few A-list comediennes to get where she is without having done a bunch of romantic comedies first.

And sure enough, while speaking to Life! and other reporters about her new film in Los Angeles, McCarthy comes across as your average, all- American football mum, the sort who frets about renovating the house and then falls asleep in the car with the kids.

Except that this football mum happens to be starring in a major movie that she co-wrote and co-produced with her husband, Ben Falcone, and their own production company.

Tammy is about a woman trying to escape the mess she has made of her life by taking a road trip with her grandmother (Susan Sarandon), only to run into more problems along the way. It opens in Singapore tomorrow.

It marks a critical point for McCarthy.

Unlike previous projects in which she shared top billing with the likes of Sandra Bullock (The Heat) and Jason Bateman (Identity Thief, 2013), this one rests squarely on her shoulders and, to a lesser extent, those of Falcone, 40, who directed it.

Although he is nowhere nearly as famous as his wife, her fans will recognise him as the air marshall she aggressively seduces in Bridesmaids, her breakout movie, which earned her an Oscar nomination.

In Tammy, he has a small cameo playing the boss who fires her from her job at a fast-food restaurant.

Falcone was handed the reins on this picture despite having never directed a feature film before - another sign, perhaps, of McCarthy's star power.

The result of their collaboration is a dark comedy that sees the actress put aside her vanity even more than usual to play an especially brash, unlikeable character.

She and Falcone felt like they personally knew Tammy and the other people in this story, which is set in small-town Illinois, where both of them grew up. So they resented any attempts to exaggerate it to make it more commercially appealing.

"If somebody wanted a bigger scene or a bigger trailer moment, we'd go, 'Well, that person just wouldn't do that'," McCarthy says.

"It doesn't have to be bigger or flashier. It just has to stay in the right realm of the story. More eccentric characters can push it pretty far, but if you stand on the side of reality, I think it's always funnier. So we tried to keep it real. And hopefully the story has more impact that way."

Many industry watchers are predicting good things for the film at the American box office, where McCarthy has demonstrated that even horrific reviews cannot slow her down. The crime caper Identity Thief, for example, cleaned up in the United States, where it made US$134 million (S$167 million) despite being ripped to shreds by the critics.

Tammy was produced for a relatively small budget of US$20 million, so it should easily make its money back and then some - good news for its star, who decided to forgo her usual multi-million-dollar pay cheque for a slice of the back-end profits.

Impressively, McCarthy has managed to star in all these money-making movies while also filming the television sitcom Mike & Molly, for which she won an Emmy in 2011.

For this and other reasons, the entertainment website Vulture.com argues that the actress is Hollywood's top star right now because there is no one else "delivering as consistently, and in such great numbers, and with so little assistance".

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