Hating the new comedy "Identity Thief" is one thing; a lot of critics hate this movie (its D+ average on the Criticwire Network is one of the lowest in the site's brief history). But hating its star, Melissa McCarthy, and going out of your way to ridicule her weight, is another. In his review of "Identity Thief" for The New York Observer, film critic Rex Reed did exactly that, calling McCarthy a "tractor-sized" "humongous" "female hippo" and "a gimmick comedian who has devoted her short career to being obese and obnoxious with equal success."
Reed's review has drawn controversy from the moment it was published last week, and it hasn't died down yet -- it even became a topic of conversation on The Today Show. Through it all, Reed himself has remained silent; I reached out to him for comment on Friday and got no response, but earlier today he finally addressed the review on WOR 710 AM with Mark Simone, who introduced Reed as "the greatest living film critic" before letting him speak his mind about the controversy.
Reed certainly didn't apologize to McCarthy or anyone else, asserting that his review is "constitutionally protected, so there's nothing anybody can do" to stop him, and blaming the outrage on "the big publicity machine called Universal Pictures" who have organized people to attack him out of their "desire to sell tickets to a bad movie." He also took credit for "Identity Thief"'s big weekend at the box office ("That's what sold the tickets") and insisted that he cares deeply about obesity-related health issues:
"My point was that I object to using health issues like obesity as comic talking points... [McCarthy] is basing her career on being obnoxious and being overweight. And I don't think that's funny. I have too many friends that have died of obesity-related illnesses, heart problems and diabetes, and I have actually lost friends to this. I have helped people try to lose weight, and I don't find this to be the subject of a lot of humor. I have a perfect right to say that. My review was really more about the movie and about the character she plays in the movie than it is about her. I don't care how much she weighs. I don't care how much Melissa McCarthy weighs. She wants to be fat? Mark, she's crying all the way to the bank."
At various points during the interview, Reed forgot the names of both "Identity Thief" and Melissa McCarthy -- although he did pay her one compliment, calling her "very classy" for remaining silent about the whole kerfuffle.
I haven't seen "Identity Thief." I can't tell you to what extent the movie makes jokes about McCarthy's weight. But, I don't know, to me it feels like calling a woman a tractor-sized hippo is not exactly the best way to show your intense concern about America's obesity crisis. And if you really object to Hollywood using obesity as a comic talking point, maybe don't make jokes about a woman's weight in your review. Maybe I'm just sensitive.
[H/T The Futurist]