Ever since Paul Feig directed Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, Hollywood and beyond has been fiending for another movie with such an unusually “female empowering” sentiment. Admittedly, what Hollywood views as female empowerment tends to simply involve a woman who speaks what’s on her mind consistently. Substituting Wiig with Sandra Bullock, audiences have received something of a Bridesmaids reunion. Bullock is, of course, no stranger to the cop movie genre–one of her most iconic roles being Grace Hart in Miss Congeniality. What makes The Heat so unique, however, is the rapport Special Agent Sarah Ashburn (Bullock) and Detective Shannon Mullins (McCarthy) end up cultivating. Female camaraderie is a rare, almost impossible thing to capture in film–with bromance movies being the sole expression of “friendship” movies in the modern era (before, it was just Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau movies). Not since Thelma and Louise has a film been able to reinstate the notion of solidarity amongst women.
Opening with a cinematographic tone that mirrors the classic cop shows and movies of the 1970s, The Heat immediately establishes Agent Ashburn as an iconoclast ostracized from her fellow agents in the FBI. Although she is clearly the most capable, effective agent, her “showmanship”–to borrow a word used by Hale (Demian Bichir), the head of her department–gets in the way when she mentions wanting an upcoming promotion. In order to motivate her to be more of a team player, Hale lets her in on a big case in Boston involving the takedown of a major drug lord. And, because all great cop movies have to take place in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago or Boston, the stage is quickly set for her arrival there. In the meantime, Detective Mullins is having some fun of her own with the apprehending of a sniveling john (Tony Hale of Arrested Development) who tries to pick up a prostitute in spite of being married. It is in this scene in particular that an overtly feminist element is apparent. After she calls his wife to inform on him, she pulls him into her car as she tells him she hopes his dick falls off. This sort of strong, visceral anger in film is generally reserved for exploitation movies like Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
With such disdain and established annoyance for their male superiors, one would think that Mullins and Ashburn would get along right from the get-go. Unfortunately, Ashburn makes the mistake of interrogating a dealer Mullins picked up by the name of Rojas (Spoken Reasons). When Captain Woods (Tom Wilson, who will never not be associated with playing Biff in Back to the Future) informs Mullins that Ashburn is already “interviewing” Rojas, she wastes no time in laying on the vitriol. Ashburn tells Captain Woods to keep Mullins away from her during the case, but this quickly becomes an impossibility after Mullins steals Ashburn’s car and heads to her favorite local bar. After Ashburn tracks her down, Mullins feigns an apology and steals her case file on Larkin, the drug lord in question.
Ashburn’s vexation with Mullins’ unorthodox ways test the threshold of her patience as Hale forces her to work cooperatively with local police. Their bond doesn’t form until they barge in on a prostitute named Tatiana (Kaitlin Olson of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia–bearing a terrible “Bulgarian” accent). Using her highly effective diverting methods, Mullins distracts Tatiana while Ashburn steals a distinctive cigarette butt she believes belongs to Larkin from the ashtray. With this sort of teamwork at play, it quickly becomes obvious that their Oscar and Felix differences are what make them pair so well together–for each thing that the other lacks, one of them has a quality to make up for it.
The inefficacy and inconsideration of men isn’t the sole focus of The Heat though. It’s also about what women can accomplish when they actually work together. Instead of feeling ashamed or wrong for being assertive, The Heat shows us that it’s possible to triumph as a woman with power. Although, in the process, you might get asked the same question Ashburn is asked by Mullins’ family: “Are you a boy or a girl?”