Historically, a performance as good as Melissa McCarthy’s in “Identity Thief” has no business popping up this early in the calendar year.
The Oscars for 2012 haven’t even been handed out, and the latest turn from this ’11 “Bridesmaids” nominee already deserves to be in the discussion of ’13’s best. McCarthy plays Diana — or, at least, that’s what she’s calling herself these days. The seasoned con woman under the chirpy guise of an everyday housewife uses her unassuming nature to swindle all manner of folks, including Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman), a Denver businessman she rips off after stealing his identity.
McCarthy never misses a beat as she brings Diana to life, pouring vigor into the ample physical comedy, but also delivering powerhouse scenes of bona fide drama, much of it involving Diana’s rocky past and loneliness. It’s so surprising to see such ace work appear in a seemingly forgettable comedy. Directed by Seth Gordon, who also helmed “Horrible Bosses,” “Identity Thief” follows the emotional trajectory of sitcoms, always off-setting the weepy moments with cute-crude humor. But the obviousness of the approach is rendered nil by McCarthy, who rides the tonal shifts so smoothly she gives cohesion to the film itself.
Of course, there is the matter of the type of comedy McCarthy deals in — that which celebrates and comically exploits her weight. “Identity Thief” constantly skates on the thin line between the knowing and the offensive, and though it often does so deftly, the notion of McCarthy as a heroine for curvier female viewers remains up for debate.
Interestingly, “Identity Thief” shares the stick-it-to-the-man themes of “Horrible Bosses,” suggesting a forte and post-recession oeuvre for Gordon. Diana’s crimes speak to the modern desperation of regular Joes and Janes, but so does Sandy’s late-in-the-game alliance with his nemesis — an unholy union that aims to bring just desserts to Sandy’s ex-employer. Gordon’s latest film hits a lot of familiar beats, including road-trip woes and a rogues gallery of worse villains chasing Diana, but it transcends them nicely, thanks to cogent elements and one super, standout performance.
Opens tomorrow in area theaters
Three reels out of four
The rare decidedly adult dramedy about sex, Ben Lewin’s “The Sessions” is markedly human, telling the true tale of a crippled polio survivor (John Hawkes) who seeks out a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to help him finally lose his virginity. Much more than a movie taking advantage of awkward moments, the nudity-heavy film is about frailty, trust, spirit and body. Hawkes is excellent, but Hunt steals the show in her Oscar-nominated performance, baring all in more ways than one.
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