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April 3, 2013

It's Kind of a Funny Story

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Dippold's success comes on the heels of Bridesmaids, the box-office breakthrough cowritten by and starring Kristen Wiig, which grossed nearly $300 million worldwide. Critics called it a game changer, sure to usher in a slew of edgier female-driven comedies in place of the softer, sweeter rom-coms so many actresses have been relegated to. Instead, television has been the primary beneficiary of that change. Today, young female writers are leading a creative resurgence of comedy on TV—Lena Dunham (Girls), Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project), and Liz Meriwether (New Girl), among them. Still, it's hard to imagine a studio like Twentieth Century Fox, which is releasing the film, taking a chance on a movie like The Heat—with its two hard-nosed, gun-toting officers on a mission to take down a drug kingpin in Boston, with nary a whiff of romance in the storyline—without some shift in the Hollywood mindset. (The last commercial comedy to be made about two female partners was the 1988 flop Feds, starring Rebecca De Mornay and Mary Gross.)

And yet there remains profound uncertainty among studio executives as to whether a female-led cast can really open an action comedy. "There were people suspicious of this attempt, who thought girls won't want to see a cop action movie and guys won't want to see two girls holding guns and we'd cancel out our potential audience," says producer Jenno Topping (Country StrongCatch and Release). "But we really believed, at the end of the day, it wouldn't be about gender as much as it would be about delivering a courageous action comedy with some heart to it. Those same naysayers thought 'the fix' would have been to include a conventional romantic storyline, so as to be at least 'guaranteed' women's interest, but we thought that was such a reductive way to think about female audiences."

A lot is riding on The Heat, which with its lack of romance and abundance of high jinks mines new territory for female-driven comedy. (Even Bridesmaids centered on a wedding.) Feig and Topping are betting that the movie will draw both men and women, and they point to test audiences that seem to indicate as much. In one funny scene, Bullock and McCarthy bond over shots of whiskey, getting so drunk that Bullock makes out with a man in his 60s—shades of the cringe-worthy closing scenes of The Hangover between Zach Galifianakis and a senior citizen in a Las Vegas elevator; in another scene, McCarthy opens her refrigerator to reveal an arsenal of weapons. For good measure, the film is rounded out with a supporting cast of popular guy's-guy comics like SNL's Taran Killam, Spoken Reasons, and Marlon Wayans. "When this got sent to me, it was called the 'untitled female buddy-cop comedy.' I just was like, 'That just sounds fun to me,'" says Feig. "It's not a rom-com, and it's not women dealing with women's problems, which can be funny but can also feel limiting."

If Feig is right and The Heat succeeds, it will prove in earnest what Bridesmaids hinted at: that shit-talking, real-looking women can carry a movie. Feig is so confident, he and Dippold are already working on the sequel. In the meantime, she's enjoying some well-earned downtime, including weekly kung fu classes and ruminations on her next steps. "Since this summer was such hard work, I am really, truly forcing myself to just enjoy [this time], just relax," she tells me. "I spent all my 20s writing—every family holiday I would just be in the corner working on something. So I have gotten better at forcing myself to really appreciate time off now. But I mean, we're talking half a day. And then I'm like, 'All right, get back to it.'"

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