Friday, August 2, 2013

Movie Moment: Melissa McCarthy's Careful Disorderliness

"There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method."
--Herman Melville, Moby Dick

This quote turned up in my Pisces horoscope this week (via Rob Brezny). Melville was talking about whaling, or storytelling. It fits my current enterprise, all right: 
moving out of the research and into the writing of the sanitation history book.

 I started, just now.

For me, opening a word doc and naming it is a breakthrough. I rewarded myself with a Movie Moment (links to my others)–
Melissa McCarthy singing a medley of radio tunes, in Identity Thief (2013).

Reviewers mostly scorned Identity Thief, but it's worth seeing for McCarthy. She is genius at that carefully disorganized enterprise, comedy.

On the surface, the movie tells a sentimental tale of Diana's rehabilitation to social normalcy, at the unwitting hands of an honest but gullible businessman (Sandy, played by Jason Bateman).

But the movie also rewards (tho it does not invite) a deeper reading. McCarthy's character, Diana, is a sociopath, or possibly a psychopath, who steals identities to perpetrate credit card fraud.
 What if instead of becoming a good girl at the end,  Diana is in the process of changing her identity from small time crook to big time socially approved success? 

It's entirely possible, if this is the tale of a trickster, that Diana will emerge from prison––where we see her at the end seemingly swallowing her rightful punishment––having pulled off the biggest psychopathic coup of all:
her transformation into a businesswoman (with help from Sandy the sucker). After all, she's even studying Economics in prison.

Cf. the Forbes magazine article "Why (Some) Psychopaths Make Great CEO's", and interview with British journalist Jon Ronson, author of The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry:
I think my book offers really good evidence that the way that capitalism is structured really is a physical manifestation of the brain anomaly known as psychopathy. However, I woudn’t say every Fortune 500 chief is a psychopath.
 It is a spectrum, but there’s a cutoff point....
In higher-scoring psychopaths, what grows in the vacant field where that empathy should be is a joy in manipulating people, a lack of remorse, a lack of guilt. 
Taken this way, the film is a relative of The Ruling Class (1972), starring Peter O'Toole as Jack, an addled member of the British aristocracy. 

When we meet Jack, he believes he is Jesus Christ, and he inconveniences his relatives with talk of love. 
By the end of the film, he has been cured of his delusion and has become a violent psychopath who takes his rightful place in the House of Lords, where he meets with social success.

If taken at face value, Identity Thief tells the tale in reverse: Diana goes from bad to good.
But why take at face value a movie about a character who counterfeits identities? 

As McCarthy sings (uh, sorta),
"If the real thing don't do the trick,
You better make up something quick,
...Ooooh, barracuda."


momo said...

The Ruling Class is a great! Hair-raising. I need to watch this whole movie now, and not just the car scene.

Bink said...

I forgot about The Ruling Class! Gotta see that again. Love the way you speculate about where McCarthy's character might end up. Psychopath as CEO, makes so much sense, so often.

Fresca said...

I haven't seen the Ruling Class in a looooong time, but it sure left an impression on me!