Melissa McCarthy came into my life as “Sookie St. James.” In the early seasons of Gilmore Girls, you’ll likely find her accidentally setting something on fire or forgetting the word for salt.
“Lorelai” (Lauren Graham) is Sookie’s, sweet and silly best friend, though you can often still find her making up a little song or cracking a delightful joke about vegetables, Sookie’s personhood grows too big for its early caricature. She’s an artist with food as the chef of a top-quality hotel. She commands a busy kitchen staff. Later, we get to follow Sookie as she matures and thrives in building her own business and family.
The best friends of the Gilmore Girls—Sookie for Lorelai, like “Lane” (Keiko Agena) for “Rory” (Alexis Bledel)—grow alongside our main characters. Less satisfying than the Gilmore Girls’ thrillingly romantic or ambitious arcs, Sookie’s and Lane’s can stall or suddenly speed ahead. Their desires feel different, less glamorous, maybe, but not smaller. Every character is going about the business of living. Sookie’s romantic relationship turns out to be the most stable, genuine one in the show.
Not that McCarthy ever feels limited by the best friend trope. “I’ve never been interested in playing the boring ingenue,” she said in a recent interview. “I always wonder, Who’s her weird friend? I like the oddballs.” She can thrive in any role; the stronger the personality, the better.
I believe Sookie’s character evolved because Melissa McCarthy’s genuine warmth and acting range facilitated it. McCarthy was central in establishing the flavor of Gilmore Girls over the years, in telling an ensemble story of friendship and family. This is something she does a lot in her work. It’s no wonder she was later cast as a lead in Mike and Molly, which ran for six seasons. In comedies and even brief sketches, she has a tendency to steal the show, too likable to ignore, no matter how small her part.
Sookie started as a standup comedian, performing regularly with the Groundlings Theater in LA, of which she often speaks fondly. Gilmore Girls’ seven seasons were her first big success. Then, McCarthy shared with Good Housekeeping, before she landed the role in Mike and Molly, she was thinking it might be time to give up acting and focus on her family. How things have changed!
Bridesmaids marked a turning point for McCarthy, establishing her as a classic comedian ready to make blockbusters. McCarthy’s range has impressed critics. She can do wildly different sides of crime comedy (Identity Thief and The Heat) and action (Spy and the new Ghostbusters). She plays a glamorous ex-titan in The Boss and carries a classic, heart-pounding romantic plot easily in Superintelligence. As a recurring guest on Saturday Night Live, she consistently gets nominated for Emmys. Critics often comment on how McCarthy manages to get acclaim even when her movies or TV shows themselves are bad; as the Wall Street Journal put it, she “subvert[s] the tyranny of good taste.”
McCarthy started a production company, On the Day, with her partner and husband Ben Falcone, where she wrote and starred alongside Susan Sarandon in the road-trip movie Tammy in 2014. Since then, she’s produced six more films, of which she wrote two.
Recently, McCarthy’s career has reached another turning point. With Can You Ever Forgive Me?, she played complicated author Lee Israel, establishing herself as a dramatic lead and getting nominated for an Academy Award. That role came as no surprise after the capacity she’d demonstrated throughout her career; I can’t wait to see the formidable leads she plays next.
Most recently, McCarthy starred alongside Octavia Spencer in On the Day’s latest movie Thunderforce. In an interview with Screenrant, she called it “this really beautiful love story of these two friends within this action superhero world,” which sounds pretty quintessentially her. Soon, we’ll see her as Ursula in the newest The Little Mermaid.
Often, Melissa McCarthy’s characters take hold of me. She’s brilliantly funny and then she can create these profound moments of surprise dramatic depth. (Spoiler alert for this next bit in case you plan to watch Gilmore Girls—it’s never too late to do so!) I can’t forget the moment when Sookie explains to Jackson that she’s afraid to move in with him because he might get sick of her, and then he suddenly proposes to her, and she almost sings, with tears in her eyes, “We’re getting married!” Of course, she’s far too talented for me to see her as Sookie in any of her other work. When I think of Melissa McCarthy herself, though, I’ll probably always think first of the warmth of Sookie St. James, not a sitcom typecast or a best friend trope, just someone for whom I feel a real kind of love.
© Amelie Lasker (6/2/21) FF2 Media
Featured Photo: Melissa McCarthy’s Breakthru in Bridesmaids!
Middle Photo: Melissa McCarthy in Ghostbusters (2016).
Bottom Photo: McCarthy in The Heat (2013).
Photo Credits: Hopper Stone, Gemma La Mana.