The Heat: Redefining Family (Movie Review)

FBI’s finest (most by-the-book) agent, Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock), finds herself up against a mysterious drug lord, and forced to work with Boston’s finest (thorough and rough) cop, Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), in the latest girl power film from Paul Feig (Bridesmaids). Feig’s creation mashes the “typical” buddy cop, with hard-drinking, swearing, testosterone-charged, high strung men and the kind of humor that Judd Apatow (and Feig) have made famous with women and men. Can Bullock’s string of comedic hits continue (The Proposal, Miss Congeniality) with McCarthy playing the over-the-top counterpunch to her foil?

With the script from Parks and Rec writer/producer Katie Dippold, the answer is an edited “heck yes!” Mullins swears at, punches, and threatens everyone in her path, intimidating her own captain and even Ashburn; Ashburn has closed more cases than anyone else, but her irritating style has annoyed everyone along the way. Neither one of them is “complete,” but the standard means of completion haven’t worked for them. It’s a constant case of mirroring with a slight twist: the women each have no romantic connections, no family support, and no respect from their co-workers. Their lives outside of work are lonely, and miserable.

But the potent mix of Bullock, McCarthy, Feig, and Dippold provides laughs, profanity, and some poignant moments, too. The pursuit of fugitives, the friction between Bullock’s uptight persona and McCarthy’s “bull in china shop,” the cautious exploration of flirting by Ashburn toward Marlon Wayans’ Agent Levi– all of these artfully weave a spin on the standard buddy cop formula, and gradually pull us into the expression of friendship and family developing between the two women.

Mullins’ family is dysfunctional. Married with Children dysfunctional. Yelling, screaming, and cursing each other, their only unification is in hating Shannon for putting away the youngest son (Michael Rappaport) for drug use and dealing. But at least Mullins’ family was together, unlike Ashburn who was shuttled from one foster home to another. Frankly, family systems  theory would show how all of their dysfunction individually could be traced back to these broken families, these hurting relationships, these absences of something tangible to hold onto for themselves.

Unfortunately, there are too many people who can’t recognize their brokenness and try to drown it in work, drink, sex, food, or whatever may come. (Kyle Idleman has a great book about this, Gods at War.) These people fail to see that they are loved or needed regardless of family of origin, and they fail to receive help from a concerned mentor, friend, support group, or church. They never quite have the breakthrough moment that Mullins and Ashburn have, and they don’t ever see a way to break the cycle.

The Heat shows in its unorthodox way that the cycle CAN be broken, that family can be achieved in ways we didn’t see before. The truth is, I believe we’ve all been “adopted” by God, regardless of what we’ve done or where we come from, and that makes all the difference.


About Jacob Sahms

I'm searching for hope in the midst of the storms, raising a family, pastoring a church, writing on faith and film, rooting for the Red Sox, and sleeping occasionally. Find me at,, and the brand new
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