Hot Pursuit

By Di Golding

Mailed on May 21, 2015

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Dear Reese Witherspoon

Dear Reese,

You are in a very small club of actresses that can open both a high-concept comedy and a heavyweight Oscar-bait film. In fact, the only other (current) member of that club is Sandra Bullock, who anchored both the Academy Award-nominated Gravity and scored a hit with Melissa McCarthy in the buddy-cop comedy Heat in the same year. So when Hot Pursuit previews started popping up a few months ago I did something I almost never allow my cynical, critic-self to do: I got excited. I realize this isn’t your fault. It wasn’t you that got my expectations up. But after your raw performance in last year’s Wild (which you also produced), it seemed like you were poised to continue the femme-forward momentum with this screwball, odd-couple comedy (co-starring and produced by Sofia Vergara). “It’s not a fluke”, I thought, “women over 35 are finally staking their claim at the box-office!”

There is a moment during the funniest part of Hot Pursuit when you look in the camera and sarcastically say, “I was giving the performance of a lifetime”. It’s obvious you knew you weren’t making a cinematic masterpiece. And that’s fine. No one was expecting Hot Pursuit to rival Citizen Kane. It’s unfortunate, though, that the funniest part of the movie was in the outtakes reel that played as the end credits scrolled past. By that time my hopes weren’t just dashed, they were hiding under the seat in shame.

Reese, I’m not mad at you. I’m just disappointed.

Hot Pursuit follows Cooper, a by-the-books cop who must transport Daniella, the high-maintenance wife of a crime lord’s accountant to testify as a state’s witness. When Cooper discovers that two of her co-workers are working for the crime lord, she and Daniella become fugitives who must work together to clear their names and save their lives. That premise doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but it’s a formula that’s worked in the past—Midnight Run did it with great success with Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin—and it depends on the two leads having exceptional comic timing and natural chemistry, both of which you and Sofia Vergara possess. But you play Cooper as Tracey Flick without the delicious darkness, and Sofia spends the movie screeching over your Southern twang, resulting in an aural assault that can best be described as what I imagine terrified seagulls strapped to a rollercoaster must sound like.

Look, you did almost everything right. You and Sofia decided you wanted to work together so you hired writers who’ve had success writing television for women (Whitney, New Girl), and a female director with some impressive credits under her belt (27 Dresses, The Proposal). So it’s not fair for me to place the blame for Hot Pursuit’s failure on your tiny actress shoulders. But as a producer, and a seasoned one at that, you should have seen this script’s stink lines quivering off the page. Maybe you thought you and Sofia could just power through the dung, and believe me, it was obvious you were trying very hard to do that. But it wasn’t just the jokes that were lame. The production design, staging, cinematography and editing were all so cheaply assembled that the few punchlines that should have soared right out of the park, instead landed with a dull thud at your tiny feet.

About your diminutive stature, the film’s repeat gag involving news reports which exceedingly describe you as smaller and Sofia as older is one of the few that worked in the trailer. Unfortunately, we learn more about your characters in that two minute teaser than we do in an hour-plus of screen time, maybe because you each only get exactly two character traits; Cooper is uptight and bumbling, and Daniella is hot and spicy. If the script’s minefield of plot holes didn’t set off any alarm bells for you, its lazy stereotypes should have. Daniella constantly refers to you as a little man, and “Officer Lesbian”, while she uses her boobs or her “lady problems” to get you out of situations. At one point, after having been shot at, accidentally dosed with cocaine, and handcuffed together, the two of you steal a truck and talk about Cooper’s undateability, lamenting that she doesn’t yet have a ring on her finger. Bechdel wept!

I’m not mad that you made a shitty movie. A-list actors like Johnny Depp, do it all the time, and he doesn’t even have an Oscar. The problem is that female actors, producers, writers and directors of a certain age don’t just have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good as their male counterparts, they have to work twice as hard just to get a foot in the door. It’s a huge responsibility and it’s not fair, but that’s how it is. I’m disappointed because you had a huge opportunity and you wasted it on Hot Pursuit. If you’re disappointed too, give Sandy Bullock a call and ask her how she felt after All About Steve (which she produced and starred in) tanked. At the very least she can give you pointers on how to accept your Razzie gracefully.

Still pulling for you,


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