Identity Thief: A Parable About Restorative Justice, not Humanistic “Understanding”

Slapstick Comedy. Jason Bateman plays Sandy Patterson, a guy with an androgynous name, whose identity is stolen by Diana played by Melissa McCarthy in another state. When he goes on a trip to try to bring her back to his home state to clear his name, a wild road trip ensues that challenges Sandy and Diana to find out who they each really are.

This is a wildly implausible scenario with wildly implausible scenes and wildly implausible characters, but give it a break, it’s a comedy! So if you don’t demand that it must by hyper-realistic, you just might appreciate some of the morality tale that this is.

Sandy is set up as losing his reputation, his job, and possibly his future if he doesn’t go down to Florida and bring this woman back to his state, and get her to turn herself in. Diana is an obese woman who is a party animal and lives her life through other identities while trying to get anyone to love her. A ludicrous plot device is added to up the stakes and pace: Diana has killers after her because her thieving has gotten her in trouble with some crime kingpin. Like I said, everything about this story is wildly implausible, but it is a parable and that is the point of it, NOT realism. It is a very heartfelt buddy story that is an incarnation of the parable to Love Thy Neighbor, nay, to Love Thy Enemies.

The humor of it all lies in Diana’s obesity as an irony against her wild girl physical comedy. She is a one woman comedy machine when it comes to this character role. And Jason Bateman is my personal favorite straight man in all of movie comedydom. So I loved this couple that had wonderful chemistry in their journey toward self discovery.

SPOILER ALERT: Diana’s revelation is that she is an orphan who never knew her name (metaphor for identity) and that is why she was restless and lived through other people’s identities, trying to be loved or to find a family she never had. Now this could all be the typical humanistic, “we have to understand the criminal and realize that they’re just hurt people who hurt people.” But it is not, because this sensitive psychological appreciation of her pain is balanced by the moral choice she makes to take responsibility for her actions at the end. Thus, proving the dictum that we are not responsible for what happens to us, but we are responsible for how we respond to what happens to us.

But there is more to it than that, there is reconciliation and restoration.

Sandy, starts out detesting Diana, but eventually learns to care for her and they help each other out in various ways until the end. And Sandy’s problem is his lack of confidence that made him a chump all his life. Confidence that Diana has in overabundance. And his moral journey is also quite nice, as he turns and uses Diana’s skills to try to illegally burn his old boss who screwed him in the beginning. But ultimately, he pays for this as well. And then he also learns that Diana needs family and he brings her into his family instead of protecting himself, which redeems them both with hope and love.

But the ending shows these characters both swap redemptions as they both sacrifice their own selves at the end to save the other. This is a story that affirms personal responsibility and consequences for our actions, but is about more than justice, it is about mercy, and about reconciliation, which is restorative justice.