If there’s one thing I’ll remember about Paul Feig’s new comedy, Spy it will be just how terribly the movie was marketed. Conversations with people I have regarding this movie usually go as follows:
Me: “I saw Melissa McCarthy’s new movie, Spy, this morning. It was pretty good!”
Literally everyone I know: “Really? That movie looked really terrible.”
And honestly, they’re right. It did look really bad. Here’s the first trailer:
I think I’d rather watch Aloha again than see this film. What it looks like is another movie where we make fun of Melissa McCarthy because she’s fat. Like we’re just getting more Tammy and Identity Thief. But Spy is a movie about subverting expectations. And like McCarthy herself, there’s a lot more going on here than we see in the trailers and posters.
Spy is the story of CIA analyst Susan Cooper played by McCarthy. Cooper is bound to a desk working as the eyes and ears to charming super-spy, Bradley Fine (Jude Law). Fine and Cooper have been working together for years and she’s shown to be incredibly effective behind the desk, saving his life on multiple occasions. Susan’s secret, though, is she’s actually quite brilliant. Top of her class at the academy and proficient in combat as well as marksmanship, Susan was resigned to a desk position because of a history of depreciation from her overbearing mother (“Give up on your dreams, Susan!”) and persuasion from Agent Fine, convincing her she was better suited backing him up. But when the identities of all active CIA Agents are revealed, Susan volunteers to go into the field and stop known terrorist Rayna Boyanov (played by the incredible Rose Byrne) from selling a nuclear weapon.
It’s key that Susan isn’t selected for this mission, but rather volunteers; because Susan, like McCarthy is pegged as something she’s not. Despite working together for years Agent Fine gives Susan a gross cupcake necklace as a gift because he assumes that’s the kind of thing that she would like. He thinks she has cats because he assumes that’s the kind of woman she is. All those around Susan Cooper seem to doubt her ability as well. The CIA director, while knowing full well what Cooper is capable of, continually assigns Cooper with terrible alter egos that feed into this false perception of her. Fellow agents constantly remind her how likely it is she will fail and that she doesn’t belong in the field. In reality, Susan Cooper is a badass spy. She handles every situation that is thrown at her, constantly making up for other people’s failures and doing whatever it takes to get the job done. Spy is not a film about a goofy fat woman ineptly bumbling her way through a mission to save the world. Rather It’s a movie about a skilled, brilliant spy finally living up to her potential.
It’s ironic to think then, of the trailers like those listed above; trailers that focused on every single funny, klutzy moment in the film to make it look like something it is not. It’s almost as if the studio is saying they think this is what Melissa McCarthy is and this is what we, the viewers expect from her. The studio is making the same mistake as the characters in the movie! But McCarthy, like Susan, is so much more than all of this. If you’ve been following McCarthy’s career outside the Tammy and Identity Theft genre (admittedly bad films) you’d see that there are so many different sides to this actress, and Spy is a movie that requires all of them. Throughout the film Susan Cooper is forced to constantly switch alter egos and cover stories. She really plays 4-5 completely different characters throughout the film and McCarthy handles all of these switches with aplomb. It’s hard to look at this movie and not see the comparisons between Susan Cooper and Melissa McCarthy. It’s almost as if Paul Feig made the film to show everyone what McCarthy could do. And the result? The best movie she’s made so far.
600 words in and I haven’t really talked about how funny this comedy film is. Worry not, it’s absolutely hilarious. As mentioned above McCarthy nails it, but she’s not the funniest thing about Spy. That honor goes to Rose Byrne, having a clearly amazing time playing bad guy Rayna Boyanov. I had enjoyed Byrne in her earlier comedic endeavors (Get Him To The Greek, Feig’s Bridesmaids) but it wasn’t until last year’s Neighbors that I really started to recognize her comedic chops. She was absolutely wonderful, diving completely into her character and standing toe-to-toe with Rogen. Here, she does it again. Rayna is Eastern European royalty basically, and Byrne plays her with a level of carefree maliciousness that’s consistently funny. It’s the kind of subtly hilarious performance that makes me want to go back and see the movie as I’m sure I missed something the first time around.
Remember when I told you earlier that this wasn’t a movie about an idiot spy, bumbling their way through a mission? Well, it’s not, but it does have one: Jason Statham as super spy Rick Ford. If we want to talk about this movie subverting expectations, Statham is a perfect example. Rick Ford is an absolute idiot, messing up constantly, but still absolutely convinced that Susan Cooper is going to botch the mission. Every time Ford tries to help he just makes everything worse. It’s the perfect role reversal and Statham fits the part so well. He’s absolutely great.
Constantly funny and full of surprises, Spy is a movie that will make you laugh and think all at the same time. The Feig/McCarthy duo continues to clean up in this department, making me all the more excited for their Ghostbusters reimagining next year. I urge you to ignore the horrible marketing for this film and give it a shot. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.