Melissa McCarthy has proven herself as a force to be reckoned with in the world of comedy. Ever since she gained popularity with her role in Bridesmaids (though for some of us she will always be Sookie from Gilmore Girls), she has been known on screen for her brash loud characters. Off screen, she has become very vocal about how women, and in particular plus-sized woman, are treated in Hollywood today. For her latest film Spy, a Bond-esque action-comedy that plays with the genre’s tropes while making us laugh, McCarthy has teamed up once again with Bridesmaids director Paul Feig.
Spy features CIA analyst Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy), who is the voice in the ear of agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) on his missions. When Bradley goes off the grid and another agent, Rick Ford (Jason Statham), goes rogue, Susan is put into the field to track down arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) and prevent the sale of a nuclear device.
Comedy is a genre that can be somewhat hit and miss, but thankfully, Feig has delivered an absolute hit with Spy. It’s fun, jam-packed with well-executed action and a lot of love for the spy films of the past. Things such as gadgets, glamorous undercover identities and high speed chases are all present, but given an enjoyable twist. The film also has a lot of heart, courtesy of McCarthy’s performance as Susan. It is quite a different performance than the thunderous personalities she is known for as Susan is initially quite self-conscious. She’s someone who has been told to blend in and not cause a fuss. Later on, we do get some of that familiar brashness, but it’s done as a persona rather than as being genuine. She is an everywoman in the best possible sense.
One particular aspect about the film I really liked is that Susan isn’t subject to a host of typical low-brow fat jokes, such as constantly being seen eating. The closest the film gets to that is a throwaway line about Susan liking to bake, which is pretty innocuous.
Spy doesn’t ignore McCarthy’s presence as a plus-size actress, but it doesn’t make it a punchline either, and while Susan is a comedic character, she is never bumbling or incompetent. Throughout the film we see that she is quick-thinking and good at her job, but is just lacking confidence and experience in the field. As the film goes on, she verbally gives back as good as she gets from people and takes her opportunities to stand out more. And McCarthy throws herself into the physical aspect of the role. The action is very well done too, with a particular highlight being the fight scene in the kitchen. Personally, it made me smile to see someone of my body type in an action film being treated just as capable as anyone else.
If anything, Jason Statham is McCarthy’s comedic, foolish sidekick, often coming close to ruining her mission with his own antics. Statham is a comedic surprise and delight, with his sincere delivery of lines recounting his super spy mission deeds being one of my favourite running gags in the film.
The entire supporting cast deserves a shout-out as well, including Brits Miranda Hart as Susan’s awkward and occasionally scene stealing best friend, and Peter Serafinowicz as a hands-y Italian agent. Rose Byrne continues to be one of the most underrated actresses currently working as she gives a great performance as the rude and spoiled brat, Rayna. Allison Janney shows up playing Susan’s humourless and blunt boss at the CIA, rounding off the great female-focused cast.
The film brings up an interesting dynamic between Rayna and Susan: Even though they are antagonists, it never feels petty and is never played as girls being pitted against each other in a superficial way. They both have their own drive and in the end, there is an odd kind of balance between the two.
It’s also enjoyable and refreshing to have a comedy that is predominantly centred on women, but romance isn’t a factor. True, Susan does have feelings for Agent Bradley Fine (she is very dedicated to him and lets him take her for granted), but by the end of the film, the romance isn’t as important to her motivations as the mission itself. We also get a nice moment at the end where, when faced with the possibility of going off with a suave, gorgeous guy, Susan instead chooses to hang out with her best friend.
One part Bridesmaids, one part 21 Jump Street with a sprinkling of Kingsman: The Secret Service, Spy is an enjoyable and satisfying caper that is perfect for the summer movie season. Does Spy go for some low-hanging comedic fruit? Of course it does, and we get a few moments of body humour and verbal vulgarities, but the charm and cleverness of the movie shine through. It makes me excited and curious about what is in store for the upcoming McCarthy and Fieg led Ghostbusters movie.
Images via Twentieth Century Fox.