Melissa McCarthy doesn’t get offered the kind of roles that she deserves. She’s been faced with plenty of utter shit and several hit-and-miss roles since her breakout performance in 2001’s Bridesmaids. As someone who has loved her since I first watched The Gilmore Girls, I’ve been disappointed with the amount of her roles that just rely on her size to get laughs. Although, she and Paul Fieg are proving to be a pretty great double-act. Bridesmaidsis still celebrated for its female-centric comedy and I was surprised to find that, despite my misgivings, The Heatwas actually pretty good. The problem with the duo’s films is the way they are marketed. They have to appeal to the male film audience as well so I’m never wowed by the trailers. I was devastated when I first saw the trailer for Spybut I knew I’d still end up seeing it. Such is my love of McCarthy.
Paul Fieg isn’t exactly treading new ground with his spoof of spy thrillers but he is using his latest film to bely the genre’s sexist history by continuing to showcase funny women. Joining Melissa McCarthy are Rose Byrne (her Bridesmaids co-star), Allison Janney and Miranda Hart. Whilst the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, was criticised for the use of female characters, Spy makes a point of taking its Miss Moneypenny figure and turns her into a profanity-spewing, kick-ass spy.
Susan Cooper is a CIA agent who has been relegated to a desk job where she provides technological backup for superstar agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) who she is hopelessly in love with. Fine has been attempting to track down a bomb and, when he is killed on duty, Susan offers to enter the field to finish his task. Of course, her bosses and co-workers aren’t exactly thrilled a the idea as Susan has the general air of a tragic, crazy cat lady type. She falls to pieces in front of a younger and more successful female spy and can’t help saying and doing the wrong thing.
Although, Spy isn’t an American Johnny English where the bumbling Susan accidentally finds victory whilst fucking everything up. Susan, it turns out, is a fucking brilliant spy who is actually a pretty terrifying opponent. Melissa McCarthy does a great job of playing each facet of Susan’s character. Although, there is still a sense within the plot that the comedy arises from the fact that female spies are an unlikely thing. At her funniest, Susan is heard spouting endless streams of insults and profanity as if to prove that females must push-aside their femininity in order to succeed at both the spy thriller and comedy.
Although, McCarthy’s comic timing is as sharp as ever and gets plenty of opportunity whilst reacting to the fancy gadgets and disguises her boss (Allison Janney) creates for her. Instead of fancy cars, pens and mobile phones that James Bond and co get to play with, Susan is left with her own special kit of rape whistle/poison dart, stool softener/antidote, and a large pack of haemorrhoid wipes that can melt a guys face off or something. McCarthy does a great job considering most of the humour is derived from her age and frumpy look. At least it makes it more satisfying when she gets her real-spy make-over.
She certainly makes a more memorable spy-figure than Jude Law as the traditional Bond figure. He does everything he should to portray the smarmy agent – pouting, flirting with pretty young things during a getaway, unflinching self-esteem, and witty quips – but nothing more. Law just coasts in his role and is never really given the chance to prove he is anything more than a face in a suit. Unlike Jason Statham who plays an angry, meat-head agent who disagrees with Susan’s methods. Statham reels off complicated soliloquies about how tough his time as an agent has been and just how many tricky situations he’s got himself out of. It’s a parody of the roles he has become known for so can’t have been much of a stretch for Statham but it is much more pleasurable to watch.
As Fieg has proved time and again, there is something that works so well when women bounce off other women. Rose Byrne has a great deal of screen time as villain, Rayna Boyanov, where she is both disgusted by and impressed with Susan. Bryne doesn’t exactly have the role of her career but she does provide some laughs as the fairly incompetent but deadly Rayna. Of course, the real friendship that works throughout the film is the relationship between Susan and her fellow analyst Miranda Hart, in her Hollywood debut. Hart tags along as the clumsy and awkward sidekick in a way that isn’t too different from her sitcom character. It’s not necessarily the strongest comic debut in movie history but Hart does enough to suggest she’ll be back for much more. Especially her work alongside rapper 50 Cent.
Spyis something of a mixed-bag really. There are enough laughs to keep audiences amused and most of its stars to flourish. It’s refreshing to watch a film of this genre give all of its best lines to women and allow them to take centre-stage. It’s something Fieg and McCarthy have become known for and it is comforting in prior to his all female Ghostbusters reboot. However, the plot isn’t exactly ground-breaking and some of the humour just fizzles out. The problem lies with the long-line of spy spoofs that we have been subjected to over the years. The plot is the same kind of silly, nonsensical narrative that simply facilitates the many action scenes. It’s just a shame that Spycomes across as more tired and pathetic than the CIA’s view of Susan.