“This movie is fantasy fulfillment for overweight women” is how an internet poster described Paul Feig’s (Bridemaids, The Heat) latest offering Spy, starring Melissa McCarthy as the eponymous spy, among a posse of other spies working for the CIA, including characters played by Jude Law and Jason Statham. A large section of the action-comedy movie audience (with ‘action’ being of greater emphasis) have had a tough time accepting McCarthy as an action star (which she is) even when she starred as a streetwise cop in female buddy cop movie, The Heat. I am almost certain of what the internet consensus of such action viewers is (the above quote was, by far, the kindest one I came across) when they see the likes of Angelina Jolie play a police officer or a spy. Or of Steve Carell, who in a similar situation, playing a secret agent without the obvious suave attributed to other cinematic spies a la James Bond, not only ends up filling his unlikely action shoes, but also kissing the pretty girl, something that McCarthy’s character Susan Cooper is not allowed to do (according to the script, but perhaps to appease the audience as well) with Jude Law’s Bradley Fine.
The best aspect of Feig’s trilogy of movies-containing-strong-female-characters is that none of them are feminist. Not only do these films comfortably pass the Bechdel test (even in Bridesmaids, the most romantic of the lot), but women are portrayed as multidimensional characters. McCarthy’s Susan Cooper, the eyes, ears and mostly, the brains behind Jude Law’s wannabe-Bond Bradley Fine, sits in the basement of the CIA in front of a computer, aiding Law every step of the way. However, she is a fully trained and qualified agent whose choice of work has more to do with her lack of self-confidence instilled by her mother’s lifelong criticism, than with her actual abilities. She is sufficiently skilled, as her boss points out while watching her training video for fighting, which she quips is tempting enough to be put on YouTube. Perhaps, because her boss is portrayed as a strong, Meryl Streep in The Devil wears Prada-ish character by Allison Janney, Feig makes a small error in showing female solidarity (and bias), i.e. a female boss letting an inexperienced female agent out in the field, though she is strictly instructed not to make contact with the one she keeps track of, Rose Byrne’s Rayna Boyanov (who has astonishingly good hair, that awaits a thousand Pins and YouTube tutorials).
Rose Byrne’s father is accidentally killed by Jude Law’s Fine, while trying to recover a nuke which father and daughter both intend to sell to whichever baddie intends to be the highest bidder. Law is himself killed by Byrne, which propels McCarthy to volunteer herself as a field agent, largely due to her unrequited love and devotion towards Law. Along the way she is helped by good friend and colleague Nancy, played by Miranda Hart, who also becomes her eyes and ears for some of the time. Here, you again find that female solidarity, in a tender, endearing way, where Hart plays her ‘Miranda’ character, from her BBC sitcom, but only taken quadruple notches down. She even carries on with her penchant for falling down, this time deliberately, on 50 Cent, of all people. Hart’s comedy style is even more unassuming than the typical deadpan of British comedy, which might make it bland and unobvious for people not familiar with her sitcom.
McCarthy’s Susan Cooper finds herself in a love quadrangle, with Law’s Fine making up one of the ‘angles’. Peter Serafinowicz, another ‘angle’, is electric right from the moment he steps onto the screen as an overly lecherous, Italian secret agent named Aldo (you know, like the shoe store) assigned to rescue and assist McCarthy, with a helpless propensity to grope and gross her out ever step of the way. Despite the lechery, I ended up rooting for him in the quadrangle. Jason Statham’s Rick Ford is the last in the bizarre love-amongst-spies scenario, which for him and McCarthy is a case of opposites repel. He parodies himself (though I cannot say that confidently, as I’ve never willingly watched a Jason Statham film) and everytime he is on screen, he makes absurd, rambling claims to his action man-liness, including the ability to fix his broken arm with his other arm, and make his own suits. He has limited acting capabilities, but him playing this role is enough to make his scenes the funniest in the entire film.
The best action sequence is undoubtedly the kitchen fight scene between McCarthy and Nargis Fakhri. It is sharp and often a literal ‘close shave’. All in all, Spy is a crisp, endlessly hilarious and thrilling action-comedy which, if you watch with an open mind, makes for great entertainment.