A saving grace for Melissa McCarthy’s career is the fact that people know she is capable of much more than what her recent string of comedy films indicate. We hold on in case we get another airplane seduction scene and tenderly remember, then relive on Netflix, the obsessive perfectionism of Sookie St. James. While we wait for a reboot of a classic ghost-fighting film with some skepticism, we see a shred of light with her attached to the headlining cast. We try to move on from Tammy and Identity Thief.
Spy connects those dots and pushes McCarthy back into the comedic realm that she belongs in. The film follows McCarthy’s Susan Cooper, a CIA analyst who assists top agents, particularly Bradley Fine (Jude Law), in navigating and solving major cases. Fine is assigned to a major arms case oriented around a crime-lord’s daughter Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne). When he drops off the map, Cooper volunteers to enter the field, determine what happened to Fine and solve the case.
There is a surprising underlying conversation bubbling below the plot of the film on spy movie gender stereotypes and the genre as a whole. Cooper is incredibly intelligent and capable, but she is not the sophisticated, sleek agent that we usually find in these kinds of movies. The fact that she doesn’t fit that mould is ridiculed throughout the course of the film, but her ability to navigate field work speaks significantly louder and helps direct your attention to the ultimately empowering message delivered in this film. Complements to director Paul Feig’s scriptwriting on that note.
Melissa McCarthy is similarly feminist-y in real life; she often directly responds to harsh criticisms in the press over her weight and advocates for body positive mentalities. While her comedic chops have always been up to snuff, that personal connection may be the ticket to her successful work in this film. This particular collaboration between Feig and McCarthy certainly reignites a little hope for their next project together, the Ghostbusters reboot.
Which leads to a big question: what will it take for Rose Byrne to get a lead role in a comedy? The British actress has a growing catalogue of dynamic and entertaining performances that demands a solo outing. Even as a upperclass mafia byproduct in Spy with a masterful eye roll, smooth condescension rolling off the tongue and awfully large hair, Byrne is just so damn cool.
Spy is not always as obviously appealing; moments with Bobby Cannavale’s party Sergio and the debut of Miranda Hart as McCarthy’s best friend Nancy are occasionally awkward and corny, but they never outbalance the randomly gruesome, ridiculously funny elements to the movie. Weird and out of bounds happens within the scope of a pretty typical plot, so when Jason Statham comes completely out of left field as a hyperactive and egotistical agent, it’s an unseen curveball that is so easy to catch. Of course Statham, well-known for his macho action-thrillers, can pull that to comedic heights. How come we didn’t consider this possibility before? How does it just makes so much sense?
Feig drew in enough into his script to play to the talents of his cast; whether it was tweaked and altered to their identified skills is unknown to me, but it feels like a great partnership. Spy doesn’t push the comedic genre to new heights, but it certainly presents the cast in a strong light and channels messages that aren’t typical of this kind of film. I guess that is kind of the point of this movie.