Chasing the Bomb
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
After the blockbusters Bridesmaids and The Heat, Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy joined forces again to deliver McCarthy’s best lead performance yet. After McCarthy’s recent efforts like Identity Theft and the equally vapid Tammy, there was concern that her trademark humor had run its course far more quickly than anticipated. But with Spy it becomes apparent that McCarthy’s humor wasn’t the problem nor its seemingly ubiquitous nature. The real problem was was how her humor had been utilized. In the latter two films aforementioned, McCarthy’s humor was dialed up to an eleven but everything around her was so empty and monotonous, it felt as if her humor was being exponentially increased to fill in the gaps. The result was a resoundingly empty experience that irritated you more than anything else and McCarthy’s trademark humor had been reduced to cheap, slapstick effect. In Spy, Feig (perhaps having the benefit of utilizing McCarthy quite well twice) writes McCarthy to her absolute best, making her a real, relatable character whose journey has unexpected pathos sprinkled throughout it. Just as importantly, Feig remembers that he has a host of characters to play with and he parcels the tension out to everyone. Whenever the focus of the movie moves away from McCarthy, the tension and energy remains constant and Spy as a whole comes away feeling a lot richer than it perhaps had any right to be.
The plot of Spy is a fairly simple one, which is fine considering that it doesn’t need to be more complicated to function cohesively. McCarthy is Susan Cooper, a CIA desk agent whose role is primarily being the ears and eyes of agents who are active on the ground. Cooper is praised as being an indispensable part of the team, but every time she is patted on the head, she knows quite well that it’s as patronizing as it can possibly get. She trained for the job of a field agent but was passed over constantly, accounted for by the way she looks and her trait of simply blending into her surrounding environments. No one notices her, no one acknowledges that she is an actual person worthy of something, but unexpectedly that comes to be her best defense. A Bulgarian heiress by the name of Rayna Boyanov is under suspicion of arranging a nuclear bomb deal and she has access to all of the CIA agents who are active. They need someone who can really go undercover and just blend in with their surroundings without arousing any suspicion. Turns out, Cooper is just the woman for the job.
The real pleasure of Spy, outside of its incredible litany of insults that would make Selina Meyer proud, is how it never treats Cooper as a victim. She’s stuck in a situation and as soon as she discovers an opportunity to take herself out of it and grasp onto something better, she takes it. There are plenty of jokes about her appearance as various variations of old women disguises, but none of the typical jokes about her weight are mentioned even once. It would have been a cheap route to go and Feig’s script is perfectly aware of that. Instead, Feig’s script gives Cooper all of the impetus to go and conquer the mission, no matter what it takes. She knows perfectly well that this is the only chance she’ll likely get at proving to everyone at the CIA that she is actually a great agent and someone they ought to take seriously, no matter their previous proclivities. Watching her go through each step of her journey provides an unexpected amount of pleasure. Just as Feig treats Cooper with such intelligence, seeing his world populated by complex female characters who are in positions of power in such a male-dominated field is a delight. The script is still smart enough to draw a lens to the sexism women face in the field (pun intended) day in and day out, however, depicted perhaps most notably with the sight of other talented women stuck in a basement, helping their mostly male field agents stay alive and grab the prize while they’re relegated to the shadows.
The film has its problems, most notably with a plot that is fairly rehashed. While watching Spy, there are several moments when you feel like you’ve seen what was happening on screen before and even though that undercurrent of parody is there, it can still feel uncomfortably familiar. Some of the plot is also undercooked simultaneously, the film’s strong pacing sometimes accidentally uncovering plot holes that make the entire endeavor at times feel far more convent than it ought to (the bunker scene, albeit hilarious and well-paced, is an example of this). It just makes the film appear less constructive than it really is, which is a shame. There’s a cameo from the rapper 50 Cent which is fairly pointless, but it’s fleeting, so there’s that. But plot contrivances and conveniences aside, Spy is a pretty darn solid outing. The entire cast is absolutely hilarious, from McCarthy’s solid performance to Rose Byrne’s sniping Rayna and Allison Janney’s tough-as-nails CIA superior. Jason Statham is ridiculous, but his comedic timing here is perfect. He knows just when to dial it up and stop for maximum hilarity, that penchant for perfect timing shared equally in a great sleazy performance from Peter Serafinowicz. Miranda Hart is pitch perfect as Cooper’s partner and her delightful reaction towards the end (I won’t spoil it here) is one of the film’s best moments. Jude Law, Bobby Cannavale, and Morena Baccarin round out this great ensemble that takes what could have been an easy train wreck and under Feig’s direction lifts it to become something much, much more.
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: Paul Feig
Produced by: Paul Feig, Jessie Henderson, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping
Written by: Paul Feig
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, Jude Law, Morena Baccarin
Music by: Theodore Shapiro
Cinematography: Robert Yeoman
Edited by: Dean Zimmerman, Don Zimmerman
Production Company: Chernin Entertainment, Feigco Entertainment
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Running Time: 120 minutes
Release Dates: March 15, 2015 (SXSW), June 5, 2015 (United States)
Image Courtesy: Forbes