I was nervous about this one going in because though I think Melissa McCarthy is very talented, she has also made a lot of bad movies since breaking out in Bridesmaids. But Spy reunites her with her Bridesmaids and The Heat director, Paul Feig—who also wrote the script—and the results are spectacular. Not only does McCarthy live up to the promise she showed in Bridesmaids, but this is a genuinely great comedy that works on every level. Spy is flat-out hilarious, a laugh-until-you cry comedy, and this is coming from me, the resident comedy snob.
McCarthy stars as Susan Cooper, a CIA analyst partnered with Bradley Fine (Jude Law), a field agent in the James Bond style. When Fine dies on a mission, Susan volunteers to go into the field in order to avenge him, even though despite being a top recruit at CIA Academy, Susan has only ever worked as an analyst. She was undermined by Fine, who wanted to keep her as his all-seeing surveillance eye. There’s a strong thread throughout Spy of the ways in which women allow men to undermine them, and then fight back against the roles into which they’ve been thrust. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Susan’s relationship with Fine. There is a romantic angle, but what’s played up more is the way their relationship has held Susan back professionally, and it’s through realizing her professional potential that Susan comes into her own, not by getting her man or any such nonsense.
In fact, all of Spy is heavily focused on women, which is no secret, but the comedy derives directly from these women and the ways in which they relate to one another. Rose Byrne does her scene-stealing thing as Rayna, a Bulgarian crime heiress who has a hilariously antagonistic relationship with Susan, but some of the movie’s best scenes are when they team up, whether that’s in a physical confrontation or just a verbal smackdown. There’s a “no one messes with my sister but me” vibe to their relationship—they don’t necessarily like each other, but Susan would rather go after Rayna herself than tolerate someone else doing it. Similarly, Susan’s work friend Nancy (Call the Midwife’s Miranda Hart), is given a satisfying arc of her own, and her relationship with Susan is enriching. In the world of Spy, women can be supportive of one another while still kicking ass, there is no sacrificing of femininity or hard-assery.
There are some great gags involving Peter Serafinowicz, though, and especially Jason Statham, who is basically playing a caricature of himself. Early in the film Statham’s character, Ford, describes all the insane sh*t he’s done in the field, only Statham is basically recounting the plot of Crank. It’s a fantastic gag, and Ford is a stereotypically loose-cannon agent, except wildly ineffectual. But it’s McCarthy’s film start to finish, and she carries it ably. She balances both Susan’s vulnerability and her confidence without ever suggesting that Susan is weak. So much of the comedy derives from Susan transgressing the limits others, particularly men, place on her.
And where previous McCarthy comedies have made her the butt of jokes because of her size, not once is that the case in Spy. Rayna constantly needles Susan to dress better, but size is never a factor in those jokes, and the other side of that gag is Susan going on about Rayna’s ludicrous hairstyles. Rayna and Susan constantly tear strips off each other, but the jokes are directed at choices they’re making, not personal traits. It’s really refreshing to see performers of McCarthy’s and Byrne’s caliber given such great material and watch them go to town with it. Spy is just fantastic.