2015’s Spy starring Melissa McCarthy is a fun action-comedy with some serious empowerment.
Written and directed by Paul Feig, the film quickly establishes McCarthy’s Susan Cooper as highly competent at her job. She’s a desk-bound CIA agent but without her eyes, ears, and quick thinking it’s clear the James Bond-type Bradley Fine (Jude Law) wouldn’t be as successful. She’s unfulfilled though and it’s a mix of her own self-questioning and commentary from those she cares about that keeps her stuck in place.
When Fine and several other top agents’ identities are compromised, Susan volunteers to step in their place to help stop a dangerous deal. It’s a thoughtful and rather sophisticated set-up from the McCarthy/Feig team-up and gives plenty for Susan to be challenged by as well as room for the character to grow.
While the journey is ultimately Susan’s to take, she finds there are other women along the way that both help and hinder her. Her friend and co-worker from the agency, Nancy (Miranda Hart), ends up becoming an almost-reliable side-kick. Alternatively the woman who causes her the most pain, Rayna (Rose Byrne), is more complex than a straight-out antagonist. Their push-pull dynamic is made all the more interesting by Susan’s desire to keep the bigger picture in sight.
There’s a whole lot of action and a lively pace to Spy. It’s interrupted only by a few gross-out, graphic violent moments that don’t seem to fit with this particular film (even if they don’t seem that out of step with McCarthy and Feig’s previous movies together). Even with a broad approach and the tone of a spy film, this movie feels like something different. I’m sure there were plot holes, but the story was smart enough to not make me want to spend any time digging into them.
It’s neat to see a female lead be celebrated for her computer and analytical thinking skills as well as using her intuition, especially when she’s presented as more of an everyman than a stereotypical nerd. And even though I didn’t find it laugh out loud funny, watching Spy was a whole lot of fun.
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