Review: Spy is Bridesmaids Alums Feig, McCarthy, and Byrne’s Funniest Movie to Date
Featuring a secret weapon in the body of Jason Statham.
It’s hard not to root for Paul Feig, Melissa McCarthy, and Rose Byrne. In the press, they seem like some of the most delightful, good-natured people, and all three have been vocal feminists in Hollywood. They are funny and talented and work even better as a team: Byrne and McCarthy have an on-screen rapport which makes them a perfect comedy duo; Feig understands what makes both of them so funny, and knows how to tap into those qualities and write to them better than any of their other directors.
But even if I didn’t already want to like Spy, I can’t image not cracking up while watching this hilarious, fast, fresh action-comedy. I won’t argue with anyone that Bridesmaids is or isn’t Feig’s best movie, but I stand by my opinion that Spy is his funniest. From start to finish, the film is non-stop funny, using physical, verbal, character, and parody humor collectively to create a wonderfully silly experience for audiences.
McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a brilliant CIA agent who has found herself working behind the scenes with field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law). With Susan in his ear, Fine is one of the best agents around; but this line of work keeps Susan from taking on her own missions. When one goes wrong, and CIA intelligence gets in the hands of Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne, in full Bond Girl glory), a non-field agent is needed – and Cooper is their only hope. So despite her boss’s reservations (Allison Janney), a fellow agent’s rage (Jason Statham), and the CIA’s gadget guru’s (Michael McDonald) bizarre but hilarious passive aggressiveness towards Susan, she takes on the challenge, guided by her own voice in her head (Call the Midwife’s Miranda Hart)
The movie is an unapologetic Bond parody, but is as successful as a movie because of the way everyone commits to being specific and accurate. No one winks at what they are lampooning, so the tension can rise and the action can play out in scenes which are simultaneously funny and thrilling (and kind of violent). Feig and his cast understand how deadly serious you have to take comedy, and parody especially, and they do it all brilliantly with straight faces (making me really want to see the bloopers). The fact that you could take the characters out of this movie and fit them into the genre films they are mocking by simply given them different lines shows how knowledgeable Feig is about what makes Bond films (and similar action movies) so ridiculous.
In this world, McCarthy is playing a version of Ms. Moneypenny, although smarter than she’s typically allowed to be in Bond films. Considering Feig’s awareness of Skyfall, it seems that finally allowing Naomi Harris’s Moneypenny in the field raised the question: why did it take 60 years? And Feig raises this issue with subtle humor; that there is a business problem with relegating support staff (often women) to positions that discourage them from moving forward into positions of power (voiced by the hilarious Allison Janney) by those higher up who get things out of their work. Seeing smart, tech-minded women relegated to a basement with an infestation problem yields some hilarious moments, but also provides some pointed satire about sexism in business (and Hollywood).
McCarthy is an actress with impressive range that I’ve liked since seeing her on Gilmore Girls, and the reason why this film is so good for her (and she’s so good in it) is that she’s allowed to be sweet, tough, raunchy, and sexy in one film without sacrificing her character. I just hope that this will show how much she is capable of doing on screen, the way Bridesmaids opened doors for Kristin Wiig to stretch her acting muscles. I also hope this leads to more comedies for Rose Byrne, who is wonderfully, hilariously, offensively vile as she curses up a storm in her stiletto heels and huge hair. Byrne has been doing a lot of comedies lately, but hasn’t been utilized this well in a comedy since Bridesmaids. She has the talents of actresses from the ’80s like Shelley Long, Bette Midler, or Goldie Hawn, and she gets to show that off in Spy. Miranda Hart is also just hilarious (and has some very sweet moments with McCarthy), and is the new find in Hollywood I hope we see more of.
But the entire cast is great, with the guys more than game to play with the ladies without holding back. Hammy in that James Bond way, Peter Serafinowicz’s Italian agent is wonderfully weird and outrageous, while Jude Law is finally showing us the James Bond impression we’ve been waiting to see for more than a decade; Emmy winner Bobby Cannavale continues to play crime boss characters, this time with a twist; but the person who got the biggest laughs during my screening was surprise, surprise – Jason Statham. Wisely, Feig advised Statham to play the character exactly as he plays most of his characters, just giving him ridiculous lines and physical comedy, which he completely nails. His performance is akin to Leslie Nelson’s deadpan performances in the best of the Zuker Brothers’ films, and if this is his Airplane, well, hooray! Especially because, when playing opposite McCarthy, they have great comic chemistry.
Fieg deserves a lot of credit for making this movie with such style and efficiency. We know he is very good with visual humor, but he is also great at staging action sequences. He keeps the movie moving at a pace which makes it feel short, despite being two hours long. The set designers and costumers deserve special praise, because they clearly studied the Bond spy movies, and kudos for including inspired Bond-style opening and closing title sequences and great music.
This year we will see four more spy movies from the studios (Bridge of Spies, Hitman: Agent 47, Man From Uncle, and Spectre). But between Kingsman and Spy (both from the same studio) I can’t imagine any of them being more enjoyable than what we’ve already seen. Spy is just so great, I would even be excited to see a sequel (if McCarthy, Hart, and Statham came back). And if the movie does as well with audiences as the word-of-mouth suggests, I wouldn’t be surprised if that might happen. I’ll certainly be going back to give them some extra money.
Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.
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