RogerBW's Blog

Spy 07 May 2019

2015 action comedy, dir. Paul Feig, Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham; IMDb / allmovie. In a James Bond-style world, when all the CIA's field agents are compromised, it's up to an analyst to go undercover and look for a missing nuclear weapon.

There are some really good ideas here. Of course all those field agents are men; of course they think that the analyst can't do the job even if she came top in the training; indeed, one of them has very clearly been working on her insecurities to push her into a support role purely in order to enhance his own awesomeness. There's even a suggestion, though it's never carried through, of the invisibility of middle-aged women, especially to the sort of opponent who's expecting a handsome superspy.

But this whisper of a welcome feminist message is overwhelmed by the comedy of insult against McCarthy's character. I don't just mean the diegetic insults, where people within the film's world have no respect for her; that may not be welcome, but it is at least part of the story. It's what the director and scriptwriter do to her character: tee hee, fatty has to ride a little moped. Tee hee, she faints (and vomits) at the sight of injury. She's unattractive. She's utterly unable to pass for someone who should be in an expensive restaurant. She gets her clothes caught on things. She makes personal remarks at entirely the wrong moments. Oh, also she's fat and unattractive and fat. All of these things are regarded as cause for laughter.

Still, at least there's a female villain whose villainy is not tied to her sex, played by Rose Byrne doing her best to put some quiet menace into a frankly underwritten role. And the protagonist is allowed to develop some actual competence, towards the end of the film. But every time things start to get interesting, it's time to bring everything to a halt for another "funny" moment: ooh, Jason Statham is swearing a lot. (I enjoy Jason Statham when he gets to crack the grim facade and play a human being; he doesn't do that here.) Someone's eating a cake that a mouse has defæcated on. I know how they feel.

Recommended by MaryAnn Johanson (see, we don't always agree).

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