Melissa McCarthy and the F word: Spy vs Spies

For more than half a century we’ve been watching various bodacious hunks enacting our fantasies of control at a time of great anxiety. Cold War jitters made the heroics of James Bond and his ilk extra attractive no matter how unrealistic the hopes we placed on his broad shoulders.

The world continues its ongoing slide into total shit, the remaining vestiges of order and dignity only illusory at best. Perhaps at a time when so much has been deconstructed, we might take comfort in the false bastion of hope also getting kicked to the curb, after being thoroughly manhandled by the newest candidate for an ongoing film franchise.

Don’t mistake me. I would love to see many more films like Spy, a vehicle that fully capitalizes on Melissa McCarthy’s assets. We get the best of both worlds, as she shows us she is more than a supersized potty-mouth even though she occasionally lets loose to slag anyone within earshot. We still get the physical comedy, but with more than a modicum of redemptive context to make you feel good about what you’re laughing about.

The conventions of spy movies are an easy target and nothing new, as Don Addams would be happy to attest, if he hadn’t already died of old age after a career of lampooning spies, first in Get Smart and then as the voice of Inspector Gadget.  But this is a bit different, as you’ll discover should you see the film.

McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, bringing along Rose Byrne from Bridesmaids. Byrne is Rayna Boyanov, Susan’s absolute antithesis.  She is thin (Susan is not thin), she is condescending and pretentious (McCarthy always plays real and sincere characters; Susan is the latest in a series.  As type-casting goes it’s not bad). Rayna employs a funny accent that mixes Eastern European and something impersonating English, whereas Susan sounds like something from the mid-west of the USA, aka friendly.  Rayna is heartless whereas Susan only seems soft, not the cat-lady her boss thinks she must be. It’s inevitable that the most interesting relationship of the film is between Rayna and Susan, a pretense for us to see some genuine acting. Where Byrne was the antagonist to Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, muscling her out of the story to become the new –phony- best friend of Maya Rudolph, here she is the evil Bulgarian at the heart of the story, a worthy antagonist and yes, possibly someone who will turn up in a sequel, if the final glimpse of her is any indication. Susan Cooper wears so many masks she confuses the world-weary uber-bitch Rayna, while seeming to emerge from out of a chrysalis. Susan lives her dream while still getting to be a vocal cynic at least part of the time: a remarkable double when you think about it.

It’s never been a better time to be fat. I hope nobody minds me using the ultimate F word (sorry, it’s not feminism after all). Or maybe it’s just that being thin is so tiresome, so predictable. Is it me? But between the complaints at Cannes about high-heels, the comments directed at Jennifer Lawrence (who called herself “obese” in response), the emergence of plus-sized performers and even fat models… The world has been waiting for someone to do what MM does in this film. This is but the first salvo in what is likely to be an ongoing slugfest, aka a successful series of satirical films.

There are so many Hungarians in this film that I’d be wondering if Against the Grain did the casting, at least if it were an opera. This is not really a review, other than to say “see Spies you’ll love it”.

And did I mention that Melissa McCarthy is wonderful?

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