Monday, June 22, 2015

Spy: Review

Say what you want about Hollywood, it had the eventual sense to pluck Melissa McCarthy from the small screen and put her in movies, not as a best friend or comic relief, but as a lead actor. One should especially credit Paul Feig and Judd Apatow for realizing that McCarthy’s personality was too outsized and outrĂ© for TV. They cast her in Bridesmaids, where she shone as part of a very bright ensemble. Feig then directed her in The Heat, where she was the trash-talking yang to Sandra Bullock’s yin. And now comes Feig’s Spy, which confirms—if, indeed, confirmation was needed—that McCarthy is a bona-fide movie star.

When Spy is cooking, it’s terrific. And when the jokes don’t land—which is fairly often—McCarthy is there to keep us interested. This is her most satisfying role till date because she’s been allowed to expand on her roughhouse comic persona. Audiences used to the foul-mouthed characters McCarthy’s played in the past will get a kick out of Susan Cooper, the straight-laced CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) analyst wallflower who’s “in the ear” of the James Bond-like agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law). When Fine is killed on a mission to retrieve a suitcase bomb, Susan—with the sort of reverse logic that’s fuelled comedy since the days of Chaplin—is sent to complete the task because she’s the least likely person for the job.

The joke within the joke is that Susan is a terrific agent, just under-confident and cowed by the ebullience of Fine, whom she had a debilitating crush on. But once she finds herself in the field—first in Paris, then Rome, and Budapest—she starts knocking off bad guys like a diminutive Jason Bourne. There are three terrific comic foils—Susan’s fellow-analyst friend Nancy (British actor Miranda Hart), Jason Statham as an agent prone to outlandish boasts, and Rose Byrne (McCarthy’s co-star from Bridesmaids) as a supremely bored villain. But this is indisputably McCarthy’s film: it’s not only tailored to her personality, but also plays on the audience’s relationship with her (part of the pleasure of Spy is waiting for her to flip out, something which Feig cannily withholds for a long time).

Feig, who created the cult TV classic Freaks And Geeks back in 1999, has a knack for locating moments of sweetness in the midst of exceptionally crude humour. He’s also a rare Hollywood director who puts female friendships front and centre in his films. Spy is another triumph for him and McCarthy, though I have to say that nothing in the film made me laugh as hard as Statham. May their golden run extend to 2016 and the all-female Ghostbusters remake.

This review appeared in Mint.

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