Hollywood rarely succeeds in making seriously funny spoofs that aren’t too obvious or simplistic. American filmmakers seem to struggle with the self-deprecation needed to make such films. But Melissa McCarthy’s latest comedy, Spy, does exactly that.
McCarthy has always been a strong stand-up comedienne, but has sometimes struggled to translate this onto the big screen. She received an Oscar nomination for her supporting performance in the comedy, Bridesmaids, and got halfway there as in 2013’s The Heat, but in Spy, she reaches the finish line.
Writer and director Paul Feig (who also cast McCarthy in Bridesmaids and The Heat) not only playfully lampoons the spy-film genre in general – quite timeously ahead of the new Bond release later this year – but he presents each actor as a parody of themselves, which is what makes the film funny.
McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a CIA agent who is stuck in the “basement” of her office, providing backup to the Bond-esque Bradley Fine (Jude Law), who gets to go on the more ‘glamorous’ field jobs. Susan is a kind of unsophisticated, “Ugly Betty”-type, insecure about her ability to work in the field, and very much in love with the egotistical but charming Bradley. It’s difficult not to empathise with Susan when Bradley condescendingly thanks her for a job well done, by gifting her with a black jewellery box in a fancy restaurant, only for her to find it contains a plastic cupcake pendant on a black drawstring (because of course, she loves cake).
But, when Bradley is killed on assignment, Susan volunteers to go undercover, and finish Fine’s mission of stopping an arms dealer who plans to set off a bomb in New York. Standing in Susan’s way are her decidedly unglamorous, unfashionable aliases (a source of much entertainment), and her insulting, narcissistic colleague, Rick Ford (Statham), who, besides calling her “lunch lady”, constantly bungles her operations.
McCarthy fully steps into the funny woman shoes, but Statham steals the show. Who KNEW he had such a sense of humour? He brilliantly parodies his own reputation of playing same role in all films – that of the archetypal, ‘manly’, gruff, action character, who has a fixed expression on his face no matter the situation. I imagined I saw him trying to suppress a smile as he describes to Susan why he is the better operative: he’s ingested and become immune to 170 different poisons; he once re-attached his own arm which had been completely ripped off; he’s driven a car off the freeway onto a train, while he was on fire…
Once or twice the humour veers a little off course, with some unnecessary crudities like dick-pics. The film doesn’t need it – Susan’s potty-mouth rants are enough and McCarthy is more than capable of deliver the punch lines. The contrast between Susan and the tall, slim Bulgarian villain, Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), is massive, but instead of casting Susan in a bad light, it ridicules film-industry notions of beauty (Boyanov’s Pantene-ad hair becomes a delightful source of mockery).
The film is silly but fun, funny, and fearless. McCarthy is part of an emerging group of nouveau leading ladies: the ones who don’t give a shit about their weight, using foul language, or the unspoken belief of many Hollywood producers that women can’t be funny.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Director/writer: Paul Feig
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Jude Law, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne
Releases in South Africa on 05 June 2015.