Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Spy; Sookie gets her gun

I first saw Melissa McCarthy bit-playing Sookie the cheerful fat chef in The Gilmore Girls and I’ve always struggled to get my head round her new, popular, raucous personality. But the trailer for Spy looked like it couldn’t possibly fail no matter how Melissa has grown or in what direction.

And so it proved. Jude Law, getting killed? Check. Always have time on my schedule for that. Allison Janney being the only sane woman in the neighbourhood? Check again. She’s turning into the female JK Simmons these days, but we needed a female JK Simmons; in fact, the whole world needs a female JK Simmons. If only our real leaders were as matter of fact and hard to impress, we’d all be a lot better off. Melissa McCarthy tearing lumps out of people for being idiots? All right, if you insist. The Stath taking the piss out of himself? Man, why couldn’t that have been the whole movie? Rose Byrne playing the villain as the worst human being in the whole world? I could watch it all day. Melissa McCarthy might have been having fun telling Rose Byrne she dressed like a slutty dolphin trainer, but Rose Byrne’s delivery of “If you like, I can have one of my men go up to your room and burn those clothes for you.” left Melissa in the dust. Melissa was, in other words, surrounded by scene stealers in her own comedy headline movie.

It is all great fun. It would probably have been even more fun if they hadn’t been given the money for a stunts budget. The comedy was good; the action scenes were just action scenes, with the possible exception of a fight in a kitchen which had the slapstick tone that all the other action scenes really needed. They clearly thought they needed to have action scenes in a Bond spoof, but the real fun of the movie isn’t seeing a parody of something you’ve seen a million times as near-parody anyhow, it’s watching the office politics going wonderfully wrong. At the beginning of the movie, Melissa’s character is sitting in Langley, guiding Jude Law’s suave super spy through a life and death mission in Bulgaria, while all around her the office is falling apart. It climaxes with the whole room filling with bats while Melissa gamely tries to stay professional, and it’s perfect. It’s also great that they continue the vermin infestation theme for the rest of the movie. The movie works best when people are sitting around getting in trouble and bitching at each other instead of having adventures, because there’s nothing getting in the way of the jokes.

The other thing which struck me, long after the movie was over, is that for all that the villain is a woman, and the real hero is a woman, and the comedy sidekick is a woman, and the hard to please boss is a woman, this is not really a woman’s movie, even if it does pass the Bechdel test in principle [1]. It’s really a teenage nerd fantasy movie that happens to have women in the nerd roles. Melissa’s character is fat, smart, self-effacing and mocked by the alpha males even though they couldn’t get anything done without her work behind the scenes. And then she gets given a chance to be the hero and with zero preparation and training, she turns out to be just as good as they are at the macho action. Well, not as good, but equally effective. That’s not female empowerment; it’s every basement dweller and cube rat’s dream of staying just the way they are and having the whole world operate differently.

Still, it’s funny. The Stath never breaks character as an obnoxious blowhard for a second, and it’s magnificent. And Peter Serafinowicz breaks character just once as a sleazy Italian, and the timing and execution of that may be the single best thing in the movie.

[1] best single example; Rose Byrne and Melisa McCarthy, both of whom are playing named female characters, have a conversation about Rose Byrne’s mother.

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