dir. Paul Feig
written by: Paul Feig
starring: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Jason Statham, Alison Janney, Miranda Hart
3.5 out of 4 stars
Melissa McCarthy is a refreshing movie star. The woman can draw in a crowd. After busting out with her Emmy winning performance in Mike & Molly and owning Bridesmaids with her awkward, eclectic Megan which earned her an Oscar nomination in a very tight year, she has not slowed down. Her next few films have been mixed: The Heat provided her with an excellent counterpart in Sandra B and fantastic lines but faltered in development, and Identity Thief and Tammy I avoided, but the lowest grossing (Tammy) still raked in $84.5 million domestically. Summer 2015 brought another level of excellence, and McCarthy is not alone in deserving praise.
In Spy, Melissa plays Susan Cooper, a top notch CIA analyst who is the eyes and intel for dashing Bradley Fine (Jude Law, handsome and self-involved), an agent in the field. After losing her partner to the diabolical Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne, more on her later), Susan is sent into the field. Rayna knows all their field agents, but the unrecognizable Cooper is not on her radar. Therefore, this talented but rusty agent prepares to go on a mission through Europe to stop the sale of a nuclear bomb poised to destroy New York City.
Spy was far funnier than I could have hoped for. The stellar cast delivered the sharp script by writer-director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids). McCarthy plays Susan Cooper with balance, fire, and her brash humor that has brought the customers back time and again. She nails the insults, delivers with the physical humor, and no one yells quite like her. Perfect lines ripping apart a criminal masterminds outfit never miss. McCarthy handles the weightier material and allows her insecurities to show without losing the confidence of such an accomplished woman as Susan. To beat all expectations, McCarthy pulls off action star. She’s tough and pulls off her close shots, and she keeps it up in heels or in a cat sweatshirt.
Miranda Hart pleases as Nancy, Susan’s bff and fellow desk bound agent. Jason Statham delivers a few laughs and Bobby Cannavale does what he can with little screentime, but Rose Byrne steals the show (as she tends to do). Rocking her sexy dolphin trainer look with a high piled hairdo, Rayna is ripe for mockery, but Rose makes her a force to be reckoned with. Alison Janney played mean boss fine, ripping McCarthy with every line, but her chemistry with Melissa was delightful banter. She talks down to everyone and expects perfection to deadly results. As always, Byrne commits to her character and owns every scene in which she appears. It was hard not to root for the villain (as if I don’t usually).
Direction by Paul Feig and his accompanying script keep the humor under control, even when you’re still laughing through the next joke. As with any film with a cast of treasures set loose, improv could have lead to some of the lines, but this film was filled with so many quotable lines. More notable was the fantastic pacing of the film. Jokes in Bridesmaids, The Heat and other similar comedies could tend to run long, and the emotional ups-and-downs could wear. This film kept an action pace, diverging minimally from the heroic journey. Cooper was still made into a lovable character, and I would love a chance to see her in action again.
Finally, special appreciation is given to costume designer Christine Bieselin Clark for Byrne’s constant glamor, McCarthy’s transition from frumpy to gorgeous in black, and Statham’s undercover duds.