I was looking forward to Spy with the sort of trepidation that every mum must feel when their favourite daughter leaves home for the first time. Because, with two of my favourite women – Melissa McCarthy and Miranda Hart – taking lead roles, not to mention additional interest provided by my second scrummiest beefcake, Jason Statham, I had such high hopes of it I felt sure I would be disappointed.
But I wasn’t.
Quite the opposite, in fact. Because as far as I was concerned, it was one of the most positive, good-natured, funny films I have seen this past twelve months.
Good old-fashioned spy story
Forget plot. Spy is a pretty conventional tongue-in-cheek espionage movie. The baddies, led by spoilt brat Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) just happen to possess a tactical nuke that they are planning to set off at the obligatory UN conference in New York. The goodies, including cleancut Bradley Fine (Jude Law at his suavest) are somewhat hampered by the fact that Ms Boyanov has also obtained the identity of every CIA agent on the grid.
Step forward desk-analyst, Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarrthy) who volunteers to go into the field and halt her dastardly plan. Along the way she is aided and abetted by best friend Nancy Artingstall (Miranda Hart) and a host of grotesque supporting characters, including foul-mouthed Rick Ford (Jason Statham), ball-busting head of station Elaine Crocker (Allisson Janney) and lecherous Italian, Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz).
I could go on …and on…and on. Because this is a movie full of gems working on several levels simultaneously.
Yes: Spy is unashamedly bawdy, delivering a non-stop diet of hearty laughter. If graphic language offends, or women being less than reverent over an assortment of willy pics, then give this one a miss. But then you’d also miss the gloriously dysfunctional CIA ops centre where analysts attempt to get on with the business of life and death as usual while coping with an infestation of bats and mice.
You’d miss the witty one-liners, from McCarthy’s description of a would-be bodyguard as “a refugee from the Sound of Music” (just seconds before she knocks him to the ground)to Hart’s beautifully crafted “I shot a man. Somehow, that felt the right thing to do”.
…with a heart of steel
Deeper still, you’d miss some piercing insights into how men relegate women to second fiddle in espionage, as in every other walk of life. And that view of the world is turned upside down and inside out. Spy not so much passes the Bechdel test (“including scenes in which two or more women talk to each other, about something besides a man”), as whacks it on the head and right out of the stadium.
Statham may bluster and curse about how a mere woman is ruining everything: but the joke, which he will never get, is how she keeps saving HIM. Fast forward to the end (almost) and just when you expect McCarthy to jump into bed with the man of her dreams, she opts for a quiet evening in with Hart.
If there is one sadness about this film, it is that some critics will pigeonhole it in the “girly night out” category, with the result that many blokes won’t bother going to see it. Don’t! Don’t be put off, that is. This is a comedy for all and if, from time to time, the male of the species comes off second best, just laugh along.
Because after all, that’s what women have been doing to 99% of Hollywood output for the best part of a century!