Film Corner: Spy

[Content Note: Spoilers for the new film Spy. Discussion of fat hatred, violence, and sexual harassment.]

image of Melissa McCarthy looking angry in Spy

I finally saw Spy this weekend! Yayayayay! And I loved (almost all of) it.

Let me first acknowledge, with a nod to How to Be a Fan of Problematic Things, the problematic elements of Spy. There are threats of sexual violence. McCarthy's stunt double is noticeably and distractingly not her, which of course is a problem when you make no movies starring fat women: No need for fat stunt women. Although there are some actors of color in key supporting roles (50 Cent, Nargis Fakhri, and possibly Morena Baccarin and Bobby Cannavale—though I'm not entirely sure if Baccarin and Cannavale's Brazilian and Cuban heritages, respectively, are white Latin@ or non-white Latin@), the lead cast is very white. And there are scenes of sexual harassment/assault that are played for laughs (although, I'll come back to that).

Let me now explain what I loved about it.

I am 41 years old, and this was the first mainstream movie I've ever seen with a single lead (as opposed to, say, The Heat or Tammy, in which Melissa McCarthy shared the leads with Sandra Bullock and Susan Sarandon) who looks and moves like me.

I kind of can't even begin to describe what that feels like.

I laughed through the whole movie, and then afterwards I cried—absolutely overwhelmed with emotion. Melissa McCarthy is hilarious and super talented and just so fucking visible. And I don't know how the fuck Paul Feig KNOWS A FAT GIRL'S LIFE EXACTLY, but omg. I just want to give them both the biggest hugs of all the hugs (or the demonstrative grateful gesture of their choice) and thank them for this movie.

(Now here come the spoilers, so many spoilers, all the spoilers, really just a lot of spoilers! Consider yourself warned!)

A key part of the premise of the film is a fat woman's cultural invisibility becoming her biggest asset, which is so brilliant. McCarthy is Susan Cooper, a CIA agent who's never been in the field, and, when all the other agents' identities are exposed, she has to go into the field, leveraging her practical and cultural anonymity.

She's an incredible analyst, amazing at her job—which is part of why she's been sidelined. Agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law), on whom she has a colossal crush, has spent years talking her into staying "in the basement," feeding him info via an earpiece, and saving his hide over and over again. And he exploits this crush in a way that will feel heartbreakingly familiar to lots of fat girls and women (myself included): He pretends not to know that McCarthy's character emotionally lives and dies for him, while using it against her to his own advantage.

I've seen this dynamic play out countless times in the lives of some of my fat female friends: Spending enormous amounts of their time and energy on a good-looking man, who pretends that it's because they're "great friends," while giving nothing even approximating friendship in return. She gives and gives, longingly and foolishly hoping that he will eventually return her affections, and convincing herself it's partly her fault he doesn't return them, because she's never been brave enough to tell him. While he pretends he doesn't know, because to acknowledge it would mean addressing how comprehensively shitty and abusive his behavior is, and saying out loud that it's never going to happen, because his interest extends only as far as he can manipulate and use her.

It's sort of like if NiceGuy®s had no self-esteem and zero expectations and internalized all their frustrations, hating themselves instead of women.

Melissa McCarthy and Jude Law play out this toxic dynamic beautifully and terribly, including a tremendously funny and absolutely gutting scene in which Fine takes Cooper to dinner and gives her jewelry, only for Cooper to open the box and find a children's cupcake necklace. "Because," explains Fine cheerfully, "you like cake!"

Over vehement protestations from Agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham), who demeans Cooper as a "lunch lady," Cooper is sent into the field by CIA deputy director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney), who is appropriately contemptuous when she finds out Fine has been keeping Cooper in the basement with cynical and self-serving flattery. Cooper's bestie, Nancy B. Artingstall (Miranda Hart) will be in her ear, the way Cooper was always in Fine's, helping her along on her mission to locate Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), who's taken possession of a nuclear bomb.

The plot from there is a pretty standard and highly engaging spy story, with lots of humor thrown in. And, as with other McCarthy films, if you're laughing at her, because you think she won't be as physically competent as any other agent, she's definitely going to have the last laugh.

Susan Cooper is a skilled fighter, and she's got moves. (And she's also human enough to be afraid sometimes.)

Of course, I wouldn't blame anyone who learned all they know about fat bodies from Hollywood movies, since usually all fatties' bodies are capable of doing in films is consuming food, falling on our asses, and being punching bags (either literally or figuratively or both). But lots of fat bodies are strong, and fast, and tough. And it is amazing to see that thoroughly communicated in this film.

There's also plenty of searing insight about how fat women are viewed. When Cooper gets her spy kit, it's full of weapons and defense items disguised as ass wipes and fungal cream. When she gets her secret identities, they are dowdy moms and cat ladies, because the people who devise the alter egos can see nothing else when they look at her.

Tellingly (and with lots of meaning for fat women), Cooper gives herself the sexy spy makeover. And not only does she look HOT. AS. SHIT., but her confidence increases. She's so over being told by her colleagues that she's a lunch lady and seen as nothing but a frump-monster and expected to blend in by being totally invisible. She's so over being in the basement.

And she had to make that decision for herself, because no one was ever going to give it to her.

One of the things that I've seen criticized about the film is the sexual harassment and assault Cooper sustains at the hands of a fellow agent, who can't won't keep his hands off of her. And while I never like seeing that in films, it is a reality that many women face in dealing with male colleagues, and it doesn't only happen to thin women. I have a weird appreciation for seeing that part of my reality being represented in this film, too, even though I didn't enjoy it.

As always, Feig writes great friendships among women into his films, and Melissa McCarthy and Miranda Hart are great together. I was beyond happy when, in a moment when McCarthy needs saving, it is Hart who saves her, and not one of her male colleagues.

Rose Byrne is also just terrific as McCarthy's adversary. She delivers her neverending stream of insults with such panache; I could not stop laughing at her expressions. (And note how many ways Feig found for Boyanov to insult Cooper that had nothing to do with her size!) And, in the end, the two women share what are almost affectionate "fuck yous," a compliment to one another on a fight well fought. Perfect.

And, okay, I can't get through this without mentioning Jason Statham, who was so funny I couldn't even deal with him. I nearly fell off my chair when he slipped in "took up piano at an advanced age" in a list of all the hardcore shit he's done.

There were a lot of laugh-out-loud lines for me in the film, but I think my favorite was in the middle of one of Statham's brag-rants, when McCarthy shouted at him: "I can see your gun—unless you're SO EXTREME you've got a second dick on your hip!" OMG.

Throughout the film, I kept thinking, "All of his's to impress her. I KNOW IT." So I was shipping them hard by the end of the film, and, well, I'll just leave it there.


Finally: My thanks to Shaker car who recommended staying right through the entirety of the credits for that last little treasure. Thank you! Great advice.

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