Dear ‘Homophobic Aunt’ Wig,
The ‘Melissa McCarthy movie’ has almost become a sub-sub-genre in itself; Packaged as comedy but somehow more horrifying than funny. The premise of any Melissa McCarthy movie seems to be ‘How obnoxious, dirty, and pathetic can we make her look? How deeply can we degrade and humiliate her character before people stop laughing?” It has often bugged me that all we seem to get is more Tammy, when all I want is to see her play the President in a remake of Air Force One (come on, you know how hard that movie would bring it).
I’ll probably be waiting for a while for that particular wish to come true, but in the meantime I’m happy to report that Spy is a welcome step in the right direction.
The spy genre has been spoofed many times with mixed results, and I was starting to feel like it was losing steam. But McCarthy’s turn as a dowdy CIA desk jockey-turned field agent is hysterically funny. Her Susan Cooper might just be an even bigger badass than James Bond (I actually think James Bond is a lousy spy, but that’s a conversation for another day). Spy flick tropes are used as launch pads for gags that are over the top, but never overplayed (I’m looking at you, Austin Powers).There is also some heavy gender politicking at play here; Susan’s boss, her sidekick, and the villain are all women. Male characters, be they good guys or bad guys, make for excellent eye candy, but are pretty well useless beyond that.
Most of the conversation surrounding Spy will probably be about another traditionally male-oriented genre being ‘overwhelmed by estrogen’ or some such nonsense. But what appealed to me most was the Feig-McCarthy cri de coeur against the now common tropes of the Melissa McCarthy movie, the Tammys and Identity Thiefs of this world. Susan’s various cover identities created for her by the CIA - frumpy single mom, unemployed call centre associate, etc. - are variations on many of the sad, fat mess characters she has played in the past. Her frustrated reaction to the pathetic back stories and cringe-worthy disguises (like you) echoed my own feelings of being fed-up to the teeth with this shit. Rather than waiting for the excruciatingly embarrassing splatter onto rock bottom for the eventual makeover where everyone is supposed to go, “Oh, look! She’s actually like, really pretty!” Susan ditches the sadsack cover and takes it upon herself to glam up. Her rage has as much to do with other people’s bullshit perceptions of her as it does with the arms dealers and assassins she encounters, something to which many other unassuming, desk job-working women out there will relate (holla’!), but minus the arms dealer and assassin part (I’m assuming).
Spy delivers a good, swift kick to the idea that women carrying ‘traditionally male’ films have to be demeaned and (sometimes literally) dragged through mud in appliqué cat sweaters and ugly wigs, but I doubt it will have the last word on the matter. Indeed, I expect the upcoming ‘maleGhostbusters remake vs. female Ghostbusters remake’ furor to reach near-Culloden proportions.
It is my sincere hope - and don’t take this the wrong way - that you and other disguises of your kind will no longer be considered necessary in the women-can-be-‘dude-funny’-too debate that I can’t even believe is still a thing. I’m sure there’s an Adam Sandler project in production that could use you, though.