Melissa McCarthy cements herself as a member of the comedy A-list with “Spy”

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Ever since she burst on the scene in an instantly iconic way with her Academy Award nominated supporting turn in Bridesmaids, I’ve felt that most filmmakers haven’t known how to use Melissa McCarthy properly. Some do, but the vast majority don’t, with a notable exception being none other than Paul Feig. Feig was the one to get her that Oscar nomination for Bridesmaids, as well as team her up to great effect with Sandra Bullock in The Heat. Now, he gives her a starring role perfectly suited to her in Spy, an action comedy that manages to exceed expectations all around. The impending huge success of this one will cement McCarthy as a big time member of the A-list, and rightly so. This one is going to be large, without question.

If you’re not hip to Spy, the basic premise is more or less a spoof on spy capers. McCarthy stars as Susan Cooper, a member of the CIA who’s always been behind a desk, helping make great agents like Bradley Fine (Jude Law) even better. When a crisis results in all the active agents in the field having their cover blown, Susan is actually given a chance to show what’s she got. Lo and behold, despite no one giving her a chance, she turns out to be a more than capable spy. In addition to McCarthy and Law, the cast includes Rose Byrne, Allison Janney, Jason Statham, and many more. Feig writes and directs, making this his third hit in a row behind the camera.

What works so well here is how Feig unleashes McCarthy in such a clever way. He doesn’t make just fat jokes or have her be simply a crude lout, he creates a three dimensional character that you root for and enjoy seeing come into her own. Feig always is able to pass the Bechtel Test, so seeing him create an honestly viable female secret agent is a true pleasure. Feig and McCarthy bring out the best in one another, so hopefully this is far from their last collaboration together. They’ve already got Ghostbusters brewing, so this is only the start of a fruitful partnership.

The other big positive here is how all of the supporting players get a chance to really steal scenes with character based comedy. Byrne, Janney, Law (who has the funniest moment in the entire film, at least to me), and Statham all amuse in a big way. Byrne vamps it up in a more villainous role, while Janney gets some great dry remarks to make. Law is an often hilarious 007 stand in, while Statham sends up his own image and previous characters in a way that’s pretty consistently riotous. McCarthy is the MVP here, along with Feig, but Statham really does threaten to steal the show, if you can believe that.

On Friday (well, tomorrow technically) you’ll be able to see Feig and McCarthy’s latest success story in Spy, and you should make it your business not to miss it. It’s clever, action packed, very funny, and works on multiple levels. A progressively minded action-comedy hybrid? Yeah, you don’t get those too often, so embrace them when you do. Is it the funniest movie of the year? No, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t laugh a lot, like I did. This is one of the more purely satisfying films of the first half of the year, so take that as a high compliment. When 2015 ends, it could stand as one of the five funniest movies of the calendar year. Time will tell, but for now, make certain that you see Spy…

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Be sure to check out Spy this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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