I’m starting to become convinced that Melissa McCarthy needs Paul Feig as much as Paul Feig needs Melissa McCarthy. I do want to clarify that I think both of these human beings are very talented in their own right, but there’s something that clicks here when these two work together. It’s hard not to think back to last year’s Tammy — a film directed by McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone — that never knew quite what it wanted to be. It was at times sad and at times slapstick. McCarthy has so many talents, it’s hard to know how to harness them. So hard, in fact, that her own husband doesn’t know exactly what buttons to push at what time. Her other non-Feig starring roles have suffered this same fate (Identity Thief made a lot of money, but that is not a good movie) … Feig has this figured out.
Feig, for his part, has not directed a film that hasn’t included McCarthy since she stole the show in Bridesmaids — this includes his upcoming Ghostbusters film and Spy, which hits theaters this week. Now that we are three films into the Feig/McCarthy collaboration team, I made it a special point to marvel at just how well these two work together — especially opposed to what we’ve seen from McCarthy in other lesser films. It’s funny, there are beats in Spy that remind me so much of beats that were hit in Identity Thief, only in Spy, Feig knew exactly what he was doing and how to craft a scene. In Identity Thief, the end direction just seemed to be “be loud.” (I cannot emphasize enough how bad a movie Identity Thief is.)
Spy is on par with The Heat, two movies that shouldn’t be nearly as good as they are, save for the involvement of McCarthy and Feig. Both of these movies have that feeling to them that they might go off the rails at any moment, but never do. Both of these movies could have been Identity Thief. (Though, Spy has a pretty rough first act as McCarthy is relegated to sitting behind a computer screen, feeding Jude Law’s superspy, Bradley Fine, information. But, once McCarthy is allowed to be McCarthy, Spy kicks into gear.)
McCarthy is naturally talented at slapstick humor, but I don’t think that’s her biggest talent. She has a genuine warmth and empathy to her that, when combined with her slapstick, produces hilarious results. The problem is when she’s only doing slapstick, even though she’s one of the best at it, why should I care? What works in a comedy sketch doesn’t necessarily work in a full feature length film. Feig mines her personality, her talent with physical comedy is just an added bonus.
McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a CIA agent who works a desk job that mainly involves being the eyes and ears for a handsome agent named Bradley Fine (Law). Once Fine gets himself into trouble and goes missing, fearing the entire field team has been identified by its enemies, Cooper is sent into action to find out what happened to Fine.
The biggest twist here is Jason Statham’s Rick Ford. Just like McCarthy showing up out of the blue and stealing Bridesmaids (earning herself a Oscar nomination), Statham shows up and delivers a testosterone-fueled performance that is so manly that it’s hilarious (he will not earn an Oscar nomination). When Cooper is sent on the mission to find out what happened to Fine, Ford revolts, quitting the CIA in protest, going rogue in protest of Cooper’s assignment. What we find out is that Ford is an adequate at best agent and that he’s got a way too high opinion of himself, which Statham plays to great effect. If nothing else comes out of the release of Spy, I hope it’s that Statham gets to do every comedy. (There’s a scene near the end of Spy involving Statham and a lake that I laugh about anytime I think about it. I’m laughing right now!)
I feel guilty giving a whole paragraph to Jason Statham and not mentioning Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Miranda Hart, and Allison Janney– but to get into their characters gets pretty deep into the plot of a movie that is, yes, a spy movie, but is really a comedy and you probably don’t care that much about the particulars. Though, Spy further cements that Rose Byrne has already become one of the funniest actors working today, even when she’s playing what is essentially the villain in the film.
Part of me wants to see McCarthy and Feig find success without each other because that’s a tried and true sentiment for some reason (and they obviously have, but not to the levels that they do together). But then I started thinking … why? Why would they need to do movies apart? If we wind up living in a world in which every movie that Paul Feig directs from this point forward stars Melissa McCarthy, isn’t that a pretty good world to live in?
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.