Tag Archives: Bridesmaids

2017 in Review – June

“Guys, It’s okay. He just wanted his machete back!”

Six months ago, Brooker challenged himself to watch 365 films in 2017. At a rate of one-a-day, it seemed like a challenge that should be do-able but almost certainly would hit a hiccup or two along the way. At the half way point of the year, he’s well on his way to completing a challenge… With a couple of months in hand, too.

Continue reading 2017 in Review – June

Spy

Spy is the best comedy I have seen since 22 Jump Street.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

spy 1I assume that you have all seen the trailers, posters and such for Spy by this point and have this movie figured out.  There will be a lot of swearwords, because swearwords are funny, Melissa McCarthy is fat and not twenty-something so therefore will fall over a lot and be the butt of ten-hundred jokes about how undesirable she therefore is, it’s two hours long and as such will be padded to hell and back, and it’s an action-comedy so the action will be cheap-looking, flatly directed and mostly just an afterthought to endless pointless sequences of characters riffing on one gag until it’s long-past being entertaining.

Well, you’re wrong.  You’re dead wrong, primarily because you’ve been sold the wrong film.  Writer-director Paul Feig, and his immensely talented mostly female cast, has actually crafted a brilliant, subversive, and hilarious movie that wastes not a second of its two hour runtime, is really intelligent in its silly comedy, and, thanks to its self-belief message and a whole bunch of conscious and unconscious design choices, is quietly feminist.  What appears to be cheap and mean-spirited out of context builds up to make a heartfelt point in context, and what sounds sophomoric and juvenile out of context ends up quietly clever and character-driven in context.

To wit: Spy follows the exploits of Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy), a lowly analyst at the CIA who, despite making an incredibly effective team with ace field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) whom she has an unreciprocated crush on, is treated like complete garbage by almost everyone at the Agency, either willingly – in the form of loose cannon field agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) – or unwittingly – by Fine himself, mostly.  When it turns out that Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), the daughter of a recently-deceased terrorist who has come into possession of a nuclear bomb, knows the identities of every single one of the CIA’s field agents, Susan steps up and volunteers to be sent into the field, aided back at the Agency by her only real friend, the anxious and slightly bumbling Nancy (Miranda Hart).

Again, this is probably the point where you’re expecting Susan to klutz her way through the operation, discovering leads by mistake, and generally proving Rick Ford right when he keeps insisting that “you’re gonna f*ck this up” to her face.  In a lesser movie, this would be the case for all of Spy’s two hours.  Here, though, that does not happen.  Susan is an immensely capable field agent, as the film bold-facedly demonstrates before she’s even sent out when the CIA’s head (Allison Janney, who is exactly as brilliant at being alternately inspiringly nice and hilariously cruel as you’re thinking she’ll be) brings up footage from her training days.  Susan is an excellent field agent, all of the skills are right there… she just doesn’t believe in herself because everyone, quite literally everyone, has told her that all she can be is a bumbling fat middle-aged woman.

Those demeaning cover identities?  Provided to her by an agency that only sees her as an ugly middle-aged woman.  Her directive to follow the targets and never directly engage?  The agency refusing to believe that she is capable of taking the lead.  Fine is a guy who can butter her up one minute by thanking her for her invaluable help and then, the next minute, treat her like a secretary and order her to fire his gardener for him; equal parts oblivious to his demeaning treatment of her, out of some misplaced fear as to what might happen to her, and perfectly aware, as he uses these stealth snipes to ensure that she can’t steal his glory by doing his job.  And Rick… well, Rick is just Fine without the veneer of obliviousness, a walking pompous macho-man who brags excessively about his undoubtedly made-up accomplishments but in practice can barely make a dramatic entrance without falling on his arse.

So when the film does provide a fat joke, and I counted maybe three in the entire movie, or dresses Susan up in hideous clothes and has lecherous men ignore her totally, Susan is not the target of the jokes.  The joke is instead on everybody else for being so unrepentantly awful towards her and the laugh coming from just how terrible they are.  Susan herself is always treated with respect and always shown to be legitimately capable, with her early-film klutzes coming from nerves more than anything else.

Compare this with a Kevin James movie.  In those, the target of the joke is nearly always Kevin James.  There is no subversive intent to Paul Blart fat jokes.  Paul is fat, he is doing things that he is supposedly not physically in shape for, and the punchline is always “fat man fall down go boom”, which is why the moments where he does display competence don’t resonate, because the film never asks you to take him seriously because he is always the target of the gag.  In Spy, though, Susan is not the target of the joke, everyone else is, and her competency is just a fact of her character.  And once she understands that she is, in fact, damn good at what she does, there’s basically no stopping her.  She’s even better than her male counterparts who are either utterly useless, lecherous, or heavily reliant on her support.

Relatedly, then: the swearing.  Believe it or not, there is actually a point to it, which may surprise you since that first Red Band trailer relied a lot on the idea that swearwords are inherently funny.  As you might have gathered, the spy world is considered a man’s game so, in Spy, the men are obsessively masculine caricatures who fill most sentences with a vocabulary akin to that of a drunk pirate who’s just stubbed his toe.  Susan and Rayna, though, are women in a man’s world, women constantly underestimated and not taken seriously by their male counterparts, so one of the ways in which they try fitting in is to awkwardly launch into sweary tirades over everything – Rayna taking to it better than Susan since she’s basically a spoilt child resentful of the fact that her father clearly wanted a son instead of her.  It’s swearing with a point instead of swearing for swearing’s sake.

And yet these gender politics and messages don’t overtake the film.  Susan’s tale of self-confidence is the primary arc and underpinning, but everything else is subtext that one doesn’t have to get to enjoy the film.  After all, Spy is more than very enjoyable on its surface terms.  It’s funny, for one.  Incredibly funny.  Paul Feig’s other similarly brilliant female-driven comedies, Bridesmaids and The Heat, were very funny but also seemed to creak under the weight of their 2 hour runtimes, unable to keep up the pace for their entirety.  Spy is somehow able to remain consistently funny throughout, as Feig’s propensity for running gags and well-defined and established characters pays off a relatively slow beginning by mining endless material from the world and characters that he’s created instead of endless non-sequiturs and improv.

He’s even able to sustain the comedy in the film’s final third, the point where the plot should take over and the jokes normally vacate the premises.  But because the script is so tight, and he does such a good job at building up the film’s various running gags and character quirks, the jokes work themselves seamlessly into the finale, as they do most other action scenes.  Yes, this is an action-comedy in the truest sense of the word, where the action sequences are equal parts funny and thrilling.  A pre-title prologue with Fine out on assignment is shot just like the action and staging in a spy thriller then contrasts that by cutting back to the mundanity of the CIA and their constant infestations, a chase to capture some would-be assassins is genuinely exciting but also knows just how much to undercut its seriousness with a joke without completely robbing the scene of tension.  But the standout is undoubtedly a one-on-one fight in a kitchen that utilises excellent fight choreography and clear camerawork to create a fight that works brilliantly and equally on both the comedy and action levels.

Then powering the film is the exceptional cast.  Jason Statham is going to get most of the attention, since he is going so against type by playing his excessive machismo for ridiculous comedy, and he does deserve that praise because he is phenomenal here, but that’s doing a disservice to the rest of the cast who are just as good and in some cases even better.  Miranda Hart is delightfully charming as Nancy, managing to infuse a genuine warmth and personality into a role that could have just been stereotypical, while Peter Serafinowicz goes the complete opposite as the sex-crazed Italian agent Aldo, playing up the character’s deranged sexual deviancy to such extremes that he manages to cross from being offensive to just plain hilarious.  Rose Byrne, meanwhile, is clearly relishing the opportunity to play Rayna and commits totally to being a stuck-up petulant child, and her dynamic with Susan is pure gold.

But the true star, unsurprisingly, is Melissa McCarthy.  McCarthy is one of the comedy world’s fastest rising stars for a reason, not even Identity Thief and the underrated-but-still-mediocre Tammy could damage that, and Spy is where even her staunchest critics will have to finally give up resisting her charms.  She seems to connect with the script in a way that goes beyond just ‘getting’ the character – which, since one can also read the film as a meta-commentary on how Hollywood sees McCarthy and other women like her, makes sense – and so every facet and every change in Susan Cooper works totally.  McCarthy gets to stretch her range, going from timidly quiet and awkward to excessively boisterous and sweary to self-confident and self-accepting, and nails all of it, hopefully finally breaking out of any potential type-casting for good.

I’m five days removed from Spy as I write this, folks, and I’m still surprised that this film is this good.  I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised, Paul Feig has nearly always been at least great and the cast is so strong that it would have taken a minor miracle to turn in a mediocre or worse film, but I’m shocked that Spy is this good.  That it has had this much thought put into it, that it would still work if you stripped out the “comedy” or “action” part of the “action comedy” equation but wouldn’t work as well as it does with both, that it bothered to have legitimate emotional and thematic through-lines propping up the comedy, that it is so well-paced, that it is just so goddamn funny…

Pessimists and cynics could see this as a damning observation on the state of the American feature-length comedy today.  That wouldn’t change the fact that Spy is the real deal and the best comedy I have seen since 22 Jump Street.  Do not miss this.

Spy is due for release on June 5th.

Callum Petch has been waiting hours for this.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Tammy

TammyGenuinely sweet and often funny, Tammy’s problem lies not in its lack of big laughs, but in its title character.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

I’ll say this for Tammy, I really liked going to see a comedy whose primary humour is, for once, not derived from characters being cruel to one another or just plain grossness as the main source of comedy.  There’s nothing wrong with either of those things in concept, so long as the jokes are actually funny, it’s just nice to get some variety in comedies.  When one of the characters snaps and refers to Tammy (Melissa McCarthy) as “cheeseburger,” it’s played for drama instead of laughs.  There’s a legitimate sweetness running through the film, though it may poke fun at its character, it feels more like good-natured ribbing than mean-spiritedness and that makes a nice change of pace.  Know what’s also a nice change of pace?  Homosexuals being treated as people in 15-rated comedies instead of punchlines.  There’s a sequence where Tammy and her grandmother, Pearl, (Susan Sarandon) end up at Pearl’s cousin’s (Kathy Bates) house for a lesbian 4th of July party and at no point does the film make a joke about two straight women being at a party for lesbians (OK, it does so once, but it’s invoked by the characters themselves as a sweet way to establish how close they are).

I take time to bring those things up because they’re the best things Tammy has going for it.  Look, I know that this Summer, hell, this year in general, has had us drowning in comedies.  You’re probably learning to be tighter with your money (Guardians Of The Galaxy isn’t going to see itself three times, after all) and you need reasons beyond “that trailer made me chuckle at points” to turn up to a comedy nowadays.  After all, after a certain point, they do start blending into one another.  Well, Tammy’s selling point is that it’s a comedy with a legitimate heart and a sweet nature about it.  The trade-off for this USP is that giant laughs are practically non-existent.  Trust me, you will not leave Tammy clutching your sides from laughing too hard, cos I certainly didn’t, so if that is a pre-requisite for you going to see a comedy, you’re better off holding off for something else or seeing 22 Jump Street again.

That being said, Tammy is not bad and nor is it dull.  See, although that sweetness seems to have robbed the film of giant laughs (although I’m not willing to pin that wholly on the sweetness, seeing as I am pretty sure you can actually have it both ways), it trades that for consistency.  The sweet tone allows for a nice laidback feel where the actors and actresses can strike up a smooth, easy-going chemistry that enables things to be funny, even when they’re not so much.  If the actors are clearly enjoying themselves, and that enjoyment is believable without being smug, then it’s going to end up leaking out of the frame and reaching the audience, making them have a good time, too.  So when Tammy and Pearl end up discussing the time that Pearl had sex with an Allman brother (not Gregg, the “Brother” part of the band name) and then end up verbally jamming along to one of their songs together, I actually found myself chuckling along despite that on paper sounding just plain terrible.

And so it goes.  Scenes come and go where likeable actors and actresses like Allison Janney, Mark Duplass, Gary Cole and Sarah Baker appear on screen and interact with either McCarthy or Sarandon and a steady stream of chuckles keep appearing.  It all flows well, there’s good pacing, even if the actual plot itself is rather non-existent (although I’d argue that adds to the charm).  McCarthy and Sarandon are the primary reasons why this film ends up working as well as it does.  Their chemistry together is palpable, believable and almost capable enough to draw attention away from the script’s uncertainty as to who Tammy and Pearl actually are (more on that in a sec).  McCarthy, who co-wrote the script, seems desperate to prove that there’s more to her than you might have gathered from Bridesmaids, Identity Thief and The Heat and she’s very good here.  Although she seems as lost as the script as to who Tammy is, she plays the various different versions of her very well, resisting the urge to get boorish, excepting one sequence set to “Thrift Shop” that feels airlifted from a separate film, and nearly always managing to stay attached to the big heart that exists at the character’s centre.  It’s a good performance and a better script would make this the role to break her out of the type-casting she seems to have fallen into.

Because, yeah, the real problem with Tammy, the one that keeps me from making a proper recommendation to you to go and see it, is the fact that I have no idea who Tammy is supposed to be.  The script jumps about the place, making her sweet and awkward in one scene, and short-tempered and childish the next.  A bit pathetic and needy one minute, just plain dumb the next.  I feel like the film wants to make her realistic, a sweet person who takes bad news and setbacks poorly but just spends forever whining about it instead of actually trying to enact change and bettering herself, but it doesn’t pull it off.  Instead of a singular and multi-layered three-dimensional person, Tammy feels more like a series of rejected clones from Orphan Black.  One scene she’s awkwardly trying to flirt with Mark Duplass, the next she’s pathetically sleeping outside her own motel room because her grandmother was using it for sex, the next she’s childishly knocking over gas station stands because the cashier shouted at her.  Several of the various sides attempt to come together during the fast food robbery scene that’s been played in all the trailers and, whilst the scene is funny, it just serves to make Tammy feel more like somebody suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder than the ordinary girl the film wants us to see her as.  One can also apply this to Pearl, the grandmother, too and be justified in feeling that way, seeing as she feels like a conflict inciter more than a character.

That being said, I did enjoy Tammy a fair bit and I’d even go so far as to say I actually liked it.  Maybe it’s just the change of pace in seeing a comedy designed around being nice and sweet with nary a bad bone in its body for once (I did give a positive review to the similarly nice and sweet The Love Punch, after all), but I genuinely liked what this film was selling.  I may not have laughed with every fibre of my being at any point, but there was a constant stream of chuckles and smirks and snickers and maybe even a full on laugh at one or two points (not a giant laugh, just for clarification, there is a difference).  Everybody involved has great chemistry and is clearly enjoying themselves even if they aren’t saying anything funny (in less polite terms, there is a criminal wasting of Allison Janney and Sandra Oh going on here) and the whole experience is so kind-hearted and sweet that it severely dampens down the impact of the otherwise glaring problems of character inconsistency and general aimlessness.

If you’re wanting a comedy that operates at a different speed than the other ones drowning the cinema this Summer, Tammy may be your bag or what have you.  It’s not essential viewing or anything, and I practically guarantee that you won’t come away feeling like your world has been revolutionised, but catching it at a matinee or cheap somewhere would honestly not be a bad use of your time.  If nothing else, I’m hoping that Melissa McCarthy is willing to try coming back to these kinder types of roles in future.  A better script than the one featured here and I feel like she could seriously surprise the living hell out of people by proving that she’s got more depth as an actress than people may think.

Callum Petch can ring anybody’s bell and get what he wants.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!