Hello, everyone! Isn’t it refreshing to live in an era where I can write a title like that without internet crusaders gunning for my job in the name of political correctness? Oh wait, I forgot, that’s the alternate reality I live in when I get too tired of 2018 America. Alas, a post for another day. I’m thankful my blog is obscure enough that I can say what I want to say without worrying about losing my job. But I digress.
I saw The Spy Who Dumped Me without seeing any trailers or knowing anything about the plot besides that A) it includes a spy and B) he dumps someone. And you know what? I loved it. It was laugh-out-loud hilarious, exciting, bold, raunchy, and it featured Sam Heughan in a starring role. My darling Jamie has graduated from wearing kilts and melting viewer’s hearts with his steamy stares to…uh… wearing suits and melting viewer’s hearts with his intelligent stares. I was as surprised as anyone that he could be comedic, but Hollywood, take note! Hire this man immediately! He’s too good to waste away in Outlander!
Synopsis: Audrey feels stuck in an unfulfilling life. When her boyfriend, Drew, suddenly dumps her over text, Audrey is determined to get rid of his stuff and finally move on. When Drew shows up unnanounced at her apartment, he’s attacked by anonymous villains and shot, leaving Audrey to complete his most important mission: delivering a trophy to Vienna. With her best friend Morgan in tow, Audrey travels to Europe, where she meets Sebastian Henshaw, a dashing British spy, and is pursued by multiple villains in an attempt to steal the trophy. Sebastian claims to be on her side, but as Audrey and Morgan race to deliver the trophy to safe hands, they learn to trust no-one but each other.
My take: The Spy Who Dumped Me gets off to a rocky start. Opening in a crosscut between a bar on Audrey’s birthday and an action packed sequence with Drew, the film tries to dump a lot of character development, exposition, and comedy into a clunky scene, which only becomes clunkier because of it. The film doesn’t pick up until Drew’s death acts as a plot catalyst, but after ditching Drew (the insufferable Justin Theroux) and focusing on the dynamic between Audrey and Morgan, Spy finds its voice.
When the new Ghostbusters came out, it marketed itself on the fact that the beloved characters were FEMALE and EMPOWERED and HILARIOUS. But the script didn’t represent those claims. It was caught in the net of “male imitation,” which means that even though the characters were biologically female, the screenwriters were too obsessed with creating the masculine humor of the first film that that they didn’t let their characters act like real women. Sure, they ogled Chris Hemsworth, but the DNA of the film was almost identical to the original. The screenwriters hoped that if audiences had found male actors delivering masculine-centered jokes funny, then they would find female actresses delivering the same vein of jokes equally funny. What ended up happening was that these jokes felt inorganic, flat, and derivative, and made the characters into puppets.
Spy doesn’t have that problem. Besides completely sidestepping the suicidal “this film has WOMEN IN MALE ROLES” marketing, which always ensures hyper-criticism, Spy also distinguishes itself through its brand of comedy and its characterization. Audrey and Morgan are feminine women, but they’re not overly sexualized nor girlified to achieve that. Their comedy doesn’t sound like a male voice speaking through a woman’s mouth; it sounds like jokes a women might actually make and in some cases, might be directed more towards women than men. Most notably, Audrey and Morgan have a veritable friendship, and not the kind that writers think women have. They’re supportive of each other, know each others strengths and weaknesses, and are intensely loyal. You won’t find the duo putting each other down, calling each other “bitches” as an endearment (which is a Hollywood fantasy), or judging each other’s appearances.
What I found most radical (only in the context of uber-masculine Hollywood) was a scene between Audrey and Morgan on a train. In the scene, Morgan reveals to Audrey that her boyfriend, Drew, once called Morgan “too much.” In another film, this cutting remark might have been played for laughs, or an example of a man putting a woman in her place. After all, Morgan is a loud, performative, and somewhat intimidating woman. In Spy, however, Audrey consoles Morgan and promises her that if she had known about Drew’s remark, she never would have stayed with him. She puts her best friend over a man who puts her down and she continues this trend throughout the film. Spy movies make a habit of demeaning and belittling women, but The Spy Who Dumped Me dispenses with the outdated trope.
Apart from the refreshing dynamic between the two main characters, the film is very familiar and very silly. Henchman are murdered in grotesque ways, evil Russians abound, and the climax of the film takes place in a masquerade-carnival inside the Berlin Museum of Technology. The over-the-top spectacle is entertaining and never becomes boring, unlike some of the super-serious destruction Hollywood spews out on a monthly basis. I could criticize the film for how nonchalantly it deals with serious violence (i.e Audrey sitting on the corpse of a murdered Uber driver in order to steer his car), but why should I hold this film to a higher standard than almost any other action film? At least this film plays the violence for satire, instead of giving it a patina of anti-terrorist patriotism à la the White House Down and James Bond franchises.
Final Consensus: The Spy Who Dumped Me is not a groundbreaking action-comedy, but it’s a fun, satisfying film that delivers both good action and good comedy. The main characters are brave, hilarious, refreshing, and realistic women. They demonstrate just how easy it is to make a funny film with women (as if that was ever in doubt) and how crucial it is NOT to draw excessive attention to that fact. The Spy That Dumped Me understands that women makes fantastic comedians and fantastic spies. Hopefully, Hollywood will too.