On publishing my film review for the new Feig-McCarthy hilarious comedy, I spent the last few days thinking about the significance of weight issues in the film. This is because many critics and viewers have noted that the film marks a new development where a female lead can be active, successful and loved regardless of her weight. That you don’t have to be Angelina Jolie in lycra to be a super-spy hero. But is this really true?
McCarthy is an excellent comedian – her acting is flawless and her natural persona charismatic. But other than her outstanding acting ability, her bubbly personality and glowing facial features, one unavoidable defining feature of McCarthy is her body.
So how do you determine the line between laughing at a small plump woman face-planting into a car, and being able to celebrate the comic success of an over-sized female lead?
Because we have to remind ourselves that this is a comedy. And we do not take McCarthy seriously as a super-spy. Watching a fat woman kick ass is entertaining. Is it empowering? I’m not so sure.
It is when we take weight out of the question that it is no longer considered an issue.
So lets picture Susan Cooper as a slim, curvy twenty-something. It just doesn’t have the same impact.
Empire magazine review states ‘it finally throws out the dog-eared rulebook for movies featuring actors over sample size, which decrees that bigger people on screen should be clumsy and at least a little bit sad. Instead , Spy makes McCarthy a proper kick-ass action hero.’
But in the film no-one takes her seriously – from her cupcake necklace to when she kicks ass in the video of her training at the farm, it isn’t impressive and stylish like a Bourne film. It’s hilarious.
It IS clumsy, when she tries to follow the slim, sexy agent dodging the cars with epic failure. It IS sad when she pours over Jude Law’s character, an act cringe-worthy and embarrassing. She may not have 7 cats, but everyone still thinks she does. She’s labelled the lunch lady and looked at with disgust by the rowdy wolf whistlers.
Yes, she can kick ass but it is the surprise of a FAT woman kicking ass that is funny. So her weight is still in the question. And it is still the main focus point for laughs. More in tune with reality is Laura Bogart in her article for Salon, ‘McCarthy’s size is always implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, the brunt of the joke’.
I would love to believe that Spy recognises the equality and ability of larger women as a serious lead. And I can see that aspects of the film move towards this. But it is ultimately the same thing re-branded. A fat woman laughed at. Although now she’s laughed at because she can succeed rather than because she’s a failure.
I loved the film, but I am personally unconvinced at this claim of development in the portrayal of weight issues on screen.