Dear Mr. Feig:
I feel like I should just call you “Paul”, because I’m pretty sure that at some point you must have friended me on Facebook under an assumed name, become deeply enchanted by my brain and sparkling wit, and decided as a result to start making movies that fulfill every wish I ever expressed in my frequent loud complaints about mainstream Hollywood. (If that’s not the case, I hope you won’t mind if I keep pretending that it is.)
And I’m gonna tell you right now: If all you did for the rest of your career was make over-the-top comedies where Melissa McCarthy is awesome and says “fuck” a lot, you would have me as a diehard fan from now until the end of time. Screw the haters. If boys can watch seven rehashings of The Fast and the Furious and their dads and grandfathers could watch James Bond or John-Wayne-with-a-different-hat over and over again, then no one gets to give me crap for wanting to see countless incarnations of my girl Melissa ranting, muttering, and manically crashing into everything. I’m planning to see your woman-powered Ghostbusters about 13 times in the theater so that each time I can mail my ticket stub to a prominent MRA dingleberry with “FUCK YOU HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA” written on the back in menstrual blood in the hopes that my magical vagina witchcraft powers will make them all spontaneously combust and melt like that dude in Raiders and then we can all join hands and live happily on the internet together in peace and laughing baby videos.
Anyway– so I saw Spy this weekend and I have to tell you, sir, that choirs of angels are still singing wherever I go. It made me so happy that I felt compelled to write you this mash note in this very public forum. I want to offer you some well-deserved praise, but it is also my hope that other Hollywood power brokers will read this and find it helpful in making movies that are not misogynistic puddles of shit. Perhaps they will ask you, Mr. Feig, why they should tax their poor coke-and-syphilis-addled brains to make the effort, and if they do, I hope you will look up at them from your languorous pose artfully draped in your three-week $78M domestic gross like you were Bette Fucking Midler at a Leibovitz shoot and blow a smoke ring from your gold-plated cigar. “Gentlemen,” I hope you will say, “while you were busy fighting over the McWages of underemployed millennial testosterone rockets, I have smartly ventured off into a land of untapped riches, a veritable El Dorado that I have named ‘Grown-Ass Ladies With Real Jobs, Disposable Income, and the Willingness to Dispose Said Income Upon Lady-Powered Movies That Aren’t Two-Hour Summer’s Eve Commercials’.”
This is why, although I could– and would happily– sit here all day typing out a lengthy list of the many things I loved about Spy, I am instead going to focus on what I feel are the most important takeaways. You seem like you might be something of a prodigy in this area of “movies that don’t make me want to throw things at the screen”, so I want to make sure that if I have to accept baby steps from other producer-writer-directors, they are taking the ones that will make the most difference to the movie-going experience of independent job-having ladies like myself.
THINGS THAT YOU, PAUL FEIG, AND YOUR PRODUCTION TEAM DID THE MOST RIGHT WITH SPY:
1) It stars a 44-year-old woman of size playing an unmarried character, and the movie is not about her eating her feelings about any of those things, trying to get her groove back by getting sexed by a manic pixie dream boy, murdering her lover’s bunny, or in any way being concerned about being a wife and/or mother. And despite a pretty believable unrequited crush (that even she clearly knows is just bad for her psyche), she is portrayed as somehow managing to successfully engage with life without obsessing about how a man or motherhood fits into it. Instead, she…goes about the business of the plot much like any male hero of any other movie would do. You beautiful anarchist, you.
2) Spy is not a “girl movie” like those that water down their genre to try to make some mushy pink-hued girl version of a boy thing. Much like The Heat, which was also a movie so glorious that I wept tears with the power to heal the sick and wounded, it’s a very funny spoof on the ultra-glam spy movie that also simply puts women into roles that are usually passed out to men by default. Which means that pretty much anyone who isn’t a chick-hating doucheface can just enjoy the movie without feeling either like “it’s a girl thing, you wouldn’t understand” or like they’re watching an Important Statement on Gender Politics, which is really not what you want when you’re blowing off steam at a comedy on a Friday night.
3) Speaking of those women in major roles, you had ALLISON GODDAMN JANNEY who is pretty much the walking embodiment of Like A Boss and should be in everything, and Miranda Hart who needs to be in a lot more things, and they were allowed to just play entertaining characters that look like people who might reasonably be in their respective jobs in real life. Like, without having to do a bikini pillow-fight scene just to make sure they don’t get uppity. Of course, we’ve already discussed the infinite wisdom of putting La McCarthy in the lead. And then you put in the very funny Rose Byrne opposite her as the main villain and foil who’s vain, arrogant, and over-the-top, yet clearly in firm command of her personal empire. She’s even surrounded by an entourage of sharply-dressed henchmen who hop to her commands and don’t say a word. WHAT. A woman in a movie has authority and gets to talk while men stay silent in the background? I kept looking around for Ricardo Montalban every time her jet landed.
4) I don’t know how you pull this off, but somehow, somehow, you manage to master the delicate tightrope act that is the romantic sub-plot which, when it comes to a movie about a female protagonist, is a feat of derring-do that has no net. When it’s a movie about a female protagonist of a certain age and of size, the tightrope is also on fire. I mean, it’s practically unwinnable. Either no romance plays into the plot whatsoever and the heroine is just one of the guys, which fails because it reinforces the idea that women outside the Hollywood beauty ideal are sexually and romantically invisible; or the b-story romance threatens to become the a-story which fails because it suggests that women’s first concern is being seen as attractive to Mr. Right, and that his gaze validates her worth; OR she’s having a ton of sex with a lot of dudes, which fails because it invariably condemns her as desperate, slutty, pathetic, insert-your-sex-shaming-adjective-of-choice. Yet somehow, both in this movie and in The Heat, you manage this graceful ballet of giving Melissa McCarthy both male admirers and the confidence not to define herself by them. It’s treated as so normal and matter-of-fact that she has a sex drive, that men find her attractive, that she has agency to choose, that sometimes she’s got other shit to do, that it plays out as unintrusively as it would for Bruce Willis or Kurt Russell. You know, like she’s first and foremost a *person*. What crazy moon language sorcery is this??
5) McCarthy’s character is quickly established and shown as– stay with me here– competent. I know that’s going to sound really confusing to everyone who’s used to having your movies tell you repeatedly that Natalie Portman is one of the world’s foremost physicists since you never see her do anything that would convey it without exposition, or having your female characters either bumble around helplessly until a man ties their shoes for them or alternately be hyperpowered because magic or radiation or something else outside of “hard work” or “experience” or “anything that originates from her as a person”. But it’s true. And it’s beautiful in its simplicity. Paul Feig, your script tells us that Susan Cooper went to, y’know, the CIA academy and excelled at the training she got, without even being shot up with experimental serums or anything. You show her working in situations where she has to think and make judgments quickly. You show her being creative and resourceful. And THEN you show her female colleagues also being smart and competent and them all working together instead of catfighting and I MIGHT have been asked by the usher to sit down and stop booty-scooting while singing “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves” at the top of my lungs. Like…she wasn’t even sent out because of a mistaken identity, or as a joke, but because she’s good at what she does. I feel like you might be saying that women are able to do stuff and be smart, but that seems like such a weird thing to see in a movie that I’m still wondering if I just didn’t get the joke about how dumb and clumsy and helpless she is. These things are so hard for girl brains!
Side note? I know that HuffPo gave you some crap about too many fat jokes in Spy, but I’m not sure what movie they watched. I was pretty grateful for the LACK of fat jokes, to be honest and completely serious for a moment here. That Susan Cooper was sometimes kind of a sad-sack, in this case, struck me less as a way to undercut her and more as an unspoken but pointed reminder to the audience that this country, this culture, treats the Susan Coopers of the world like shit and assumes that any woman who’s older, fatter, unmarried must also be pathetic or incompetent or irrelevant because of how she looks. It’s important to have the Rebel-Wilson-in-Pitch-Perfect movies where fat women model some glorious Fuck You-itude and exude confidence, yes. But it also matters that we get the movies where we as the audience get a glimpse of what assholes we collectively are to fat women, how ugly we look doing it, and that in reality, that shit does land hard sometimes and hurts another human being, one we are supposed to humanize and like and identify with. Thanks for that.
Your fan for life (or until you make Bridesmaids II, which, please, just don’t because I can’t take another “girls are inherently awful to each other”/shitting in the sink movie),
P.S. (I just wanted to throw out there, if you ever need someone to play Melissa McCarthy’s bleach-blonde glitter-encrusted potty-mouthed sister or partner in crime or weird neighbor or something, I am super funny and I am sure I could clear my schedule for you. Just sayin’. Wouldn’t be an inconvenience at all.)