THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME
Director: Susanna Fogel
Starring: Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Sam Heughan, Hasan Minhaj, Ivanna Sakhno
Writer: Susanna Fogel & David Iserson
Review by: Nick Schofield
(CW: Brief descriptions of violence)
I like spy comedy movies, but let’s be honest: most haven’t aged well. I’m not sure I know anyone who can sit through Austin Powers today and not cringe at the misogyny and sexism rampant throughout. So, whenever we get a new addition to the genre that upends the tropes and attitudes of previous films, I am always on board. The Spy Who Dumped Me does just that.
Best Friends Thrown into Spyhood
The Spy Who Dumped Me follows the misadventures of best friends Audrey (Mila Kunis) and Morgan (Kate McKinnon) as they find themselves thrust into international espionage and conspiracy. Audrey, coming out of a recent breakup with her boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux), finds herself in the post-relationship doldrums until she learns he’s actually a spy.
Charged by Drew to keep a flashdrive of sensitive government information safe, Audrey and Morgan jetset to Europe and complete his mission. Along the way they run into terrorist groups, the CIA, and others intent on getting in their way. Not sure who they can trust, Audrey and Morgan rely on their friendship to survive and save the world.
When I watched this film, I was initially disappointed by the fact that the relationship between Audrey and Morgan had no real contention. I didn’t want the man/love triangle trope, but I initially thought would be interesting to see them have a particular conflict they needed to resolve. As I’ve reflected more on that now, I’m actually happy that wasn’t the case.
In The Spy Who Dumped Me, we get to see a healthy, stable friendship that not only functions but is vital to both characters. This, I think, is an important dynamic that needs to be explored more. In the film, friendships are typically portrayed in cycles of conflict and resolution, which presents us with a skewed idea of how relationships operate. No doubt, there will always be conflict between friends. This can sometimes make for a compelling movie, but there’s a greater diversity of platonic relationships available to explore.
Women Are Funny–Deal With It
There’s no doubt that Kate McKinnon carries the humor of this film–it’s in her DNA. But Mila Kunis is a strong comedic actor, and the two play into each other so well. Obviously, McKinnon invokes her on-brand ridiculousness, but Kunis slides in–sometimes subtly, sometimes in-your-face–to land the joke and score the laugh. Their comedic dynamic actually helps sell their on-screen friendship, and honestly, it just works really well.
Kunis and McKinnon have to drive the humor as well. Besides Hasan Minhaj (Duffer, a CIA operative), the rest of the cast lacks comedians or comic actors. The one exception is Justin Theroux, who’s gone back and forth (The Girl on the Train and Zoolander 2, for example) but he mostly plays this one straight. All of the comedy weight ends up falling on Kunis and McKinnon. While sometimes they miss a stop or two, they do pull the funny train into the station by the end.
Real Spy Action
Where so many spy comedies pull their punches (shoot, that pun was not intended…) is on the action. In favor of humor, many spy comedies keep the action lighthearted and fun. Very much unlike its predecessors, The Spy Who Dumped Me pulls no punches at all. There’s not one but several action sequences that have all the violence and gratuity of Bourne, Bond, or Kingsman. They’re well-choreographed, way more violent than you’d expect, and fun as hell to watch.
I’m partial to believing Fogel, and her team built this violence in on purpose. CIA agents pouring hot fondue over some poor bad guy’s head is shocking for both us and the characters. As a result, these violent action scenes are ripe for comedy. The immediate juxtaposition of the higher levels of violence against our expectations of a humorous film already gets you laughing; seeing how the characters respond takes that to a whole other level. Whether incorporating higher levels of violence into these sorts of films is appropriate or an effective comedic tool in the long-run is debatable, but in The Spy Who Dumped Me, it works.
Still Room to Grow
Some things in The Spy Who Dumped Me didn’t land, like the romance between Audrey and agent Sebastian (Sam Heughan). At the end of the film, Sebastian gets in danger, and Audrey has to navigate helping him. Their romance seems like it was included to up the stakes, but they could still be high without it. Surprisingly, people can care for each other deeply without being lovers.
Also, they incorporate the tired trope of a psychopathic killer into the film’s narrative. Ivanna Sakhno plays Nadeja, a headhunter/acrobat/model of indeterminate Eastern European or Russian origin. She’s definitely a fun character, and her sadism is another great aspect to play with comically. However, this character archetype has grown stale in recent years–for me, anyway.
These characters are always killers without cause other than to kill. Therefore, there’s not much they can add to the story other than being a threat to the main characters. We almost explore Nadeja as an actual person, but the moment stays underdeveloped. Portraying psychopaths on-screen without stripping them of their humanity for dramatic effect is possible; filmmakers just have to make an effort.
Verdict: See It! In my opinion, The Spy Who Dumped Me has a lot to offer audiences both eager to get lost in a fun movie and looking for a change in pace. It’s not a perfect movie, by any means, but it’s a hopeful first step into a new world of action-comedy. As well, it’s such an important film in the spy-comedy genre; written by, directed by, and starring women, The Spy Who Dumped Me flips the bird at its misogynistic predecessors and lets them know the new girls on the block are here to play.