Kate McKinnon steals the show in this fun send-up of the spy genre couched within a peppy comedy about the things we do for our friends.
Back in June, the cast of Ocean’s 8 discussed how the overabundance of male critics caused their film to be judged unfairly. This isn’t a new statement. For female critics, it’s easy to spot a movie our male colleagues just won’t “get” and the latest to receive that moniker is The Spy Who Dumped Me.
The R-rated spy comedy has an uphill battle already, with a director and script written by a woman, and the home studio refusing to do press screenings nationwide, content to rely on word-of-mouth sneak previews. Were they hiding a big steaming pile of mediocrity? Nope, just a movie that champions female friendships while telling a fun (and different) take on the spy genre. The Spy Who Dumped Me isn’t a comedic masterpiece, but it’s a pure summer popcorn flick you won’t want to dump at the box office.
Audrey (Mila Kunis) is a cashier at Trader Joe’s whose life is stuck in a rut. Her boyfriend, Drew (Justin Theroux) has recently dumped her via text, and celebrating her birthday with her best friend, Morgan (Kate McKinnon) isn’t working out. But life crashes into her when Audrey discovers Drew is an international spy. Forced to go to Vienna to make an exchange, Audrey and Morgan get mixed up in a series of spy vs. spy hijinks they never anticipated.
The Spy Who Dumped Me borrows from Paul Feig’s comedy, Spy, while not being a direct imitation. In this case, it is Audrey’s boyfriend who gets her involved in spy work, forcing the woman to think on her feet and get out of her comfort zone. Audrey is the kind of slacker most people will identify with. She’s not a loser, by any means, but is mired in her own way of life. If anything, her desire to take a chance on men is what gets her in trouble, or thrown into the back of someone’s sketchy van.
The script understands the safety that comes with familiarity, whether it’s being in your hometown or being upset over losing a boyfriend. Even once Audrey discovers information about Drew that she’s not okay with, there’s a feeling of “Is he still worth being with?”
Once Audrey and Morgan travel to Vienna to take Drew’s McGuffin to an exchange, the movie’s true intentions come out. Fogel and co-screenwriter David Iserson aren’t telling a story about a woman trying to do right by her boyfriend. The movie is really about two women working together to achieve a common goal out of love for each other. McKinnon’s Morgan is described as “a little much,” but her ebullient personality showcases a comedienne whose talent is perfectly blended with her feminism. She reiterates throughout the movie that women can do what they want, whether that be terrorists or the head of MI-6 (played with cold humor by Gillian Anderson). At key points, Morgan reminds Audrey of her love for her and the pride she takes in their friendship, something new considering how sexist the spy genre has been.
Understanding how the spy feature works, The Spy Who Dumped Me layers on several weird plot contrivances that, in the arms of James Bond, would be seen as endearing. The villains aren’t just associated with international crime; they were once former trainers of gymnasts, whose protege, Nadedja (Ivanna Sakhno) they’ve seemingly driven to madness. The action scenes are expertly filmed, particularly a high-flying Cirque de Soleil act that’s intense as it is utterly crazy.
This is McKinnon’s show, which explains why we know far more about Morgan than Audrey. Morgan is kooky and positive, attracts the wrong kinds of men, and has a close relationship with her parents (hilariously played by Paul Reiser and Jane Curtain) that borders on the weird. But Morgan is the best friend we wish we had. When she and Audrey are being tortured Nadedja, Morgan is willing to take the pain for her friend.
This isn’t to say Kunis doesn’t get anything to do, but she’s the straight woman, the catalyst by which the plot moves. Kunis gives a dependable performance, but it’s in a vein similar to her work in Bad Moms. The majority of her scenes see her paired up with the dashing Sam Heughan, of Outlander fame. Heughan is perfectly suited for a role that you could see Henry Cavill turning down. He’s the eye candy; the “real” spy who is a bit of a letdown when times are tough. He’s a perfect foil to Theroux’s Drew, both being presented as love interests for Audrey but being incredibly flawed.
The Spy Who Dumped Me is just as imperfect as its characters. The film has a good 20 minutes of forced jokes that attempt to introduce our characters while showing us how funny they are. Thankfully, once Audrey and Morgan arrive in Vienna, things start to zing — mainly because they have a specific set of goals. But, really, this is a popcorn feature that requires audiences turn off their brain and be enchanted with a story of two best friends on the run.
The Spy Who Dumped Me is entertaining for what it is. The action scenes are fantastic and both McKinnon and Kunis have some sparkling chemistry. This is another feature that showcases Kate McKinnon as the Lucille Ball of our generation.