I’ll trust reviews of documentaries out of South by Southwest, but not reviews of name-brand, studio-generated comedies and action films. SXSW is, I feel, too genre-friendly, a little too self-regarding (we are the chosen hipsters amassed at Ground Zero!) and far too giddy an atmosphere. Something in me says “cuidado!” when I hear that a film has gone over big in Austin. I love watching a sharp film with a knowledgable, emotionally responsive crowd, but the SXSW crowds are too loving and laugh-ready. On top of which I don’t trust Variety‘s Justin Chang when it comes to comedies. Justin is a brilliant, first-rate critic but Spy-wise (which is to say Paul Feig or Melissa McCarthy-wise) I suspect he’s a little too gentle, kindly and obliging. In this regard Hollywood Reporter critic John DeFore (here’s his review) is also on the not-sure-I-can-trust-him list.
If you want to know if a comedy is truly special and on-target you need to hear from someone with a bit of a cranky attitude. If a comedy makes somebody with a vaguely sullen personality go all goofy, then you know it’s almost certainly a standout. In this light Indiewire‘s Drew Taylor seems somewhat trustworthy, which is to say possessed of a slightly contentious mindset, which is what I understand and relate to. A “show me and then I’ll laugh” “attitude. Not “whee-hee, I want to laugh going in! Just give me a little tickle and I’ll split my sides.”
“As much fun as Spy generally is, there are also some problems that definitely hold it back,” Taylor writes. “For one, at 120 minutes, it’s sometimes feels agonizingly long. This was likely a deliberate move by Feig to give the picture the sensation of watching a real, serious spy movie, but for a comedy, it borders on exhausting, especially when so many scenes are built around a single joke, batted back and forth between actors.
“Also, for all the dynamic action sequences in the film, the rest of the movie is shot pretty flatly (by regular Wes Anderson collaborator Robert Yeoman), which is somewhat at odds with more recent spy outings, wherein someone calling in a lunch order is photographed with jittery intensity. And especially towards the third act, the movie’s narrative becomes far too convoluted, which is pretty deathly.
“One of the most impressive things Feig does in Spy is make you really care about [McCarthy’s] Susan Cooper character and root for her to succeed; when the movie becomes impenetrably (and unnecessarily) knotty, that emotional connection is nearly broken. Thankfully, though, the conviction of the actors (we didn’t even mention Bobby Cannavale as an arms dealer and Alison Janney as McCarthy’s CIA boss), Feig’s commitment to the genre, and some truly wonderful set pieces, make Spy as lovable as its main character.”