Have you ever wanted to see Money Penny finally snap and burn all of James Bond's crisp white shirts with lighter fluid on her balcony after he ghosts her for the umpteenth time? Welcome to The Spy Who Dumped Me.
Directed by Susanna Fogel, who co-wrote the script with David Iserson, the film shifts the spy story lens onto the women who have been so ill-treated by the genre: The scorned girlfriends who, given the chance, can do the job better than any man with the 00 alias.
Audrey (Mila Kunis) is a 30-year-old organic grocery store cashier living in Los Angeles. She's smart, but can't seem to figure out what she's good at. And to top it all off, her boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux) just dumped her via text message, setting off an unexpected chain of events. It turns out that Drew is not the host of a podcast on economics and jazz (big red flag), but a CIA operative. He's the Damien Chazelle of spies.
What's more, he's on the run from some bad people who want to get their hands on some information he's hidden inside his fantasy football trophy (2nd place), and that means Audrey is now a target. She, along with best friend and roommate Morgan (Kate McKinnon) must travel to Europe to deliver the trophy to the good guys. But who are the good guys here? Is Sebastian (Outlander hunk Sam Heughan), an impossibly handsome MI6 agent with a jaw that could cut you in half, really trying to help? And how about Duffer (Hasan Minhaj), the CIA Harvard alum who will drop that fact into every single conversation whether it's relevant or not?
So begins a romp that takes Audrey and Morgan from Vienna to Prague, to Paris, to Berlin (this whole movie is a great advertisement for the European train system) as they try to navigate the intricacies of espionage and dodge enemies, and allies — because who can you really trust except for your best friend?
It seems almost too obvious to state, but McKinnon is the real star here. Whether she's teaching a sleazy Ukrainian bro the basic tenets of Michelle Obama feminism after he objectifies her in a bar, constantly calling her mother (they share everything, even dick pics), or dangling from a trapeze in a death grip with a killer Russian gymnast, she is on. All the time. It's almost unfair to pair her with up with anyone. Even Kunis, who has her share of great comedic moments, can't quite keep up. Still, the two have major friend chemistry. Some of the most genuine laughs in the film come from one of them barely being able to keep it together after the other cracks a joke.
The fish out of water in the big bad spy world story has been told before — most recently in Paul Feig's Spy, starring Melissa McCarthy as an FBI analyst who gets thrust into the field. But The Spy Who Dumped Me moves that plot forward into one that celebrates not only an amateur's ability to take on superhuman tasks, but also the strength of women who are continually underestimated, by others and themselves.
One of the best casting decisions is Gillian Anderson as the head of the an international consortium of spies. She is, as Morgan shrieks upon meeting her "the Beyoncé of the government," a "real life Judi Dench," proving that women can achieve greatness in this man's world, and not just when it's accidentally thrust upon them. (The fact that Angela Bassett is currently running the CIA in Mission Impossible: Fallout in the cinema next door is just the cherry on the sundae. Can we even handle that crossover?)
I confess — the trailer for the movie made me roll my eyes. Another movie about women who don't know what they're doing? But there's power in that. And there's fun. Fogel's fingerprints are all over the many, many jokes, which land because they feel like real things women would say to each other. I surprised myself by laughing out loud more than once, at small details (Morgan's last name), and a big gag that I won't spoil, but feels like a missed opportunity for an SNL skit.
Despite the gags, the stakes feel real. Gun violence in spy films is so routine at this point that to notice it at all, something needs to pop. And it literally does in this case. The sounds of the shots are amplified, and you can hear every bullet individually as it hits the bodies that then contort in pain. This may be a comedy, but people are dying, and Fogel drives that point home.
But while the film subverts some tropes, it gives in to others. Kunis and McKinnon are both beautiful white women who could fit the Bond girl mould if they chose to. Their ability to get by relatively unnoticed hinges on the fact that they're the norm, ie. white and thin. In fact, aside from Minhaj, every single person in the film is white, which may reflect the real spy world, but feels increasingly tedious as a movie-goer.
Will The Spy Who Dumped Me change the world? It will not. But it feels like progress that not all woman-directed films feel like they have to. So, why not sit back, and enjoy a summer blockbuster with jokes about vaginas that aren't geared towards men?