' ' Cinema Romantico: The Spy Who Dumped Me

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Spy Who Dumped Me

Susanna Fogel’s “The Spy Who Dumped Me” begins by pogoing back and forth between secret agent Drew Thayer (Justin Theroux) going through the gritty action movie motions in Lithuania and Drew’s ex-girlfriend, Audrey (Mila Kunis), having just been dumped by Drew via text, at home in a bar forlornly celebrating her birthday and encouraged in no uncertain screwball terms by B.F.F. Morgan (Kate McKinnon) to burn all Drew’s stuff. The film is a hybrid, in other words, of action and comedy that despite its occasional tonal inconsistency is nevertheless always emotionally unified because of its two stars. If “Ocean’s 8” hung its stars out to dry, “The Spy Who Dumped Me” rightfully gives its stars center stage and crafts umpteen scenarios to let them shine as Kunis effects affable straight-woman to McKinnon’s energetic, irrepressible, one-of-a-kind insanity, epitomized in a headshot of the character that intermittently pops up on newscasts when she becomes a fugitive which looks like the cover to her ill-fated disco album. There are obvious parallels between “The Spy Who Dumped Me” and “Spy”, and the former is like if the latter had been all about Melissa McCarthy and Miranda Hart’s characters, just sans training. Uh, no training, that is, unless you count the New Jersey Circus School.

Even if Audrey and Morgan eventually wind up in the thick of so much action-adventure, the movie never plays coy with them as the CIA’s Sebastian Henshaw (Sam Heughan), who eventually metamorpheses into their foremost ally, tells Audrey straight away about Drew’s secret identity. Not long after, Drew tracks Audrey down too, explaining that his fantasy football trophy is the MacGuffin desired by the bad guys. He also tells her where to go and what to do with that trophy, in case he doesn’t make it out alive, which he doesn’t, sending Audrey and Morgan to Vienna and then points beyond in the name of they-slowly-figure-out-what.

If Audrey initially suggests going to the American intelligence higher-ups, Morgan argues against this, not least because in saving her B.F.F. she has sent a man careening through a window to his death, a funnier-than-it-sounds moment which emblemizes how Morgan throws herself into this new action hero role with headlong gusto. And if Audrey’s job as a checker at some Trader’s Joe-ish supermarket, where the standard issue Hawaiian shirt underscores the adventures not taken, this becomes her chance to finish something she starts, the narrative through-line, which comes full circle in a moment, perhaps greedily, I wished went a little further. After all, this is not a movie that hides its violent urges.

Why Morgan spends a solid part of the movie running around with a conspicuously visible blood stain across her white top, symbolizing “The Spy Who Dumped Me’s” gruesome reality, that gruesomeness working in a unique way to ground the implausibility. This is not “The Man Who Knew Too Little”, where the character moved through so much espionage mayhem with glee because he thought it was phony, but two characters encountering espionage mayhem and finding, against all odds, and despite themselves, that they relish it. Others, it turns out, do too, as our heroines catching a cab to make an escape transforms into a car chase allowing the driver who dreams of being a club dee jay to briefly become a legend to the backdrop of his own beats.

A lot of what does and does not work might well connect back to your tolerance of McKinnon. She can be a bit much, which isn’t me speaking but a character in the film. Still, her patented verbal drollness combined with heightened physicality works like gangbusters in “The Spy Who Dumped Me” as she barrels through so much chaos with uproarious grace, even if you wish her climactic trapeze tête-à-tête was worthy of her precipitating one-liner. She essentially installs herself as the movie’s heroine despite other characters’ objections, like the CIA overlord, the mononymous Wendy. She is played by Gillian Anderson with a hysterical icy incredulousness that you wish was utilized more often, not just for comedy’s sake but to truly bring home the movie’s peripheral feminism.

Anderson’s character is so great that Morgan develops a crush on her – “I have so much respect for you that it’s circled around to objectification!” – that, honestly, might be the movie’s best love story, even though it’s barely there and one-sided. Indeed, there is something a little disappointing in Fogel’s film falling back on a Heroine Loses Guy / Heroine Gets New Guy arc, one basically refuted by her friendship with Morgan anyway. Even so, if “The Spy Who Dumped Me” is best as a duo, it also occasionally takes flight as a trio, particularly in a wonderful sequence where Audrey, Morgan, and Sebastian, trying to maintain a low profile, stay in a hostel. Even if the scene can’t stop from indulging in the scatological, though it’s got a solid setup and payoff sandwiched around that joke, it intrinsically becomes this interpretation of a soul-searching sojourn across Europe, the kind undertaken by the two female backpackers Audrey and Morgan briefly, comically encounter.

When all hell breaks loose, Morgan rhetorically asks her B.F.F., “You wanna die having never been to Europe? Or do you wanna go to Europe and die, having been to Europe?” It’s a great line, maybe, possibly, the year’s best, hilariously embodying what the quick post-credit sequence brings home – a globe-trotting spy adventure across the old continent becoming a means for these two pals to find themselves.

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