As masters of disguise, spies are the ultimate impostors, a premise which Spy, a female-driven comedy, brilliantly turns into a feminist tract. Written and directed by Paul Feig, the movie is a sophisticated, barely concealed take on impostor syndrome, a psychological phenomenon that’s been kicking around for nearly four decades.
Impostor syndrome typically affects successful individuals unable to own up to their own success. They begin to doubt their talent and expertise, leading to the belief they’re frauds. Masters at internalizing criticism, they believe deep down they’re so unqualified that they’ll be found out any minute, and likely be relegated to the basement, which is where we find Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy).
Cooper is a trained CIA field agent but, because the men in her class were more adept at parading their accomplishments, she’s been assigned the task of archetypal Mercurial communicator, working to ensure the effectiveness of her field-agent partner Bradley Fine (Jude Law).
Fine – his surname says it all – and Cooper have exchanged good-natured sexual banter since their days at the academy. Fine, however, has used his savvy to singularize himself, resulting in Susan’s essentially working on his behalf, even though they’re technically a team. Her daily grind consists in watching video feeds and literally, through her words, helping Fine, on whom she has a crush, navigate his way through the bad guys. “I could never do what I do without you in my earpiece,” he says, while telling her to pick up his laundry, advising her to get some cats as companions, and adding the demeaning, “That’s my girl.”
Fine’s comment is not entirely off the mark. Cooper sees herself as a dutiful good girl, one who’s unseen, unknown and operating in the darkness of a bunker, tasked with constantly leading Fine out of the Underworld.
Suddenly a ray of light enters.
Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), a Bulgarian terrorist’s daughter who’s using an intermediary (Bobby Cannavale) to sell a nuclear weapon, has done away with Fine and knows the facial identities of all relevant CIA field agents.
Cooper’s supervisor (Allison Janney), on reviewing videotapes of Cooper’s academy training, acknowledges her underling’s aggressive smarts in getting the job done, despite a “tame demeanor around the office.” Because Cooper is on no country’s spy radar, she gets her chance to go abroad in a solely “observe and report” assignment. Sadly, invisible Cooper now has a gig to continue to be invisible.
Of course, events transpire which catapult Cooper into the full-bodied career she believed was forever lost. In contrast with her talking into Fine’s ear and having him take the greater glory, she brilliantly wings her narratives – once she gets into her role, she spits out words like a sailor and physically transforms into a Martial action heroine – to become her own unified operative.
Cooper’s not always convinced she can carry off her mission, even though she’s a kick-ass wonder, as she’s haunted by the notion that Fine was the “real spy.” In addition to her own doubts about what she’s gotten herself into, she must also deal with Rick Ford (Jason Statham) – a CIA field agent with his own revenge-seeking agenda, who resorts to extensive name-calling and declaring her accomplishments to be beginner’s luck – and a handsy agent named Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz).
Another qualified woman – Cooper’s close friend Nancy (Miranda Hart) – takes over Cooper’s former function, suggesting the endless trail of women consigned, by habit, to a certain type of “assistant” work.
Spy is a savvy exploration of how societies underestimate women, and how women underestimate themselves.
Archetype: Spy. Go-Between. Doormat. Self-Doubter. Fast Thinker. Action Heroine. Invisibility.
Astrology Archetype: ☿ ♂ ♆ (Mercury, Mars, Neptune)