I don't know about you, but normally a movie that trades heavily on jokes pegged to hemorrhoid wipes, stool softeners and anti-fungal cream doesn't prompt me to leave the theater thinking I've seen something that significantly advances the cause of women in film.
But that's precisely what happened with "Spy," the
"Spy" won't win any awards — humanitarian, academy or otherwise. But in addition to being wildly entertaining, watching the film makes one thing clear: Paul Feig is one of the most important filmmakers working in Hollywood today. With his last three movies, Feig has obliterated the wall that separated the sexes in movie comedies. First he made "Bridesmaids," a raunchy, liberating comedy about female friendship, and followed it up with
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After being told for years that he couldn't cast women in leads, Feig now exclusively does just that, taking genres and flipping them to make great, commercially successful showcases for talent like McCarthy,
"Spy," from 20th Century
"They would never let me be a spy," she laments.
Hearing those words, it's hard not to think of the recent ACLU review that found a "very disturbing and compelling picture of long-running systemic discrimination in the film and television industries."
The success of "Bridesmaids" was supposed to help change all that. The movie, written by Wiig and Annie Mumolo, grossed $288 million worldwide with more than 40% of the take coming from overseas, dismissing the notion that foreign audiences won't see female-driven movies. Before "Bridesmaids" premiered, Feig told The Times that "all my female writer friends had their projects on hold, on probation" with executives telling them they'd have to wait to see if audiences embraced the film.
They did. But it would seem that many of those projects must still be on probation. Women wrote only 11% of the top-250-grossing films in 2014, according to San Diego State University's Celluloid Ceiling Report, a drop of 2% from the late '90s. A USC study found that in 2013 and 2014, women directed just 1.9% of the top-grossing 100 films.
Feig is doing what he can to boost those totals, working with Katie Dippold on "The Heat" and the upcoming "Ghostbusters" as well as Wiig and Mumolo on "Bridesmaids." (He wrote "Spy.") But really, the most important thing he's doing with these movies is creating emotionally honest female characters who are strong, funny and driving the plot. Yes, the films are silly and profane. They also own a carefree feminism that feels organic to the storytelling. In the immortal words of the Isley Brothers, they fight the power (the song that opens "The Heat"), but their politics remain primarily focused on the democracy of comedy. If you're funny, you can be a star, regardless of gender, race or body type.
This has always been his subject of choice. Fifteen years ago, after the brief, glorious run of his coming-of-age TV series "Freaks and Geeks," Feig had his pick of movies — provided they were about young men trying to get lucky. He wasn't interested. The films he did make — "Unaccompanied Minors," "I Am David" — didn't do well at the box office, landing Feig in movie jail for several years. He returned to television, bolstering his resume and his skill set directing such shows as
The common ground in these shows: They all contained well-written roles for actresses.
"It's very much a conscious decision," Feig told The Times. "I just love working with women."