This promotional photo is stupid, but the movie is smart.

Okay, this promotional photo. It's stupid, and it's part of the problem. Movies about fat people, of which there are like three, ever, often come with imagery like this—hey everyone, look at the dopey, stuck, hated fat person! Because fat people, right? No matter that she is Melissa McCarthy, Hollywood's Resident Tolerated Fat Person. The three other people in the photo are like, "Oh god, if that fat person would get out of our photo already!"

Fortunately, the joke in this photo is entirely unlike the jokes in the film.

Spy is not a movie about a dopey, stuck, hated fat person. It's about an agile, clever, lightning-fast fat person who gets all the best jokes and outsmarts everyone in scene after scene after scene. As a former very fat person, I felt breathless watching it—because it's a perfect pop confection, but also because it's so character driven and convincing you don't even realize it's inverting over and over again all the presumptions you didn't even realize were built into every other physical depiction of action heroes.

Contrary to what a photo of Melissa McCarthy stuck in concrete with a grin on her face suggests, her character in Spy is an incredibly skilled motorcyclist. She's a national security secret weapon. She whips homicidally through a crowd of bad guys more effectively than Bond or Batman. At one point, she's dangling from a helicopter by her hand. You don't realize how starved for images like these you are until some brilliant director like Paul Feig comes along and gives them to you like it's no big thing, like these have always existed in the mainstream, like it's easy to convince big studios to do this.

Feig also gave us Bridesmaids, brilliant Bridesmaids, which capitalism filed away as Movie with All Women in It That Was Unexpectedly a Big Hit, which has enabled Feig to keep making smart, hilarious films starring Melissa McCarthy. It seemed like a mark of civilization's progress that Bridesmaids was such a hit, and Spy deserves to be just as big. (There's more of it to love. It's big boned. Now in wide release.) Bridesmaids was hilarious, but the edge of its social critique was blunt, its world more naturalistic. Spy's commentary is razor sharp, its parody laser focused on the intrinsically exclusionary nature of movie iconography, and I think that makes it the better movie. It's certainly every bit as funny. I wasn't taking good notes because I was too busy losing my mind with laughter and identification. I went with one of the most critical people I know, a person I enjoy hating things with, and I kept saying to her, "This is so good," and she kept saying, "So good."

Support The Stranger

I don't want to give anything away, because it's so good and dumb and smart and perfectly built that retelling its jokes feels like stealing a celebrity's tweets, but okay fine, here's one thing: 10 minutes into the movie, Jude Law gives McCarthy an object. The shape of the box makes it perfectly clear to the audience and to McCarthy's character what the object is, and then it is so not what any of us thought it was going to be, and by such a huge margin, that I still can't stop cracking up. Every time I think about it, I snort.

One more thing: It's not really a spoiler to disclose that the film involves spying. Because it does, McCarthy's superspy character changes identities a few times, as genre conventions dictate. This means we get to see her amazing, smarter-than-everyone-else, fat action hero, but it also sets up all these other jokes about fat-people caricatures and stereotypes within the story, embedded into the overall über-clever commentary on the invisibility of fat people's bodies in the context of a Hollywood action movie. (Also, Rose Byrne is perfect as a rose-thin, gorgeous, cold, kind-of-dumb villain. Skinny people, right?) recommended