How 'Spy' Cements Rose Byrne's Status as the Underrated Queen of Comedy

by John Boone 4:35 PM PDT, June 05, 2015
Photo: 20th Century Fox

You’ll hear a lot about Melissa McCarthy’s genius in Spy (in theaters now). How she’s so smart with her comedy, especially in how willing she is to make herself look stupid for a laugh. How she’ll offer herself up as the punch line to as many jokes as you can throw at her, but in this one, she also gets to kick a little ass. All that praise is warranted.

Photo: 20th Century Fox

McCarthy carries the weight of the movie on her shoulders, and it’s definitely her best performance post-Bridesmaids. (Which may seem like a no-brainer if you only recall duds like Tammy and Identity Thief, but that’s including great turns in The Heat and This Is 40 and a stripped-down role in St. Vincent too.)

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People will also have a lot to say about Jason Statham, who twists his action hero persona into a delightfully delusional version of the same thing. Whether he would shine as bright in a comedy that doesn’t lean so hard into his macho IMDb credits is TBD, but the kid shows promise.

Photo: 20th Century Fox

There’s also Jude Law as a clueless 007, Allison Janney as the no-nonsense (when it comes to pink eye) head of the CIA, and Miranda Hart, a potentially new face who takes on the scene-stealing best friend role with giggling gusto. Which is all to say: This thing is packed with funny, funny people doing funny, funny work.

One person who flies under the radar — per usual — steals the show — also per usual: Rose Byrne. But she’s been stealing comedies for a while now without getting the proper recognition, right?

Photo: 20th Century Fox

In Spy, Byrne plays Rayna Boyanov, the daughter of a recently (*accidentally*) deceased terrorist, who happens to be the only one who knows where daddy’s nuke is hidden. Much has been made of director Paul Feigreteaming with McCarthy (this marks their third collaboration), but he also called in Byrne from Bridesmaids. After watching her here, it’s clear why.

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Photo: Getty Images

Feig can pull out of Byrne what no other director can, and Spy showcases what Byrne has to offer that no other actress does. At least not as well as she does it. In both of their movies together, Byrne crafts a villain you can’t help but love in the end -- not an easy feat when your purpose is to continuously undermine beloved actresses like McCarthy or Kristen Wiig.

For every joke that McCarthy’s Susan Cooper ends up as the butt of, Byrne is the one teeing it up with perfectly understated wickedness. She can so easily spit out lines as offensive as, after Cooper delivers a punny cheers, “What a stupid, f**king, retarded toast,” but make it...charming?

McCarthy plays both ends of her spectrum — the shy, unassuming everywomen who has good intentions if only someone will give her a chance, and the bawdy bruiser capable of shooting off a dozen profanity-laced insults before anyone else can think of one. Byrne’s performance might not arc as dramatically, but how she creates such subtle layers in Rayna, a character that in anyone else’s hands might become a caricature of a stuck-up princess, is just as impressive.

Photo: Universal Pictures

Maybe it’s because Byrne didn’t come up in the comedy scene — the first films we remembered her from were dramas like Wicker Park and 28 Weeks Later, plus her single line in Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones — that when she finally doled out NSFW double entendres in Get Him to the Greek, people had already made up their minds about her. Maybe it’s because, in addition to hilarious work in movies like Neighbors and, of course, Bridesmaids, Byrne keeps finding work in all genres, just as convincingly playing an agent in the X-Men reboots as a terrified housewife in the Insidious chapters.

Either way, can we give this funny lady the damn props she deserves?

Then again, maybe it’s because Byrne flies a little under the radar that she’s able to get cast in so many movies -- five movies in 2013, four the following year -- in which case, disregard everything we just said and just give us more Rose Byrne please.

Now, find out what classified intel ET learned going behind the scenes of Spy with Byrne, McCarthy, and more: