The Spy Who Dumped Me
"The clear lack of interest in non-white perspectives makes The Spy Who Dumped Me a little hard to root for."
Title: The Spy Who Dumped Me
Director: Susanna Fogel 👩🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Susanna Fogel 👩🏼🇺🇸 and David Iserson 👨🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Susanna Fogel’s second feature film, The Spy Who Dumped Me, delivers exactly what you’d expect: Kate McKinnon, as Morgan, drives the momentum of this buddy comedy and pulls Mila Kunis with her by the hand as the two leads in this buddy comedy stumble over the finish line. Kunis, who plays the lead character Audrey, centers the film in a predictable manner as the straight woman to McKinnon’s antics. I had been hoping to see an extra spark from her that other “straight actors” have spoiled me for; Michelle Williams in I Feel Pretty or Anne Hathaway in Ocean’s 8 both exceeded their respective challenges to deliver hidden comedic depths, and I was secretly hoping for the same from Kunis.
Regardless, the movie is solid, if a bit meandering. It’s especially worth your time, however, if you want to support female directors.
The Spy Who Dumped Me earns its feminist stripes largely through behind-the-camera talent. According to GradeMyMovie.com, fully 56% of key cast and crew are women, standing out as one of the (sadly) few feature films that meet gender parity.
Onscreen, however, the feminism lags. While Kunis and McKinnon are true leads, the story frustratingly orbits the titular “spy who dumped Audrey” like a child reaching for its security blanket. Said spy, Drew (Justin Theroux), provides the impetus for Audrey and Morgan’s adventure and then stays stuck in the film like a thorn in one’s side, interjected through momentum-halting flashbacks. By the end, I simply found his presence tiresome, much preferring the energy and chemistry of the two leads over a manufactured romantic conflict.
A second love interest for Audrey takes up the remainder of her character development. Sebastian, played by Scottish actor Sam Heughan of Outlander fame, belongs on the cover of any bodice-ripper and certainly provides some eye candy for the straight female gaze. But narratively, he reinforces the sense that The Spy Who Dumped Me fixates on men and never embraces its true strength, the relationship between Audrey and Morgan.
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 0% of key cast and crew members were POC (!!!)
All the creative decision-makers of The Spy Who Dumped Me are white, and it shows. While the movie recognizes its position, crafting some great punchlines from a well of “American white girl” jokes, this progressiveness never actually extends to including non-white perspectives.
Instead, comedian Hasan Minaj (of Indian descent) as Agent Duffer carries the burden as the sole character of color. The writing for him is “color-blind,” the script never mentioning race. This can be either good or bad, but when applied to a sole person within all-white scenes, the effect of any meaningful diversity is deeply muted. Moreover, his story arc leads his to being the “butt of the joke.” It’s nothing near as bad as the overt racism of Long Duk Dong of days of yore, but still serves the same function as the Asian American punching bag. To be fair, Duffer's running joke about Harvard is hilarious and on point. But it doesn’t really step away from stereotype, does it?
Finally, the film also uses the weirdly prevalent schtick of writing women of color as Mean Girls. This happens memorably in I Feel Pretty, when a black spin class instructor looks down on Amy Schumer for being “fat”. In another instance, Reese Witherspoon in Home Again is talked down to by an interior decorator who looks part-Asian. in The Spy Who Dumped Me, a black frenemy, Tess (played by comedian Lolly Adefope), exists solely to heckle Audrey.
The common thread seems to be a misunderstood attempt to put women of color in positions of power, which should theoretically be a good thing. But by isolating these women and dropping them into ultra-white worlds, they simply look like the bad guys. Worse yet, they feed into the false narrative that belonging to an ethnic minority makes you “cooler.” (See: white writers using ethnic-sounding names for cultural currency, something that Jordan Peele excoriates perfectly in Get Out.) That somehow, white women are the victim. It’s super annoying to see, especially as this trend keeps repeating itself in films like the aforementioned, or Rough Night, Big Little Lies, and undoubtedly more.
Bonus for LGBTQ: +0.00
Props for casting McKinnon in a major role, who is openly gay and currently in a relationship with a woman. Moreover, Fogel has a positive track record for writing queer characters; her feature film debut, Life Partners, centers another female friendship where one woman is gay and the other is straight.
That said, we don't see any of this come through in The Spy Who Dumped Me. While Fogel tells The Advocate that "it’s sort of obvious to most people that [Morgan] is not straight-identifying," I didn't see it. This squint-and-pretend level of representation comes across more in Ocean's 8, as Cate Blanchett flirts outrageously with Sandra Bullock. But in Fogel's spy comedy, the heavy emphasis on Audrey's romances with men leaves no wiggle room to speculate about Morgan's sexuality.
Mediaversity Grade: C- 2.75/5
The Spy Who Dumped Me is white feminism incarnate. Don’t get me wrong—I’d rather take flawed feminism than none at all, but the clear lack of interest in non-white perspectives makes this movie a little hard to root for.
Above all, I want to see McKinnon get the chance to transform from the kooky sidekick into a role deserving of her talent. We see hints of her emotional depth in The Spy Who Dumped Me, but Fogel backs away from her potential instead of leaning in.