(courtesy IMP Awards)
If the digital platforming age has taught us anything, besides of course the need to schedule healthy breaks between bingeing stints, it’s that any movie that has seen the light of cinematic day is fair game for platformers looking for a new property to add to their burgeoning portfolios.
Nothing is safe, and thus, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the 2005 film that stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as a suburban married couple who discover that they work for competing agencies (after which oneliner quipping murderous mayhem ensues), has now come for some serialised storytelling of its own.
Created by Donald Glover, who stars as the eponymous male member of the title, and Francesca Sloane, 2024’s riff on Mr. & Mrs. Smith takes the Noughties spin on two partners who discover some pretty startling things about each other and gives it a mumblecore, indie, emotionally aware that actually works pretty well for the most part.
Also starring Maya Erksine as Jane Smith (Glover is, naturally, John Smith; the use of glibly pedestrian names means the spies can hide in plain sight), Mr. & Mrs. Smith twists things neatly by making John and Jane not only well and truly aware that each is a spy, but working on the same jobs for an agency that may or may not have dubiously ethical approach to the work they do.
It’s not immediately clear what the agency does or who it does it for, with Jane and John, espionage and military washouts respectively for whom this is the last roll of the professional spy dice, interviewed in sterile rooms with only a computer interface for company.
The questions it asks are way beyond the usual interview questions we all know and don’t particularly love, and extend to a host of almost dating platform-like enquiries, invasively so, which makes sense when you see Jane and John arrive at a lavishly appointed brownstone in New York City where they are expected to act as a married couple whose professional cover is as software engineers.
If that sounds like a LOT to take on Day One, you would be totally right, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith does a beautiful job of showcasing how awkward it would be for two people to have to not only get used to a whole new job but to forge some sort of living arrangement as well.
Especially when that kind of undertaking requires the kind of honesty that being a spy requires they kick to the curb; how on earth does anyone square repression of self, which their new roles demand on a daily basis with the fact that to build a relationship they need to somewhat wear their hearts on their sleeves?
If it sounds challenging it is, and Glover and Erskine make it come alive in all its glorious awkwardness, their conversations tending towards stilted and reserved, with Jane far more eager to hide in the shadows than John who wants to get to know his new “wife”.
They get over this inherent verbal and emotional fumbling after one particularly confronting mission pushes them to the emotional brink, and thus, Mr. & Mrs. Smith ends up being a robustly entertaining mix of rom-com and spy action drama that melds together in a way that feels very grounded, enormously human and wholly real.
It’s the relationship between Jane and John that drives Mr. & Mrs. Smith, through its soaring highs and cratering lows, their journey as a couple made all the more challenging by the fact that they are never away from each other.
This causes all kinds of strain, especially since they are supposed to cut all ties to their former lives – Jane is happy to do this since her only family member is a dad she doesn’t much care for but John fights this, wanting to keep close ties to his mum, played by his real life mother, Beverly – and they literally have no one to turn to.
Their only point of contact are messages that come online from “Hihi” as they call their handler, who’s never seen and only exists through typed instructions, and it adds to a pressure cooker situation which builds and momentously builds until ———- SPOILER AHEAD ———- the final episode sees them going for it in much the same way as Pitt and Angelina gunned and quipped for each other in the film.
Both engagingly funny, largely courtesy of the fact that John and Jane don’t just work out their relational challenges in bed where improv-sounding conversations signal them simultaneously coming together and pulling apart as work strains take their toll, but also on the job which, let’s be honest, leads them to botching a number of jobs.
In effect, because of the nature of their new lives which completely blow to pieces any semblance of work-life balance, they are always in some form of twisted therapy, which actually happens in episode six, “Couples Therapy (Naked & Afraid)” – Sarah Paulson excels as a therapist who tries to help people whose “honesty” is riddled through with lies; watching their sessions is both amusing and stressful – with almost everyone they come in contact with triggering some form of self evaluation or discussion between them as a couple.
It’s enormously clever, and often funny how this is done, with the two often trading home truths in the midst of the most inappropriate of situations, with bickering often accompanying gunfire and brutalist violence in a way that most spies likely don’t employ.
The brilliance of this adaptation is that manages a brilliantly immersive balance between couple dynamics and a spy drama, giving us some Mission: Impossible/James Bond vibes even as it goes all light-and-dark Nora Ephron on the narrative.
Full of brilliant performances from Glover and Erskine and standout cameos from the likes of John Turturro, Parker Posey, Ron Perlman and Paul Dano as the hilariously-named “hot neighbour”, and a rivetingly honest and charmingly offbeat storyline that neatly dances between epic spy moments and intimate, happy & troubled domesticity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith is clever, witty, thoughtful, intense and beguiling full-on, and proof that it is possible to take something old and do something appealingly new and interesting and create content than is absolutely worth your valuable streaming time.