The basic premise of Netflix’s comedy movie The Wrong Missy is a stale one. Tim (David Spade) goes on a blind date with a woman named Melissa (Lauren Lapkus), who is obviously horrible because she’s brunette and loud. Then Tim meets another Melissa (Molly Sims), who is obviously perfect for him because she’s blonde and demure. So Tim tries to invite the second woman to join him at a corporate retreat, but he accidentally texts the wrong Melissa — or Missy, as she prefers to be called. Will Tim learn to appreciate Missy, or will she totally ruin his chances at a promotion? More importantly, does The Wrong Missy have something new or special to offer?
There’s arguably a good message at the center of Tyler Spindel’s movie, as Tim comes to realize that Missy’s free-wheeling spirit may be what he needs. But it’s conveyed about as well as the message in the Farrelly brothers’ much-derided 2001 romantic comedy Shallow Hal. That movie starred Jack Black as a man hypnotized into seeing only women’s inner beauty, which means he horrifies his friends by falling in love with an overweight woman (Gwyneth Paltrow), whom he sees as willowy and thin. The ostensible moral that body shape doesn’t dictate beauty would be commendable, except Shallow Hal still makes fun of any women who aren’t conventionally beautiful, and specifically anyone perceived as fat. The Wrong Missy has a similar problem in the way it treats its female lead.
Missy is initially portrayed as a force of pure chaos, intentionally almost causing fights, carrying a machete around, and dry-humping Tim in public. As she gets to spend more time with Tim, however, a gentler side of her emerges, as a woman with a surprising number of medical qualifications and a simple desire to be loved. It’s a relief that Missy isn’t an outright antagonist keeping Tim from the woman he truly loves, but she has to behave herself and help him move up the corporate ladder before he can see her as a viable romantic prospect. Even then, Tim’s revelation is just that he shouldn’t have lied to Missy about her accidental invitation. He never owns up to how dismissively he’s treated her up to that point, doing his best to leave her behind, suggesting she strand herself on a faraway island, or even hoping she might die.
What’s frustrating is that The Wrong Missy isn’t entirely devoid of self-awareness. The script, written by Kevin Barnett and Chris Pappas, actually jokes about the possibility that Spade, 55, and Lapkus, 34, might be an unrealistic match. (Missy says on their first date that she doesn’t mind an older man, guessing Tim’s age at 61, and referring to his hair as a toupee.) But the fact that the material is outdated and that the age gap between them plays into the tedious standard of men somehow deserving younger, more conventionally attractive partners isn’t given any further interrogation.
So it’s on Lapkus’ shoulders to keep the movie going. She commits fully to Missy’s untameable energy, subjecting herself to scenes that involve Missy being flung off a cliff, vomiting after being covered in chum, and pretending to be a creature from hell by adopting a scratchy voice and putting objects over her eyes. Unfortunately, the script also calls for Missy to wake Tim by performing sexual acts on him (twice!), glossing over consent for the sake of a punchline. Lapkus is funny (her work on the podcast and TV versions of Comedy Bang! Bang! is wonderful), but the material she’s given here is grotesque.
The only consistently funny part of the movie is Nick Swardson as Nate, the company’s HR representative, who uses his position to spy on Tim’s correspondences and often reacts to them before Tim does. When Tim gets the text from Melissa saying she’s agreed to come on vacation with him, it’s Nate who screams in excitement from a few desks away.
But apart from that nod to how easy digital spying is (and a reference to Tim’s obsession with the TV show The Affair), The Wrong Missy feels more like a movie that would have come out in 2000 than one coming out in 2020. Tim’s acceptance of Missy’s wild behavior is sudden, and feels based less on Tim realizing that he’s been a jerk and more on the fact that she might be useful to him. He’s painted as the good guy for deigning to date Missy after all. While he has no real distinguishing characteristics, she’s still portrayed as a monster for being loud, outspoken, and rowdy, all characteristics that have become de rigueur for romantic leads and main characters in shows and movies like Broad City and Trainwreck. As in Shallow Hal, the central lesson of acceptance is undermined by the way the person being accepted is still an object of mockery. The problem isn’t Missy so much as everything around her.
The Wrong Missy is streaming on Netflix now.