“I don’t get it at all,” says Paul Feig, about Hollywood’s dearth of female-centric movies. His comedy “Spy,” starring Melissa McCarthy and Allison Janney, opens the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) tonight.

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Writer/director Paul Feig, who’ll be on the SIFF red carpet tonight with his new comedy “Spy,” has always wanted to direct a big spy movie. “But nobody was going to hire me to do that,” he said on the phone, earlier this month. “I’m a comedy director — you’re not going to hire me for James Bond. But I thought, why not develop this movie for all the funny women I know?”

Feig wrote the lead role for Melissa McCarthy, whom he’s directed twice previously in “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat.” In “Spy,” she plays Susan Cooper, a veteran CIA agent who must leave her desk job to unexpectedly go undercover in pursuit of a particularly slippery villain (played by Rose Byrne, of “Bridesmaids”). Susan’s nervous but thrilled to be sent out on a mission — until she sees the cat-lady disguise provided for her.

It’s rare to see a female-focused spy movie — comedy or not — which perplexes Feig. While doing research for the film, he learned that “the government says that women make better spies. It’s not about brawn and beating guys up, it’s about getting in with people and pulling them into your trust, and being able to read people. So I thought, boy, we’re overdue for a women’s spy movie.”

Seattle International Film Festival opening night


★★★  This fish-out-of-water espionage comedy, starring Melissa McCarthy as a CIA agent on her first field assignment, is an odd choice for a SIFF opener: It’s a big, slick studio movie that’ll be playing at every multiplex in town in just a couple of weeks. But it’s a vast improvement over McCarthy’s cringe-worthy previous solo star vehicles (“Tammy,” “Identity Thief”): the laughs are plentiful, and the supporting cast (which includes Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Bobby Cannavale, Jason Statham and Allison Janney) is a treat. “Spy” is a bit overlong, and as with every McCarthy movie it could do with a little less yelling, but SIFF gala-goers should emerge happy. 7 p.m. at McCaw Hall; tickets begin at $50 and include a post-screening party.

SIFF continues, at various locations, through June 7 (siff.net or 206-324-9996). Find capsule reviews every Friday in the MovieTimes section and at seattletimes.com/movies. For festival-going tips, go to seattletimes.com and search How to Navigate SIFF.

A former actor and stand-up comedian, Feig’s first big break came with the TV series “Freaks and Geeks,” which he created in 1999 with Judd Apatow. “Bridesmaids,” in 2011, cemented his status as a comedy director with a rare niche: women’s stories. But he, who describes himself as a “feminized guy” (“Most of my friends are women; it’s just where my brain gravitates”), wonders why he’s so unusual.

“It’s a mystery to me; I don’t get it at all,” Feig says, as to why so few big-studio films have women at their center. “Even now, when you make a movie with women, it’s still a big test. They’re half the population of the world! Why are we even having this conversation?”

Feig’s comments come at a time when Hollywood’s well-documented exclusion of women is coming under increasing scrutiny. This past week, the ACLU called for an investigation into the film industry’s “systemic failure” to hire female directors.

The conversation will likely continue with Feig’s next film: an all-female reboot of “Ghostbusters,” starring McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon. He begins shooting next month, for a release next summer, and is cheerfully trying to avoid the Internet din.

“It’s nice that things mean so much to people,” he says, of fans of the original “Ghostbusters” who have loudly protested the idea of the new film. “I’m very sympathetic, but sometimes it gets tiresome.” Instead of prejudging, he says, “you need to watch the movie first.”