The Boss (2016) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for sexual content, language and brief drug use
Running Time: 99 min.
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson, Tyler Labine, Annie Mumolo, Kathy Bates, Cecily Strong, Kristen Schaal, Timothy Simons, Mary Sohn
Small role: Ben Falcone, Margo Martindale, Gayle King, Dave Bautista, T-Pain
Director: Ben Falcone
Screenplay: Ben Falcone, Steve Mallory, Melissa McCarthy
Review published April 11, 2016
Although the man is married to Melissa McCarthy (Spy, St. Vincent), and clearly knows the kind of talent he has at his disposal, Ben Falcone might be the least effective at channeling the enormous talent of his partner-in-crime into something that will appeal to an audience beyond just her hardcore fans. Perhaps it's because he's the least likely director to tell his wife, "No!", especially when McCarthy gets screenwriting and executive producing creds. In both this film and his previous film, the debut effort Tammy, the formula is to give McCarthy a 'bull' of a character, and a 'china shop' of a world for her to inhabit, and just let her cut completely loose in order for her to do her thing to score up big laughs.
While this might be funny for a spell in a skit in the improv group, the Groundlings, from which McCarthy originated the character, or even for a scene or two in someone else's comedy film, ultimately, the director has to know when to contain his star's indulgences and to give us, in the audience, a plot worth following and characters worth caring about. In The Boss, all we really get are scene after scene of alley-oops of comedy for McCarthy to try to take to the proverbial hole. Alas, what Falcone and his star fail to realize is that audiences are excited and entertained to see the occasional slam-dunk within the course of a real basketball game, watching a game in which there was nothing but slam-dunks would eventually grow tiresome, which is precisely why their films don't really work well as full-length features so much as side show attractions.
In the film, McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, an unwanted orphan who channels her despondent feelings into making something of her self as an adult, eventually emerging as a wildly successful financial tycoon (the 47th wealthiest woman in the country, according to her). She's a go-to guru spreading her secret-to-success in the form of arena-filling seminars with the sparkling spectacle of a metal concert. After she's imprisoned for a few months due to insider trading, thanks to a tip from her unscrupulous rival (and former lover) Renault (aka Ronald, played by Peter Dinklage, Pixels), Darnell finds herself back outside penniless and without many allies, relying on her former assistant, Claire (Bell, Veronica Mars), to help her get back on her feet. Soon enough, Darnell goes back to her cut-throat entrepreneurial ways when she makes a connection between Claire's yummy homemade brownies and Claire's daughter Rachel's box of cookies for a Girl Scout-like nonprofit organization, the Dandelions, which reap millions of dollars in sales worldwide. Starting her own for-profit troop known as Darnell's Darlings, her next business venture is now set, although the tactics to be top dog may not sit well with the kind-hearted people around her whose feelings she repeatedly tramples on without remorse.
One of the least effective modes of comedy in The Boss is the idea that being deliberately mean is funny. The film is full of abusive jabs the characters take at one another, both figuratively and literally, and while there are occasionally funny lines and silly slapstick moments that are stumbled into, there is a corrosive element to the mean-spiritedness of the tone of the movie that eventually weighs it down. One example of going too far comes in a scene in which a street brawl erupts between Darnell's Darlings and the the rival Dandelion troop. While the thought of a collection of sweet and innocent girl scouts becoming a street gang might be an amusing notion in an all-out absurdist farce like Airplane!, what's not funny is to actually see characters we're supposed to care about actually punch, kick, and do physical harm toward one another, especially when the adults get involved and start to punch young girls in the face as well.
I will say, the audience at my screening laughed more at the cheap physical gags involving McCarthy being flipped into the wall by an improbably spring-loaded fold-out sofa, getting paralyzed for a moment after eating fugu (aka pufferfish) at a trendy Japanese restaurant, or falling down a flight of stairs than in any of the barbed insults the characters lob at one another. While about a handful of solid chuckles may be had, and a few dozen that might elicit a smirk, there are whole segments of The Boss that aren't particularly funny, such as Claire's lovelorn office mate Mike trying mostly in vain to get a date out of the single mom. Tyler Labine (Best Man Down) plays loveable loser Mike, but he brings barely more mirth than the comically bland Bell, which leaves McCarthy and an ultra-hammy (and quite unfunny) Peter Dinklage to try to drum up laughs for the film's too-violent-for-comedy finale by cranking the volume up to ten. Other known talents fill in throwaway parts, such as Cecily Strong (Staten Island Summer) as Claire's own horrible boss, Margo Martindale (Heaven is for Real) in a wasted cameo, and Kathy Bates (Midnight in Paris) barely registering at all as Darnell's mentor.
The best (and perhaps only) selling point for The Boss is its star, Melissa McCarthy, so the appeal of the film is strictly limited to her fans, as there is not enough time or energy given to the story, plot, or supporting cast to maintain interest outside of her. As such, your mileage will certainly vary depending on how funny you find McCarthy's impudent, profanity-laden shtick. She makes the film easy to watch, so it's a shame that the material she gives herself is so easy to forget. In business, the boss is always right, but in the world of movies, there's too much wrong with The Boss to garner respect.
©2016 Vince Leo