Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Ben Falcone
Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson, Kath Bates, Taylor Labine, Annie Mumolo, Kristen Schaal, Cecily Strong, Margo Martindale, Parker Young, Timothy Simons.
No, this is not a documentary about Bruce Springsteen!
Melissa McCarthy often plays aggressive, abrasive and overbearing and unapologetically obnoxious characters in films. Her best roles have been in smaller, supporting characters as part of an ensemble, such as the hilarious Bridesmaids or St Vincent.
In The Boss she trots out another variation on her familiar screen persona. She plays Michelle Darnell, a successful business woman and the 47th richest woman in America, a self made millionaire who now addresses sellout crowds as a sort of self help guru, sharing her accumulated wisdom and advising them how they too can become successful. But then she is jailed for insider trading and her life falls apart.
Her assets are seized and frozen. When she emerges from prison six months later she is broke and homeless. In desperation she turns to her former underpaid and largely ignored personal assistant Claire (Veronica Mars‘ Kristen Bell) for help. Claire is now stuck in a boring dead end job in an office and unhappy with her lot. Michelle temporarily moves in with Claire and her young daughter Rachel (newcomer Ella Anderson) and sleeps on an uncooperative sofa bed (which provides one of the biggest laughs in the film). Michelle sees an opportunity to gain back her respect and reestablish herself when she learns that Rachel’s girl guide troop the Dandelions are selling brownies door-to-door in a fundraising campaign. Michelle brings her formidable business acumen and aggressive nature to the enterprise.
Michelle butts heads with the uptight Helen (Annie Mumolo), a helicopter mother of one of the girl guides, who takes exception to having a convicted felon like her being involved in the fundraising efforts. This rivalry leads to an all out brawl between rival scout groups that will remind audiences of the fight between rival news crews in Anchorman (not surprisingly since Will Ferrell and his regular collaborator Adam McKay are amongst the producers). But the comic book like violence of this scene, shot in slow motion for some reason, is nowhere near as funny as the filmmakers seem to think it is.
And her former lover turned nemesis and business rival Renaud (played by Peter Dinklage) soon arrives on the scene intent on sabotaging her efforts and bringing her down again.
The Boss is another variation on the familiar riches to rags to riches story that has become something of a cliche in itself. We get a backstory for her character; when we first meet her she is an orphan who is continually returned to the orphanage by adoptive parents who cannot handle her abrasive nature. Toughened by her experiences as a child, Michelle has learned to cope by herself and believes that she doesn’t really need anybody’s help in her life. The character trajectory sees Michelle slowly transform from narcissistic and tough business woman to become a softer, more maternal type who grows a heart, as unlikely as this transformation is.
The film has been written by McCarthy and her writer/director husband Ben Falcone, who gave us the dire Tammy a couple of years ago, and actor turned writer Steve Mallory (who has had small roles in some of her films like Identity Thief, Tammy, etc). The character of Michelle Darnell was created over a decade ago by McCarthy when she was a member of LA improvisational comedy troupe The Groundlings. But The Boss is lazy and predictable formulaic stuff, full of slapstick humour and crass vulgar gags, and some of the humour here is mean spirited.
The caper-like climax that sees Michelle sneaking into Renaud’s offices to steal some vital documents is misguided and doesn’t really make a lot of sense, although it does provide an opportunity for McCarthy to take on Dinklage in a clumsily staged sword fight (he must have thought he was back on the set of Game Of Thrones).
McCarthy does her familiar schtick here, but her routines are beginning to seem formulaic and tired. However, she tries to surround herself with some talented actors, but unfortunately the script doesn’t give them much to do here. Bell is pleasant enough as the largely unflappable Claire, and Anderson is cute as her daughter. Dinklage flounders in an underwritten role. Tyler Labine (from Tucker And Dale Vs Evil, etc) has a small role here as Claire’s coworker and potential love interest, but he is also badly served by the script. Oscar winner Kathy Bates is wasted in a small and thankless role as Michelle’s former mentor
The Boss is the second collaboration between McCarthy and Falcone. And while The Boss is a better film than Tammy, it is still similarly laboured and over long, and uneven in tone and pace. Falcone’s direction is hamfisted and lacks subtlety, and he seems to have little idea about comic timing and what works and what doesn’t. Several scenes misfire and are plain unfunny. Visually the film is fairly bland, and Falcone lacks flair.
And he doesn’t seem to understand McCarthy’s flair for physical comedy or the crude verbal insults that she can deliver with unbridled gusto. Her way with an ad lib can also often save a scene. Director Paul Feig seems to know how to get the best out of McCarthy, as evidenced in their collaborations on Bridesmaids, The Heat and last year’s Spy. It will be interesting to see if their magic still clicks on the upcoming remake of the 80s classic Ghostbusters.