Melissa McCarthy has become one of the most in-demand comedic actors in Hollywood, and her latest starring vehicle sees her in a position of power as the 47th wealthiest woman in the United States. McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, a business mogul and popular financial guru who gets knocked down a few pegs when she’s convicted of insider trading. Starting from scratch after her release from prison, she has nowhere to stay except with her former assistant Claire Rawlins (Bell). The long-suffering Claire has moved on to a new job, trying to provide for her daughter Rachel (Anderson). Michelle hatches a business plan to create a brownie empire off Claire’s secret family recipe. Michelle’s long-time nemesis and former lover Renault (Dinklage) is bent on preventing Michelle from getting back on her feet. Michelle has to learn to become equal partners with Claire, the woman she used to boss around, if her plan is going to succeed.
The Boss is directed by McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone, who also makes a cameo appearance as a lawyer. Falcone previously directed McCarthy in Tammy, and the couple also co-wrote The Boss with Steve Mallory. Mallory is a friend of theirs from the comedy troupe Groundlings, and Michelle Darnell is based on a character McCarthy developed during her time at the Groundlings. This sounds like a bunch of friends having a laugh – while there’s no rule saying that a bunch of friends having a laugh cannot produce a solid movie, The Boss comes off as flimsy and self-indulgent. There must be hundreds of smarter, sharper comedy scripts floating around Hollywood, but this gets made because of the clout McCarthy has garnered, and due to the influence of producers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.
While McCarthy is undeniably talented, like every actor out there, she has certain strengths and weaknesses. She’s at her best as the scrappy, brash underdog who musters up the gumption when it counts the most. The Michelle Darnell character is obnoxious, confrontational and generally unpleasant. Her sappy backstory – that she bounced around foster homes living a childhood of rejection – is intended to mitigate Michelle’s repulsive behaviour to those around her, especially those trying to help her. It comes off as lazy writing and there’s the promise that the character will be forced to eat her humble pie and change her ways, but any redemption is half-hearted at best. Around half the jokes consist of Michelle blurting out something grossly inappropriate in the presence of children, while the adults gasp and the kids ask “what’s ‘girl-on-girl’?” Rachel seems to get along with Michelle almost immediately, overcoming her initial suspicions of her mother’s former boss with convenient ease. Again, pretty lazy writing.
Bell is a charming performer whose sunny disposition has served her well in other comedic roles. She does get a few scenes in which the chemistry she shares with McCarthy approaches funny – there’s an extended gag in which Michelle is giving Claire advice about what bra she should wear out for a date where some passable physical comedy is on display from both actors. However, it’s all too clear that this is McCarthy’s show and she’s not going to let anyone steal it from her.
Dinklage, a consummate scene-stealer if ever there was one, is criminally underused as the main antagonist. He is entertaining with the little screen time he gets, but the character is little more than Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, complete with a Smithers in the form of his lackey Stephan (Timothy Simons). The actors who were considered for the role which would become Dinklage’s include names as varied as Oprah Winfrey, Jon Hamm and Sandra Bullock. This indicates there wasn’t really a strong idea for who the villain would be, other than a name actor. Bates gets even shorter shrift, appearing as Michelle’s spurned mentor Ida Marquette in two scenes. Dave Bautista showed up in the teaser trailer, but has apparently been cut from the finished film.
The Boss has a very sitcom-esque premise: powerful woman used to having things her way has to move in with her beleaguered assistant and shenanigans ensue. Because the germ of the idea feels so much like something you’d see on network TV (that would get cancelled after one season), the swearing and brazen sexual humour feel like they’ve been shoehorned in to make this an edgy, R-rated comedy – and edgy, The Boss absolutely is not. McCarthy’s numerous detractors are highly unlikely to be swayed by her latest starring vehicle, which comes off as little more than a flat, cynical exercise.
Summary: Playing a noxious, unlikeable character whose actions are given the flimsiest excuse, Melissa McCarthy’s comedic skills are largely wasted in The Boss.
RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars