Playing the kind of twisted characters with whom no one would want to spend more than five minutes stuck in an elevator, Melissa McCarthy has become a household name. Unfortunately, by the end of a feature length comedy, the unlikeable people she portrays can grow more grating than funny. In The Boss McCarthy digs into her comedy beginnings, playing Michelle Darnell, a character McCarthy created during her early days performing at the Groundlings Theater in Los Angeles. Michelle is a larger-than-life business mogul with a foul mouth and a huge ego—and McCarthy commits to her fully. In other words, The Boss is more of the same.
After serving a four-month prison sentence for insider trading, Michelle is left with nowhere to turn but to her ex-employee, Claire (Kristen Bell), for some shelter and moral support as she tries to adjust to life as a poor soul, figuratively and literally. While attending a meeting care of Claire’s daughter, Rachel (Ella Anderson), and her cookie-selling Girl Scout troop, Michelle has the obvious idea of turning these selfless volunteers into motivated employees by forming a company that sells brownies. Claire bakes them, the Scouts sell them and Michelle runs the business.
While director Ben Falcone (McCarthy’s husband) is able to focus the ridiculous story to keep from getting bogged down by meaningless subplots, he’s got a much weaker handle on individual scenes. Michelle making Claire feel self-conscious about her clothing choices before a date is a quick and dirty gag, but after six more jabs at her boring shirt or her unsexy bra, the feeling that we’ve been here and done this too many times before starts to sink in. Granted, the pacing of this 90-minute comedy still sails along so quickly it seems like even the filmmakers wanted to get it over with. One minute treats are sold door-to-door during what one assumes are after school hours, the next minute Michelle and her young team have a brick-and-mortar store with television slots promoting Claire’s prized product. Somehow The Boss manages to both feel too brisk and not brisk enough.
McCarthy of course owns her part with sharp delivery and infectious energy, but everything she says seems to have an expiration date, her brand of humor finding diminishing returns as The Boss’s runtime drags on. Hearing her shout at scout troops with intense insults towards their activities loses its edge when each interaction turns into a flat-out roast.
Behind McCarthy is a troupe of supporting actors who try their best to stabilize the otherwise unbalanced comedy. Peter Dinklage stands out as Michelle’s ex-lover, the only actor with enough energy to match McCarthy’s, channeling his inner Tyrion when he challenges her to an all-out samurai sword duel in his office. Dinklage may be treading familiar ground, but his commitment to the material compensates. Kristen Bell keeps the material grounded as the straight person, but she isn’t given enough moments to generate real laughs. Meanwhile, Annie Mumolo and Kristen Schaal spar with McCarthy during multiple Scout meetings, and a street brawl gives everybody something to do, even if the scene feels out of place compared to everything that came before. Little girls wielding knives, cars lit on fire, cookie clusters flying everywhere—it’s something Adam McKay would throw stage if he were making a third Anchorman film. It also makes you wish the entire movie had been handled with the same amount of absurd lunacy.
This is clearly Melissa McCarthy’s show from beginning to end, for better or for worse, but The Boss is mostly just a comedy for already-established McCarthy-ites. If you’ve enjoyed yourself watching her mainstream comedies, this will be right in line with your expectations. If her brand of humor and eccentric characters haven’t done it for you in the past, this isn’t going to be the film to win you over. To each his or her own. But you probably knew that already.
Director: Ben Falcone
Writers: Ben Falcone, Steve Mallory, Melissa McCarthy
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson, Tyler Labine, Annie Mumolo, Kathy Bates
Release Date: April 8, 2016