Film Review: ‘The Boss’

The Boss
Courtesy of Universal

Melissa McCarthy scores a few funny moments in this sloppy, haphazard comic vehicle.

One hopes never to have to tell a couple, “Man, that’s one ugly baby,” but it’s hard to avoid in the case of “The Boss,” the second big-screen love child conceived by Melissa McCarthy and her director husband, Ben Falcone (after 2014’s mediocre “Tammy”). As she demonstrated with her career-high comic showcase in last year’s “Spy,” McCarthy remains one of the funniest actors alive — a truth that frequently rescues, but doesn’t really redeem, this sloppy comedy about a ruthless, self-absorbed ex-CEO trying to recover her millions with the help of her former lackey (the always appealing Kristen Bell). As expected, the road to success is paved with violent pratfalls, tired vulgarities and forced lump-in-the-throat moments; save for the few folks who wandered in expecting a Bruce Springsteen biopic, audiences will probably lap it up.

As scripted by McCarthy, Falcone and actor-turned-writer Steve Mallory, “The Boss” represents the latest of the star’s mostly lucrative efforts to push back against the all-boys-club mentality of so much mainstream comedy. She has done this by filling the screen with a lively ragtag sisterhood (“Tammy”); by repurposing a traditionally male-centric genre with female leads (“The Heat,” the forthcoming “Ghostbusters”); and by slyly subverting the usual jokes that have attached themselves to her weight and appearance, as she did with her turn as an improbably gifted secret agent in Paul Feig’s “Spy.”

Michelle Darnell (McCarthy), a self-made corporate empress introduced as “the 47th wealthiest woman in America,” is nowhere near as interesting or layered a character, though she certainly makes for more rewarding company than the slovenly loser-girl types the actress played in “Tammy” and “Identity Thief.” A ginger-haired cross between Martha Stewart and Miranda Priestley (clad in a colorful array of suits, scarves, furs and turtlenecks by costume designer Wendy Chuck), Michelle apparently earned her fortune by being aggressive, ruthless and extremely foul-mouthed (the actual specifics are harder to come by), and as we see in the glittery set piece that opens the movie, she spends much of her time trying to instill the same greedy values in the future female leaders of tomorrow. But circumstances backfire when she’s convicted of insider trading and sentenced to four months in prison, then dumped back onto the streets of Chicago, homeless and penniless.

Coming to Michelle’s rescue is her former assistant, Claire (Bell), who reluctantly welcomes her into the apartment she shares with her adolescent daughter, Rachel (Ella Anderson). That Michelle will forge a bond with this sweet child is a given even before she starts accompanying her to meetings with the Dandelions, a Girl Scout-style troupe whose multimillion-dollar cookie sales immediately get Michelle’s head spinning: Clearly this pathetic little nonprofit doesn’t even realize the gold mine it’s sitting on. And when it turns out that Claire makes an irresistible brownie, Michelle urges her to quit her dead-end job so they can launch a baking-business venture that will make them both rich — and in the process, teach Rachel and her fellow troupe mates some valuable lessons in leadership, salesmanship and (inevitably) self-defense.

As demonstrated by movies as sweet as “School of Rock” and as nasty as “Bad Santa,” the gradual corruption of impressionable young tots by a jaded, cynical adult can be a fertile comic premise. “The Boss” takes up this tradition with undeniable gusto; there’s a certain pleasure in watching the formidably self-assured Michelle drop F-bombs in a room full of awestruck moms and daughters, or take a well-deserved swing at the Type A super-bitch, Helen (Annie Mumolo), who positions herself as a rival. And McCarthy, who can toss off an insult like “Suck my d—k, Gigantor!” and give it a vague impression of wit, coaxes forth just about every laugh and stray chuckle that could possibly have been extracted from the material.

Which is, in the end, a testament to McCarthy’s gifts as an actress — her irrepressible flair for physical comedy and her devastating way with a one-liner — rather than to her instincts as a writer, which seem iffy at best. The ostensible comic high point of “The Boss” is a vicious street battle that takes place between Michelle’s brownie-hawking girls (called Darnell’s Darlings) and Helen’s Dandelions, but it’s clear from the way it was shot — in uninspired slow-motion — that Falcone and his collaborators thought the mere idea of these girls slugging it out would be a source of endless hilarity. And maybe it is, at least compared with a nonsensical set piece that finds Michelle swinging a katana sword at Renault (Peter Dinklage), her longtime nemesis and on-and-off-again paramour.

Everything here — even the stray bits that come close to working — feels similarly arbitrary and unmotivated. Claire lands a sweet, dull boyfriend (Tyler Labine), perhaps to inoculate herself and the movie against the suggestion that she and Michelle might be more than just business partners. Kathy Bates rides by on a horse. The script, perhaps sensing its comic momentum is flatlining, drops in multiple pointless fellatio jokes, becoming even less funny in the process. McCarthy and Bell do get one amusing exchange in which a routine brassiere adjustment escalates into a lively bout of breast slapping — a pointless moment, but one of the few when “The Boss” actually works.

Film Review: ‘The Boss’

Reviewed at Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, April 5, 2016. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 98 MIN.

Production

A Universal release and presentation of an On the Day/Gary Sanchez production. Produced by Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone, Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Chris Henchy.

Crew

Directed by Ben Falcone. Screenplay, Melissa McCarthy, Falcone, Steve Mallory. Camera (color), Julio Macat; editor, Craig Alpert; music, Christopher Lennertz; production designer, Rusty Smith; art director, Heather Dumas; set decorator, Amy McGary; set designer, Aaron Linker; costume designer, Wendy Chuck; sound (Dolby Digital), Mary H. Ellis; supervising sound editors, Andrew DeCristofaro, Becky Sullivan; re-recording mixers, Ron Bartlett, Chris Carpenter; visual effects supervisor, Scott M. David;  visual effects, Pixomondo; stunt coordinator, Todd Bryant; choreographer, Jamaica Craft; assistant director, Walter Gasparovic; casting, Allison Jones.

With

Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Kathy Bates, Tyler Labine, Timothy Simons, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson, Margo Martindale, Annie Mumolo, Cecily Strong, Cedric Yarbrough.

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  1. I was disappointed to see such violence between the women in one scene that seemed to go on forever. I wish someone could make a funny movie without constant swearing and crude sexual references.
    I should have know Will Ferrell had a hand in this as he seems to specialise in this type of humour.

  2. Karen says:

    I used to love MM in Gilmore Girls and Mike & Molly (first 2 seasons only) when she was in her element. Bridesmaids was fantastic and she was great as a subtle supporting character. Unfortunately someone thought more of that part than it really was and just turned every character since into a caricature of it (sans St. Vincent which she was great in).
    One can only dress the overweight, obnoxious buffoon with a heart of gold character in so many wigs before it just too stale to watch.
    Perhaps she should stop trying to be Chris Farley all the tume and go back to the not so over the top style that she shines in.

  3. tome smith says:

    Last three McCarthy movies— How many f&%*ing times can you say F34K in one F234ing movie?

  4. Jim says:

    Looks terrible.

  5. EricJ says:

    Variety, I’ll buy a ticket if you STOP putting that picture on the article!
    (Although it pretty much represents the sentiment you can expect from the comedy.)

    Oh, and does McCarthy making a “Gigantor” joke mean Universal’s planning to do a movie now, like when Fox gave the line to Sandra Bullock in Speed?

  6. Greg says:

    I love how you insulted the movie and the movie-going public at the same time. Feeling pretty high and mighty on your pedestal?

  7. Ken says:

    Maybe there is something wrong with me…but Ms. McCarthy always makes me howl…even when she’s in crap. I am so looking forward to “The Boss”!

  8. Peter says:

    Oh, come on. This poc? This actress is the clone of that other no-talent, dumb-down-the-audience-even-further, Will Ferrell. Hollywood has given up ALL hopes of producing lasking films.

  9. dmoney666 says:

    The problem is that she’s NOT a good leading lady. Tammy was abysmal (it was painful to watch, so calling it “mediocre” is being generous) and I’m sure this isn’t much better. She, and the studios, need to accept that she’s best when playing a sidekick/secondary character.

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