The Boss is the second film that Melissa McCarthy has written for herself, along with her husband Ben Falcone, who also directed. She seems to have a complete misunderstanding of how to best utilise her strengths as a performer.
In The Boss, McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, a character she created while in the improv group The Groundlings. Darnell is the 47th richest woman in the world and draws thousands to her elaborate speaking engagements in which she tells woman how they can get rich. This all goes away after her rival and ex-lover Renault (Peter Dinklage) turns her in for insider trading.
After four months in jail, she is left homeless, penniless and friendless, so she moves in with her ex-assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell) and Claire’s daughter, Rachel (Ella Anderson). Claire makes a mean brownie and, after sitting in on a faux Girl Scouts meeting, Darnell decides to rebuild her wealth by creating her own girl-distributed dessert empire.
McCarthy is a talented physical comedian but, because of her size, too often she is asked to do over-the-top pratfalls because, you know, large people are ridiculous oafs.
When writing for herself you would think she wouldn’t require herself to be a clumsy buffoon and, yet, in The Boss and Tammy, her previous collaboration with Falcone, she does just that. Such scenes are fewer in The Boss than they were in Tammy, but it almost feels like McCarthy believes she has to add these scenes because that’s people expect from her.
McCarthy also has an uncanny ability to be hilariously crass. In many of her previous films, most notably her collaborations with director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy) she has showcased a knack for making obscenity-laced dialogue truly sing. It helped that she had dialogue that was imaginatively vulgar. In The Boss, McCarthy and Falcone too frequently mistake profanities as being funny unto themselves.
Part of McCarthy’s appeal is her sweetness and warmth. It is this quality that makes her more crude behaviour palatable to a broad audience. Unfortunately, Darnell is a largely an irredeemably ugly person for most of the film.
A character like that can be funny — Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa comes to mind — but you have to commit completely. In the final act, Darnell grows a conscience, and while these scenes are nicely played, they are entirely unearned.
The inconsistency in tone is the biggest issue in The Boss. Sometimes it is a satire of the business world as when Darnell coaches her brownie sales team, the Darnell Darlings, how to make sales. Other times it is broad parody. Dinklage’s cartoonish performance would fall into this category. His martial-arts obsessed character is funny, but he belongs in a different movie.
Then there’s the scene with an all-out street brawl with rival scouts. This scene seems to be heavily influenced by the film’s producers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, as it is awfully similar to fight scenes from the Anchorman movies. Again, as with Dinklage’s performance, the scene is funny but is completely out of step with the rest of the movie.
At times, The Boss becomes a romantic comedy, with Bell having a few nice scenes of playful banter with a potential boyfriend (Tyler Labine). As was also the case in Tammy, McCarthy as a writer has a knack for charming, low-key romantic dialogue.
All of these scenes scenes work individually — even the more tender scenes in which Darnell admits to never having a family — but none of them fits together.
The end, which features Darnell, Claire and Claire’s boyfriend breaking into Renault’s office, culminating in a sword fight, comes completely out of left field and feels like a needlessly tacked-on climatic conflict.
The Boss is funny in fits and starts. While it isn’t a terrible effort, McCarthy is selling herself far too short here. She is better than this.