The Boss (2016)

One of the reasons I loved Spy, Melissa McCarthy’s uproariously funny and feminist spin on the secret agent film, was because it mocked male Hollywood without imitating the crude behavior that goes along with so much of it. The Boss looks in another direction, and although it doesn’t celebrate the vulgarity that is the basis for a lot of male-centric humor, it does settle into a more aggressive tone. McCarthy has enough charisma to offset some of that, but the movie, which she co-wrote with Steve Mallory and her husband and director, Ben Falcone, (and which is produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay) still comes across as needlessly mean-spirited.

That’s not to say it isn’t funny. The movie is filled with sharp one-liners, and the supporting cast do their bit to elevate the star. McCarthy, however, plays her part with such gusto that she pushes everyone to the wayside. Michelle Darnell is a personal finance guru turned felon who finds redemption when she partners with a girls’ scouting troop to sell brownies. Few people like her though, not her spurned lover, Ronald (Peter Dinklage), who ratted her out for insider trading, nor her assistant Claire (Kristin Bell), a single mother who’s done with the low pay and the lack of respect, nor an opposing scout leader (Annie Mumolo) who frowns upon Michelle’s lack of protocol.

And they’re not wrong; she can be a hideous creature. Michelle strides into the film on a golden eagle, cloaked in an orange sateen pantsuit and bragging about her book, Money Talks, Bullshit Walks, to an arena full of acolytes. After her release from prison, she all but forces herself back into Claire’s life, somehow winning the affection of Claire’s daughter, Rachel (Ella Anderson). The woman is full of bombast, the kind that can fill a stadium but that overpowers a normal-sized room. As a result, many of the supporting characters end up just reacting to her outrage. Dinklage, who seems to be having way too much fun as the smarmy, rebranded Renault, could do with a bigger role. I know he has third billing, but his character still has it bad for his former lover, and he and McCarthy are deliciously inappropriate when they’re together.

There’s only room for one jerk though, and Michelle is a pro. She doesn’t just threaten violence, she takes action, leading a street brawl between her band of Darnell’s Darlings and a troop of equally militant Dandelion girls. When she’s not feeling so pugnacious, she’s content with hurling obscene insults mixed with a bit of homophobia and dispensing business advice that encourages greed and dishonesty. I suspect we’re looking for kinder humor these days, like one of the few laugh-out-loud funny scenes in the film when Michelle chides Claire about her clothing and undergarment choices.

The film is strongest when Michelle is at her most vulnerable. She tries to reconnect with her business network after her release but they all shun her, in part because she’s a felon and because Renault is directing them to but also because it’s a boys’ club from the looks of things. (It’s also a white club, like the movie.) Even after she rebuilds, her selfishness and lack of trust cause her to risk losing what matters most, something she has never had before – a sense of belonging. McCarthy shines in these moments, reminding us that she’s managed to make us hate and pity and love her character all at once.

Released: 2016
Prod: Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy, Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Chris Henchy
Dir: Ben Falcone
Writer: Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy, Steve Mallory
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson, Tyler Labine, Kathy Bates, Timothy Simons, Annie Mumolo, Kristen Schaal, Cecily Strong, Cedric Yarbough
Time: 99 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2018