Review: The Boss
PLOT: A famous media mogul is arrested for insider trading, her reputation and empire ruined. Years later, she comes crawling to her former assistant for help, and in the process ends up creating a new, albeit smaller, business that could end up being financially advantageous for them both.
REVIEW: When it comes to Melissa McCarthy's less than exquisite filmography, THE BOSS isn't the worst of the bunch. That's a short and uncomplicated assessment, sure, but it's what stuck in my brain after I left the theater. This is my third McCarthy review, if I'm not mistaken, and the first two - IDENTITY THIEF and TAMMY - were hard to stomach, partially because the characters McCarthy was playing were frantic, oafish fools, and I didn't like watching them. McCarthy, who I still keep wanting to appreciate, frequently seems desperate for laughs, so much so that she'll give herself nothing but low-brow pratfalls and questionable antics in lieu of witty material. I still can't fathom why this actress, who is in a position to do close to whatever she wants as an A-lister, keeps aiming for the lowest common denominator, but I guess she's comfortable in her niche and intends to stay there.
So THE BOSS is better than IDENTITY THIEF and TAMMY, but not quite as amusing as last year's SPY (which I did not review, but generally liked). It was co-written by McCarty and directed by Ben Falcone, her husband, so in essence it's their follow-up to TAMMY, a movie that baffled me because the two seemingly went so far out of their way to make McCarthy look ridiculous and unappealing. THE BOSS does the opposite, in a sense; it pretties McCarthy up as a haughty self-made millionaire, and while she still finds plenty of opportunities to throw herself down stairs or do something unappetizing, McCarthy has shown up with a more-or-less agreeable character, one that's sometimes fun to watch and even says or does a few nominally funny things.
McCarthy's Michelle Darnell had a rough beginning to her life, growing up an orphan but having trouble locking down a family because of her uncivil behavior. Cut to years later and Michelle's a mogul, the queen of her own empire of self-help finance books and public speaking tours. Michelle has built her company off the backs of former mentors like Ida Marquette (Kathy Bates) and Renault (Peter Dinklage) - who now hate her guts - and coasts along using insider trading to bolster her fabulous lifestyle. Her loyal assistant is Claire (Kristen Bell), sort of a Bob Cratchit figure; a single mom who does practically everything for Michelle, her requests for raises are rebuffed and her overall well-being not much concern for Michelle. But when the latter gets caught for insider trading - courtesy of her now-rival Renault, who seeks to ruin her - Michelle is sent to prison and her entire fortune seized.
Years later, Michelle is released from the (very comfy) slammer and suddenly finds herself in need of charity. She, of course, ends up on Claire's doorstep and despite her former assistant's misgivings, is allowed to stay on the couch while she finds her feet. A bond is quickly formed between Michelle - who's lost none of her attitude - and Claire's precocious daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson), and soon enough Michelle is nosing her way into the kid's Girl Scout cookie enterprise and scheming how to make money off it. It's a good thing Claire is a wiz at baking and has her own family recipe, because now Michelle can rebuild her fortune.
Along the way Michelle learns the value of friendship and family and yadda yadda. The script is nothing if not paint-by-the-numbers, following beats you could have guessed just from the trailer (or from knowing how movies like this work). What's frustrating about THE BOSS is that, in the early going, it wants to paint Michelle as something of a tyrant who deserves our scorn, but at the same time, McCarthy and Falcone can't bear to have us actually dislike the character. If the movie had teeth it would have made her genuinely despicable, and then her redemption toward the end could have been earned. As it is, Michelle is just another goofy caricature from the start, and her supposed transformation is negligible. It's not surprising that the husband-wife duo would play it safe, but since the movie is R-rated and McCarthy is still at the top of her game (according to paying audiences, anyway), it would have been interesting to see them take a chance and make Michelle more complicated and give their narrative some real edge. But the movie is as soft as the brownies the characters begin baking for profit.
There are a few laughs to be had; I'll admit I chuckled here and there, although right now nothing sticks out. (There's an ANCHORMAN-esque battle between two factions of Girl Scouts that's kind of humorous in an outlandish way.) The film sometimes suffers from that brand of comedy Judd Apatow has popularized, where two actors, clearly ad-libbing, go on and on while the director refuses to say cut. More often than not this grows tiresome, but THE BOSS has a good cast that knows how to sell a gag. I maintain that McCarthy is talented, she's just hasn't fully proven it to me; she has timing and nerve, but she's not yet created a person I truly care about and Michelle is no exception. Dinklage, slumming it (but not as badly as in PIXELS), is droll and weird and fun to watch even if Renault could have been an even bigger scene-stealer. (He's obsessed with samurais for no other reason than so the movie can get a katana in his hands at one point.) Bell, too, is a likable presence, though she's hardly given anything actually interesting to do. Tyler Labine, as Bell's love interest, is an unusual though welcome choice for that part. And Kathy Bates has one bit where she makes her feelings for McCarthy's character known on national television that definitely provoked a smile out of me.
But what is THE BOSS other than a predictable, routine studio comedy with a handful of effective jokes and more than enough lulls for you to hit the bathroom a few times? Not much.