'The Boss' movie review: Melissa McCarthy founders in husband Ben Falcone's 'limp comedy'
At this point no one would dispute that Melissa McCarthy is one of the funniest people on the planet. However, after the limp comedies Tammy and now The Boss, there is something else not in dispute: Melissa McCarthy is funny only with certain filmmakers and with scripts that would work even without the benefit of her gifts.
One can imagine Bridesmaids and Spy being perfectly fine comedies had someone been cast other than McCarthy. Add her physicality, ad-lib abilities, and razor-sharp timing and you've got two films that were among the funniest of their respective years (McCarthy even earned a well-deserved Oscar nod for Bridesmaids).
The Boss is McCarthy's second film directed by Ben Falcone. The first was Tammy which, by all objective accounts, should put Falcone on her career no-fly list. Too bad they're actually married, which surely means more Falcone-directed McCarthy comedies in the future, lest the delicate balance of a Hollywood marriage be upset.
'Au courant vulgarity,' 'unearned sentiment' mix
You'd think Falcone would know exactly what makes his wife so outrageously funny and could tailor the material to fit that criterion. Such is not the case and what's even more bizarre, Tammy and The Boss were co-written by McCarthy, which means even she may not be the best judge of material for herself.
Their script, also co-written by Groundlings buddy Steve Mallory, is a weak-sauce collection of predictable story beats, au courant vulgarity, and unearned sentiment that is not a sturdy enough foundation atop which McCarthy can shine.
Her character in The Boss is one she developed during her pre-fame days in The Groundlings, which is where it should have stayed. Michelle Darnell is the “47th richest woman in America” who runs some sort of corporate empire where throngs of mostly female devotees fill arenas to hear her motivational speeches.
Initially (and often) she's swaddled in scarves and sweaters that seem to creep right past her neck until they encroach on her chin and risk constricting McCarthy's physicality. The movie's first big sight gag is Michelle wearing a mouth-widening apparatus to help whiten her teeth, an endless bit of unfunny business that serves only to keep her from speaking, the main reason people pay money to see Melissa McCarthy movies.
Kristen Bell miscasting, 'a certain frisson' lacking
So already we're on shaky ground and it only occasionally gets better. After Michelle serves a few months in the slammer for business improprieties, she emerges penniless and ends up on the doorstep of Claire, who is both her executive assistant and one of the primary reasons the movie doesn't work.
Claire is played by Kristen Bell, a pleasant enough actress who doesn't give McCarthy what she needs most; someone strong to play off. Claire's function is to facilitate Michelle's transformation into a woman who appreciates the importance of family, which McCarthy might have envisioned as an evolution for her persona, but that's just not gonna happen in a comedy without depth of feeling or a relatable lead character.
In her previous, more successful comedies, there's a certain frisson in the air when we sense McCarthy is going off-script. Watch the end credit outtakes from the principal's office scene in Judd Apatow's This Is 40 to see McCarthy at her best: spewing angry, purse-lipped insults that have barely taken shape by the time they exit her mouth. That combination of wit and danger are missing in something as formulaic and lazy as The Boss.
The primary recipient of Michelle's diatribes is Helen (Annie Mumolo), whose daughter is in a girl scout-type organization called The Dandelions. Sensing an opportunity to relaunch her career, Michelle volunteers the Dandelions to go door-to-door selling Claire's delicious brownies, but Helen is no fan of a convicted felon mentoring impressionable young girls.
'Visual panache' also lacking
Michelle and Helen's final showdown, a slow motion street brawl between Team Michelle and Team Helen, is a clever idea that never achieves liftoff due to Falcone's lack of visual panache. He is, one can imagine as these movie deals are assembled, part of the package if you want McCarthy.
But before he ruins her next comedy, he should learn how to build a scene so it doesn't end in a defeated whimper, which ruins that scene and bums out the beginning of the next scene. By the final stretch, McCarthy is reduced to selling blowjob jokes and having a samurai sword fight with ex-lover and ex-business partner Renault (Peter Dinklage, too aware he's in a comedy).
Pre-'Caligula phase' professional advice
With inspiration at a critical low, we latch onto the previous laugh (Doritos are “not a cheese found in nature, but cheese-adjacent!”) for fear of having to wait too long for the next laugh. The longer we wait, the deeper we sink into our chair, since Melissa McCarthy is one of the few women in comedy who are box office draws and seeing her flounder is discouraging.
So before she fully enters her Caligula phase, the one that assumes every line reading and pratfall is funny by virtue of her doing it, she should take a good look at those she has entrusted to exploit her talents and advance her career. To start, she may want to look in the mirror and at the guy she wakes up next to every morning.
The Boss (2016)
Dir.: Ben Falcone.
Scr.: Melissa McCarthy. Ben Falcone. Steve Mallory.
Cast: Melissa McCarthy. Kristen Bell. Annie Mumolo. Peter Dinklage. Kathy Bates. Ella Anderson. Cecily Strong.
Tyler Labine. Eva Peterson. Margo Martindale. Timothy Simons. Aleandra Newcomb. Ben Falcone.
Melissa McCarthy The Boss movie image: Universal Pictures.
The Boss movie cast info via the IMDb.