Melissa McCarthy may be the funniest woman working in film or on television today. Certainly, there is no one funnier, and no one more adept, at finding both humor and pathos in a given situation. When armed with a great script — think THE HEAT or her breakout role in BRIDESMAIDS — she is a formidable presence who dominates the screen with breathtaking fearlessness. There is, after all, a reason she was nominated for an Oscar™ for BRIDESMAIDS.
When, however, the material is dicey, things become more problematical, and not a little heartbreaking for those of us who count themselves her biggest fans. And so it is with THE BOSS, the second collaboration between McCarthy and her writer/director husband, Ben Falcone. It’s not that Falcone doesn’t understand his wife’s strengths as a performer, it’s that has once again attempted to put them all on display in one film. The result is a hodge-podge of a story that barely holds together as it leaps from heartwarming affirmation of the innate strength of womankind, to a hellzapopping slapstick comedy leavened with McCarthy’s wicked way with a well-aimed barb.
Here she is Michelle Darnell, the 47th wealthiest woman in America. A self-made business mogul with an eccentric dedication to chin-smothering turtlenecks, who has channeled the emotional baggage from her orphaned childhood into a corporate empire. When she lets her personal feelings for a business rival (Peter Dinklage) cloud her judgement, though, she ends up incarcerated for insider trading, and penniless upon her release. With no one else to whom she can turn, she wheels her Louis Vuitton luggage to the modest apartment of Claire, her former assistant. Claire, played with sparkling spunk by Kristen Bell, is all for turning her narcissist of an ex-employer out on the street, but her compassionate pre-teen daughter, Rachel (Ella Anderson) won’t hear of it. It leaves them all to grapple with Michelle adjusting (or not) to her new station in life, Claire’s new, yet equally awful, boss (Cecily Strong), and the cockeyed scheme to put Michelle back in the penthouse via Claire’s killer brownies.
A few bright moments shine through. Michelle’s obtusely direct criticism of Claire’s secondary sexual characteristics is squirmingly absurd and yet oddly sweet. Snippets of the ridiculous caper Michelle plots to save the day, and her new-found adopted family, have their moments of irresistible stupidity, but as a whole, the uncomfortable interplay between saccharine and silliness never settles into a cohesiveness that would make the story work. The writing is sketchy, subplots disappear, and what should be sure-fire payoffs never materialize.
As for the interlude where Dandelion Girls, led by a milquetoast leader (Kristen Schaal) and a nightmare of a Junior Leaguer (Annie Mumolo), and Michelle’s Darnell’s Darlings rumble in the streets of Chicago, it’s just disturbing in the way that the violence, no doubt intended to be cartoon-like is all too visceral. On the other hand, and to be fair, Dinklage, when called upon to wave a katana with murderous intent, is perfect, dead-pan preposterousness.
TAMMY, the previous collaboration between McCarthy and Falcone had the same issues, albeit without the violence. And, as with that film, if the duo had decided on one kind of film, serious with comedic overtones, or the committed surrealism of pure farce, they might have been onto something. McCarthy, as I’ve opined more than once, is supremely capable working in either genre, and, as I’ve also opined, I am sure that she will once again be nominated for an Oscar™, and not necessarily for a comedy.
Alas, it won’t be for THE BOSS. Its greatest accomplishment is to instill a powerful hankering for brownies.