The Boss (2016)

Director: Ben Falcone
Writers: Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy & Steve Mallory
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Margo Martindale, Kathy Bates, Peter Dinklage, Annie Mumolo, Ben Falcone, Cecily Strong, Kristen Schaal, Gayle King, T-Pain.

Back when Melissa McCarthy was a cast member of the improv troupe The Groundlings she created a character named Michelle Darnell, a brazen no-holds-barred kind of businesswoman who didn’t mince her words. So it is not a surprise that those behinds the scenes of her new movie constitute a Groundlings reunion of sorts, as her husband, Ben Falcone, serves as this film’s director and co-writer. Sharing screenwriting duties are McCarthy herself, and Steve Mallory, another fellow cast member whose major film roles happen to be Melissa McCarthy vehicles. This film, The Boss, suffers a bit from the improv adage of “yes and”. For those who aren’t familiar with the term (and I am solely because I used to date an improv actor and have read the memoirs of several funny ladies who have had a background in improv acting, like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler), “yes and” refers to the concept of always acknowledging and accepting a prompt provided by a fellow actor and then adding to it, basically it’s a rule that states that you may never dismiss a fellow actor’s idea, regardless of how bad or offensive or unfunny it may be. The point is so that the action is always moving, a crappy side effect is that everyone’s ideas are validated and editing or finding an alternate route become impossible.

Overall The Boss is a funny movie, and the story itself works, even when it falls victim to cliche and overly emotional moments that feel a bit disingenuous. The issue is that there are at times too many ideas and the film is not always tonally cohesive. I am prone to blame especially Falcone, marking his second stint as director after the just plain awful McCarthy movie Tammy. As the star’s husband and the screenwriter he may have just not been the best person for the job, because when it comes to comedies in general, but especially when the star is someone who has reached a level of fame and power like McCarthy has at this point, a director must know how to both deliver a well-paced and executed film and also know how to reign-in someone’s performance, so that it reads as even and believable within the parameters of the universe presented. The moments that felt so overwhelmingly off happened around usually McCarthy, and involved such bizarre and over the top slapstick (being catapulted from a fold out couch, falling down a flight of stairs without a scratch on the body) that just clashed with the rest of the film. There were also some sequences that were unnecessary and were simply manipulative of the audience’s emotional investment of the film, even when it wasn’t needed (the entire opening of the film for example). I wonder what the film would have looked like in the hands of Paul Feig, McCarthy’s director in Bridesmaids, Spy, and The Heat.

That said, I still enjoyed watching this film – mostly because I really like watching Melissa McCarthy. I’ve been a fan since Gilmore Girls, and have been impressed with her ability to do both funny and serious roles (like the under-appreciated St. Vincent). As Michelle Darnell, she taps into a competitive and biting character that allows her to be unabashedly ambitious. Michelle gets busted for insider trading, though, and after a stint in federal prison she finds herself penniless, friendless, and worthless. She heads to the home of her former assistant Claire (Forgetting Sarah Marshall‘s Kristen Bell), and effectively moves in with her because she has nowhere else to go. One day Michelle accompanies Claire’s daughter to a girl scout meeting and when presented with the figures for cookie sales, decides to create her own girls squad, named Darnell’s Darlings, so that she can begin to rebuild the empire she had lost.

Bell’s Claire is mostly just a foil, a character for McCarthy to play off of, the straight (wo)man to Michelle Darnell’s crazy. She does a fine job, but people familiar with Bell’s acting and career know that she too can be really funny – she’s just not really given the chance in this film. I love Margo Martindale (August: Osage County), but she’s barely even in the film. Same goes for the excellent Kathy Bates. Cecily Strong (SNL) and Kristen Schaal (30 Rock), two more very funny ladies, play one-dimensional single joke characters. Annie Mumolo, the cowriter of Bridesmaids, plays the same character she played on the television show About a Boy. The sole male character of the entire film, and the movie’s antagonist/weird creepy love interest, is Renault, the onetime paramour of Michelle’s turned spurned lover, turned business competitor. Renault suffers of a Napoleon complex when facing Michelle, as she usually gets the best of him. This petty and bizarre man is played by Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), who seems to relish the chance to play someone so over the top and weird, and sometimes he just goes way too big with his acting choices – and when a character has a katana sword fight in a movie, maybe a little subtlety is necessary.

I chuckled a few times, especially during a scene in which Darnell’s Darlings have a street fight against a rival girl scout squad, and had a good time watching the film. The Boss does not rank as one of Melissa McCarthy’s best, nor is it one of her worst. The film doesn’t really contribute anything new to her career, but it is another fine effort solidifying her as one of Hollywood’s most reliable funny ladies out there, and that’s good enough for me.

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