By Chaz Lipp
It feels as if no one was really trying on the latest Melissa McCarthy comedy. As with Tammy (2014), The Boss is the result of a collaboration between McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone (he directed, they co-scripted). Though it’s a marginal improvement over the mediocrity of Tammy, it does nothing to expand McCarthy’s previously established repertoire. St. Vincent allowed her to flex some subtle dramatic chops in a supporting role. Spy (2015) put her at the center of a full-on action comedy.
Unfortunately The Boss defines laziness, putting McCarthy through a series of overly familiar paces. After a perfunctory set up, the plot unfolds in highly predictable fashion. Michelle Darnell (McCarthy) is a self-made millionaire businesswoman who holds massively popular self-help/money-making seminars. When she’s found guilty of insider trading, her empire crumbles. It’s rival (and former lover) Renault (Peter Dinklage) who blows the whistle. After a short stint in a country club prison, Michelle moves in with Claire (Kristen Bell), her former assistant. Claire is reluctant to house her former tyrant boss, but her preteen daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) convinces her to give Michelle a chance.
There are chuckles throughout, but big laughs are far and few. We’ve seen it all before (well, except for the oral appliance Michelle uses to stretch out her mouth for teeth whitening—honestly that’s more scary than funny). When the ultra-high maintenance Michelle gives fashion advice to Claire, it plays like exactly what it is—a remake of the exact same scene in The Heat. There’s plenty of physical comedy, like Michelle taking a tumble down a flight of stairs. It all feels a bit desperate; we know we’re expected to laugh, but it’s just so mechanical. Michelle’s bid to reclaim her financial glory involves hijacking the cookie sales of Rachel’s Dandelions troop (a Girls Scouts surrogate).
Speaking of that particular business move, the hard right, pro-capitalism, anti-philanthropy message will raise some eyebrows. The Dandelions donate their cookie-sales millions to charity. Michelle, after being wowed by Claire’s homemade brownies, decides to usurp that income so her new troop of bullies can keep the money for themselves. Huh? The big-hearted Claire willingly signed on for this greed? The violent confrontation between the Dandelions and Michelle’s girls was meant to be edgy fun, but instead it’s tasteless. Adults clotheslining kids? Michelle taking potshots at a teen girl for looking (in Michelle’s eyes) slightly masculine? Yes, it’s a low-brow comedy, but the insults hurled at kids feel tacky and mean-spirited instead of funny. So many kids are struggling with issues like bullying and gender identity, some of The Boss‘ “jokes” are jaw-dropping in their insensitivity.
Next up for Melissa McCarthy: the long-awaited Ghostbusters reboot. Let’s hope director Paul Feig, who worked so well with McCarthy in Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy, inspired a funnier performance from her.
The Boss Images: Universal Pictures