The Boss isn’t a mold-breaker for Melissa McCarthy’s brand of humor, but it is a solid mainstream comedy elevated by its star.
The Boss tells the tale of Michelle Darnell (Melissa McCarthy), a woman who went from being a luckless orphan – who, as a child, was continuously passed around from one foster family to another – to being one of the wealthiest and most successful female entrepreneurs in the United States. However, when Michelle crosses her lover-turned lifelong business rival Renault (Peter Dinklage) one too many times, Renault rats her out to the government for insider trading and seizes all of her wealth and assets while Michelle spends around half a year behind bars.
Once her prison sentence is done, Michelle – having been stripped of her fortune and with Renault having also turned most of Michelle’s onetime business associates/disciples against her – struggles to get back on her feet, with only her former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell) and Claire’s daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) to turn to for support. Michelle, upon learning that Claire has a terrific brownie recipe and that Rachel belongs to a girl scout organization (one known as the Dandelions) that makes millions of dollars in cookie sales each year, soon devises her next business venture: to create a brownie girl scout troop/empire that rivals that of the Dandelions. But is Michelle’s scheme crazy enough to work… or just crazy?
The Boss, which centers around a character (in Michelle Darnell) that Melissa McCarthy originally created for the L.A. Groundlings sketch comedy troupe, is the second feature-length movie that McCarthy has co-written in collaboration with her husband Ben Falcone (who also directed The Boss), after their work together on the McCarthy-starring 2014 comedy Tammy. Both Tammy and The Boss lack the thematic depth and narrative substance of McCarthy’s acclaimed team efforts with filmmaker Paul Feig (see Bridesmaids, Spy); on its own terms, however, the latter is an entertaining and well-paced farce – one where the majority of the comedic scenarios presented hit their targets, whether they take on the form of extended (and dialogue-heavy) improvisatory skits or over the top physical comedy-driven sequences.
McCarthy, Falcone, and their co-screenwriter Steve Mallory (The Joe Schmo Show) succeed in this regard by keeping the narrative for The Boss simple, yet focused in its direction and not allowing the plot to go off on extended tangents just for the sake of a joke. The Boss also avoids delivering heavy-handed social commentary by instead allowing its satirical overtones (with Wall Street and corporate America being the obvious targets here) to arise naturally from its character-based comedy. That being said, most of the characters in The Boss are indeed caricatures more than fully-developed people, while the plot’s trajectory is a formulaic one – complete with over-used plot twists/turns and familiar dramatic developments that transpire during the third act. It’s McCarthy who is ultimately responsible for keeping The Boss afloat and making sure that the film amounts to more than the sum of its reliable, but largely conventional, parts.
In terms of craftsmanship, The Boss is on the level with the average studio-backed comedian vehicle released nowadays thanks to the efforts of Falcone and his collaborators behind the camera – including, director of photography Julio Macat (Pitch Perfect, Daddy’s Home). This also means The Boss doesn’t provide much in the way of sophisticated visual comedy and is devoted more to showcasing the improvisatory-style performances of its cast than anything else. On the other hand, Falcone and his team do succeed in putting together a handful of physical and/or action-comedy sequences that are solid in their construction. Moreover, Falcone allows McCarthy and the rest of the film’s cast enough room to mix different comedy styles together in the same scene – in turn, adding enough funny touches (by doing things like incorporating props) to the film’s comical banter to ensure that The Boss is more than just one basic TV sitcom-style “talking heads” scene after another.
Melissa McCarthy, as mentioned before, makes all the difference in this respect, as she is responsible for providing the bulk of the comedy in The Boss – and she likewise lends more emotional weight to Michelle’s character arc in the film, once again providing a reminder that McCarthy is as adept at dramatic acting as she is comedy performance (see also her work in the movie St. Vincent, for example). Kristen Bell is primarily relegated to the role of straight-(wo)man during her scenes with McCarthy, but Bell delivers a fine performance as the good-natured Claire all the same – and enjoys a relaxed chemistry with both McCarthy and her other costars, allowing them to effectively bounce their jokes off her. Ella Anderson as Claire’s daughter Rachel likewise has a good onscreen dynamic with McCarthy, making it all the easier to believe that Claire and Rachel would be willing to embrace Michelle for her good qualities (fortunately, the film actually remembers to give her some) while tolerating the not-so-endearing aspects of her zany personality.
Game of Thrones fan-favorite Peter Dinklage gets a chance to effectively show off his comedy chops in The Boss, in turn delivering a scene-stealing performance as the vengeful-though-oddball Renault during his limited screen time in the film. Similarly, Tyler Labine (Tucker and Dale vs. Evil) very much plays the second-fiddle to McCarthy and Bell as Claire’s affable coworker/potential love interest Mike, but shines during the scenes where he is given a chance to cut loose and join McCarthy and Dinklage in the fun. The Boss‘ supporting cast is rounded out by comedic character actor types like Kristen Schaal (30 Rock, Bob’s Burgers), Annie Mumolo (who also co-penned Bridesmaids), Cecily Strong (Saturday Night Live), and Kathy Bates (American Horror Story) – all of whom are only onscreen for a limited amount of time, yet still manage to leave an impression playing their respective caricatures of everything from an over-zealous Dandelion scout’s mom to Michelle’s equally blunt (and accomplished) mentor in the film.
The Boss isn’t a mold-breaker for Melissa McCarthy’s brand of humor, but it is a solid mainstream comedy elevated by its star. Thanks to McCarthy’s efforts as both co-writer and lead, in combination with those of the talented supporting cast and Falcone (who has a steadier directorial hand now, armed with more experience under his belt), The Boss falls into a comfortable spot between the highs of McCarthy’s film career (again, see her collaborations with Paul Feig) and the lows (see movies such as Tammy and Identity Thief). The Boss isn’t necessarily a must-see in theaters for that reason, but those who consider themselves McCarthy fans in general ought to get their money’s worth from investing in Michelle Darnell’s newest business venture.
The Boss is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 99 minutes long and is Rated R for sexual content, language and brief drug use.
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