Melissa McCarthy (“Spy”) is hilarious, but sadly, most of her movies aren’t. In “The Boss,” she once again stars as an over-the-top character on a journey filled with poor humor and no purpose.
This time, she’s the boss — Fortune 500 CEO Michelle Darnell. She looks ridiculous, always wearing turtlenecks and a ginger haircut that says “I want to speak to your manager.” But don’t be fooled: Michelle has built an empire through sheer strength of will, and swears like a sailor to boot. It’s very jarring when she does so around children. Though a tragic backstory is presented to explain her difficult nature (she kept being returned to an orphanage as a child), it’s not enough to make her wild personality feel plausible. She doesn’t back down to anyone. Her ex-boyfriend Renault (Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”) brings Michelle’s world crashing down when he exposes her illegal insider trading. After a short amount of time in a comfortable jail, Michelle looks for someone to help her get back on her feet.
At this point, I wondered if “The Boss” was aiming to satirize certain influential rich people whose egocentric ruthlessness propelled them to such highs and lows in their careers. The film’s faithful focus on Michelle, at times treated like an antihero, makes it impossible to tell. Is this a cause of bad character development, or an over-reliance on cheap humor? Who knows.
Not surprisingly, no one helps Michelle until her kind assistant Claire (Kristen Bell, “Veronica Mars”) takes her in. Michelle is as rude and unappreciative as ever, complaining that the accommodations do not meet her five-star hotel standards. The fact that Claire is a single mother does not interest the washed up boss until she invites her ex-employer to her daughter’s Dandelions (read: Girl Scout) meetings. Once there, Michelle finds her passion of business again. She tries to start a new venture by selling Claire’s homemade brownies through the Dandelions, and aggressively directs the girls to maximize profits.
McCarthy’s titular “Boss” character is, in general, unlikeable. That’s the joke, but it’s not funny after being repeated for nearly two hours straight. In a similar vein, some of the jokes are just plain mean-spirited. One that particularly rubbed me the wrong way (and is featured in the trailer to attract viewers) is when the Boss introduces Claire as her partner at the first Dandelions meeting, and then cries “no homo.” “No girl-on-girl action,” she insists. When a wide-eyed girl asks what she means, she answers that it’s “something you’ll dabble in in college and never do again” (She then points to another Dandelion girl for whom lesbianism will fit “like a glove”). I know Melissa McCarthy is not homophobic and is trying to show what an uncompassionate person Michelle is. Hell, she crashed a huge lesbian party in the similarly ridiculous “Tammy” just to say how much she admired lesbians’ strength. But such derisive comments stuck with me as both North Carolina and Mississippi pass anti-LGBT legislation. It also hit too close to home, as about 25 percent of my own Girl Scout troop was queer (and proud of the organization’s tolerant policies).
This is the second collaboration between McCarthy and her husband, the first being the aforementioned “Tammy”. That was a red flag before I even started watching. Director Ben Falcone does not do much directing. His shots and scene transitions aren’t strong or attentive to detail, let alone interesting. And he certainly doesn’t inspire the cast to match the comedic prowess of his wife.
The husband-and-wife team also wrote the script together, to poor results (again). The plot is poorly developed. Each scene feels like a separate gag about the same horribly unlikable woman. The characters stubbornly stay the same even as they interact with strikingly different personalities. Why does Claire bother to help such a nasty woman after working for her for only a short period of time? Only McCarthy makes this film palatable. And the premise of Michelle making a comeback after a high-profile crime through Girl Scout cookies isn’t sound in the first place.
Melissa McCarthy deserves much better than this. She is a talented comic actress, as demonstrated in “Bridesmaids” and “Spy”. But until she lands in better movies where she plays a genuine human and not a cartoon character, her talent will be wasted in such silly roles.