Film Review: The Boss

Melissa McCarthy is fun (to a degree) as a self-absorbed business tycoon who loses everything, but the script she and her director husband devised is a shambles.
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Melissa McCarthy is not your typical movie star, with her plus-size presence and go-for-broke approach to physical comedy, but a star she certainly is. The onetime Bridesmaids supporting player hit a career peak last year with the lavish espionage spoof Spy, and so expectations will be high for her new outing, The Boss, in which she glams it up as a high-powered, ultra-successful businesswoman. McCarthy once again gives it her all, and there is sheer pleasure to be found in her latest comic creation, but the script she’s devised with Steve Mallory and her husband-director Ben Falcone is, frankly, a mess. Her fans will find individual nuggets of fun here, but The Boss will only be satisfying to the most undiscriminating moviegoers.

McCarthy’s Michelle Darnell is based on a character she devised during her days with Los Angeles’ fabled Groundlings improv-comedy troupe. Michelle is a rude, selfish, pampered egomaniac whose fierce drive stems from her youth as an oft-rejected foster child, and her self-made fortune has brought her a career as a celebrity finance guru, like Suze Orman on steroids. We first meet her as the star of a sold-out arena show complete with rappers and dancers, descending from the ceiling perched on a giant golden phoenix. But Michelle soon takes a precipitous fall from that perch when she’s arrested for insider trading. Released from prison after six months, she discovers the government has taken possession of all her assets, and that the only “friend” she can rely on is her former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell), a single mother she once took shockingly for granted. Homeless, Michelle moves into the cramped apartment Claire shares with her young daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson). The onetime business titan wallows around the apartment until a brainstorm arrives: Accompanying Rachel to one of her “Dandelion” scout meetings, she hits on the idea of marketing Claire’s irresistible homemade brownies via her own army of young girls, which will be dubbed Darnell’s Darlings. The venture is a smash success (thanks to both Michelle’s business acumen and some hardball tactics on the part of her little Darlings), but once again Michelle proves to be her own worst enemy.

So far, so schematic, but The Boss has trouble fabricating the complications that any feature-length narrative requires. McCarthy and her co-writers add a very dumb subplot involving Michelle’s archenemy Renault (Peter Dinklage), her former colleague and lover who is consumed with jealousy. Dinklage, so riveting on “Game of Thrones,” is encouraged to go way over the top and play Renault as a cartoonish, pretentious fop; all of his scenes are mirthless, capped by a ludicrous swordfight in the movie’s would-be action climax. The script also struggles with Michelle’s psychology and motivations, making her cruelly betray Claire on the thinnest of pretexts and then suddenly regret her disastrous behavior.

The film is stronger in its first half, especially when Michelle locks horns with a prim, harshly judgmental scouting mom played by Bridesmaids co-writer Annie Mumulo. Perhaps inspired by the absurd TV reporter street fight in producer Will Ferrell’s Anchorman, the high point of the comedy is a vicious battle royale between Darnell’s Darlings and their cookie-selling rivals, the Dandelions. A subplot that does work is Claire’s budding romance with stocky former office co-worker Mike, an engaging Tyler Labine in a nice change from the usual hunk casting. But the great Kathy Bates is wasted in her all-too-brief scenes as Michelle’s estranged mentor, a role that goes nowhere. The always likeable Bell earns her paycheck trying to keep a straight face opposite the uninhibited McCarthy, especially during the scene in which Michelle keeps adjusting Claire’s breasts while preparing her for her big date with Mike.

Yes, The Boss is not without laughs, but Melissa McCarthy deserves a better vehicle than the one she and her husband have fashioned. Next time it might be wise to let someone else be the boss.

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