2016, R, 98 min. Directed by Ben Falcone. Starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson, Tyler Labine, Kathy Bates, Kristen Schaal, Timothy Simons, Annie Mumolo, Cecily Strong.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 8, 2016
Yay for Melissa McCarthy, one of the funniest women around, for creating a movie character that isn’t based on jokes about being fat and crude. To be honest, the crude humor isn’t really gone, though it’s more focused than in some of her previous films, and the actress sure has a way with a one-liner. But even though McCarthy can bail herself out of any awkward silence (wittily or not), the underpinnings of The Boss are shoddy and lackluster. Co-written by McCarthy with husband and director Ben Falcone and Steve Mallory, The Boss probably would have been fired by any other employer.
Don’t get me wrong: There are a lot of laughs in The Boss. The problem is that the space in between them is stagnant and shapeless. Falcone, who also directed and co-wrote Tammy, is a dud as a filmmaker. He frames shots so that you can tell with each composition where and how the inevitable joke is going to land. A couple of action sequences lack momentum, and several dialogue scenes linger as though waiting for an ad lib that never comes. Yet, some are the kind of flubs that can be fixed, or at least improved, in edit, so it’s a mystery why they weren’t. Kristen Bell, as always, lends reliable support, but is given too few truly comic moments (although the bra-fitting scene provides more than ample film support). Others, like Peter Dinklage, are left to flounder, and some, like the great Kathy Bates, are absolutely wasted.
Built from a character McCarthy created while with the Groundlings improv troupe at the start of her career, the boss is a woman named Michelle Darnell (McCarthy), who is the “47th wealthiest woman in America.” She apparently got to that position through cutthroat moves and foul language in which she undercut her mentor (Bates) and former paramour and rival (Dinklage). Sent to prison for insider trading, she finds she’s been divested of her home and possessions when she’s released five months later. Her former assistant Claire (Bell) takes her in, and when Michelle accompanies Claire’s pre-teen daughter Rachel (Anderson) to a Dandelions meeting (modeled on the Girl Scouts), the entrepreneur sees dollar signs in the group’s cookie sales. In short order and armed with Claire’s brownie recipe, Darnell’s Darlings hit the streets and rake in the profits. A shaggy third act delivers apologies, redemption, and an unnecessary love interest (Labine) for Claire (presumably so that we don’t get any funny ideas about Claire and Michelle’s partnership).
At her comic best in the films in which she’s been directed by Paul Feig (Spy and Bridesmaids), McCarthy needs to drop the nepotism and prevent her career from becoming a family business.