Melissa McCarthy’s newest addition to her comedic canon comes in the form of the safe, mildly satisfying, The Boss. She takes on a moderately formulaic role as head honcho and money mogul Michelle Darnell, a complicated woman with a dirty mouth, an inflated sense of self-importance and an apparent lack of empathy. There’s a method to the McCarthy “madness,” she has the acting chops to show that the otherwise bull-headed and brazen characters she’s playing can be (and usually are in the third act) emotionally invested, poignant and softer around the edges. She’s got her success down to a science and it really, really works. And that’s not knocking McCarthy as an actress or human being. I think she’s absolutely fantastic at what she does, and she’s hilarious and down-to-earth off-screen as well. However, the level to which her inherent talents and traits can shine comes down to the quality of the projects on which she is working. The Boss, unfortunately, wasn’t strong enough to get the job done.
The Boss is an apprehensive film. It gets close enough to a sentiment, almost lands the final joke in a shtick, but doesn’t (or can’t seem to) follow through smoothly — or at all for that matter. That’s my biggest gripe with the film: There’s a very clear lack of both confidence and commitment in the film’s script. The relationship that exists between Michelle and Claire reminds me, at times, of the Fey/Poehler one in 2008’s Baby Mama: you’ve got the hardworking type A who is tasked more or less with babysitting the recently spun-out type B. Though it’s essentially a straight man/banana man relation, there was a freshness to it. Bell and McCarthy cozy right up to that dynamic, then fizzle out. Had the script shown drive and stuck to some kind of consistent through-line, the leading ladies’ characters and their eventual metamorphosis into a makeshift family would have been believable and warming to watch. Unfortunately for everyone involved, any and all emotionally-charged scenes between the two came out of left field. The setup was simply too weak to hold it all together.
Rather than coming across a well-rounded, multi-layered film as I assume it intended to be, the film felt scatter-brained as it tried to do far too many things at once. It flip-flopped its train of thought ad nauseum — Michelle starts off a maniacal tyrant, then becomes a naive and ignorant slob and finally transforms into a sensitive and open matriarchal figure. It didn’t feel like growth or development; it felt like there was no motivation or direction behind what was happening.
In the same vein, the issue of missing follow-ups was an enormous one. There were a few plot points (the largest of which regarded Michelle’s relationship with her former mentor Ida Marquette, played by the iconic Kathy Bates) that I was led to believe would be more important. The film built them up and never addressed them further. I had hopes for a juicier, meatier film but was left with something dry and underdone. Either the story was just airy at the get-go, the script failed to fill in the holes or most of the film’s missing pieces were left on the editing room floor. Whatever the case may be, for the majority of the run, The Boss seemed to shout, “I am a draft! I am a draft!”
The awkwardness, apprehension and diminished believability are entirely script issues. Unfortunately, the writing just was not there at the time filming began. Had the writers cycled it through a few more revisions, scrubbed out the inconsistencies and honed in on the guts of each character and their true motivations, the film could have been a screaming success not only monetarily but in acclaim with critics and the box office masses. The actors did the best with what they had, but the script failed them abysmally. It could have been so much more than what it ended up being.
Despite its pitfalls, there are a couple of wins that The Boss racks up.
- The incredible ensemble cast. You almost can’t go wrong when you put together a B-team to include Kristen Bell, Kathy Bates, Peter Dinklage and Cecily Strong. They perform their characters, however poorly-written they may be, with finesse and make them enjoyable. If you were to swap out these bright stars, the film would be dim and bleak. (Replace Dinklage’s katana-wielding, man-bun-wearing Renault with anyone else and there would be no nuance.) The cast is perhaps the film’s biggest saving grace.
- The relatively wholesome heart. McCarthy’s comedy is almost always good-hearted. She has never — and I doubt ever will — stooped so low as to make others a metaphorical sacrificial lamb as means for her to land a joke. That’s just not her gig. More often than not, she’s either poking fun at herself or at the innately wacky nature of humans as a species. The Boss sticks to this general rule, with only a few exceptions in the somewhat unexplained Michelle/Helen (Annie Mumolo) feud and the running gag that emphasizes the “unusual” height of one of the Darnell’s Darlings. On the humor front, The Boss isn’t exactly the sharpest or most resourceful, but it is rooted in positive intentions.
Overall, The Boss is a little half-baked. It’s a middle-of-the-road comedy that feels unfinished. Did I enjoy the experience of watching it? Sure! It was easy to watch. Some laughs were had and I appreciated the stellar-as-they-could-be performances from McCarthy and Bell. Could I have waited a few months and hit up Red Box to watch the film? Absolutely, and it would likely have been a wiser investment.
For diehard McCarthy fans, snag a ticket to a matinee showing and take the film for what it is. For everyone else, skip the popcorn-freckled theater and enjoy the flick as a rental from the comfort of your couch.
Rating: ★★★★ (4/10)