Melissa McCarthy’s latest comedy The Boss is crass and unapologetic but the jokes only sometimes hit the mark. When the jokes land, The Boss can be laugh-out-loud funny but for the most part the film sinks.
Melissa McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, a larger-than-life corporate guru who has made her fortune stepping on other people’s toes. The film positions her general lack of care for others as a symptom of her orphan-nobody-wants upbringing but spends little time imploring the audience to care about her. Her antics often feel more mean than spirited. Michelle’s tough as nails façade is shaken when she finds herself with nowhere to go after her almost completely elided over stint in prison, so she shows up on her old assistant’s doorstep with her coach bags in tow.
Claire (Kristen Bell) is hesitant to accept her compassionless and demeaning boss but relents when her daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) insists. After a few minor hijinks, Michelle hatches a plan to piggyback off of the Dandelions girl troop and their cookie-selling tactics with her own brand, using Claire’s brownie recipe. A turf war between the Dandelions and the “Darnelle’s Darlings” ensues and the rest of the film is spent watching Michelle cut down everyone else until she makes her way to the top again. This is a major flaw of the film, for much of The Boss it is difficult to like Michelle, even when we are supposed to. When we are laughing at her antics, it seems like McCarthy is simply playing off her well-trodden schtick rather than adding anything new to the genre.
A high point of the film is pulled out in the interplay between level-headed Claire and outlandish Michelle. Kristen Bell shows that she can banter with the best of them and isn’t afraid to make a dick joke or several. She is likeable as a caring mother and equally funny when she is being courted by love interest Mike (Canuck Tyler Labine). Bell’s strength in The Boss is in her ability to move from being crude to sentimental seamlessly but she is often drown out by McCarthy.
Peter Dinklage’s Renault plays more like a character in Austin Powers than a character in a proto-Apatow flick. He is unrealized as Darnell’s nemesis and love interest, sometimes oscillating indiscriminately between the two. Renault is a character that could be good, if the film had exploited Peter Dinklage’s talents rather than relying as his size as a point of humour.
Some of the secondary characters are really strong, particularly Kristen Schaal as the overly sensitive Dandelion leader. Bridesmaids‘ Annie Mumolo is great as the overly competitive mom, but her storyline is all but forgotten halfway through the film and Kathy Bates is excellent but underused. In general, McCarthy is good when she is bringing out the best in her scene partners and some of the best jokes come about here.
When the film wraps up, in the overly sentimental fashion that romantic comedies tend to do, the story feels weak and rushed. Sure, The Boss lacks depth and is rather disjointed, but that’s not the point of the film. Even though it doesn’t stray from formula or break new ground, there are some laugh-out-loud moments, which might be enough for some. McCarthy can keep up the character and hold our attention long enough and it is refreshing to see women on screen engage in the kind of humor usually reserved for dude bros.
Ultimately, The Boss is a comedy that fires off as many jokes as possible in hopes a few will land. When they do, they are hilarious, but when the jokes don’t land, they make the film feel tiresome. While it is refreshing to see a comedy in theatres that passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, too many jokes miss the mark and Michelle Darnell is just not likeable enough to get away with being such a horrible person.