Somewhere on the Melissa McCarthy Rating Scale, between Tammy (lowest) and The Heat (highest), lives The Boss – hubby Ben Falcone’s latest McCarthy-driven comedy. The film reeks of Get Hard‘s atmospheric influence, minus the overtly unfunny racism, which should come as no surprise since it’s a Gary Sanchez production that fails on many of the same levels.
Falcone’s knuckle-headed strain of humor dives into weird realms of adults clotheslining teenagers, or boyfriends chivalrously offering to suck-off strangers as a distraction, but coming off the razor-sharp heels of Spy, McCarthy’s riches-to-rags buffoonery stinks like a stale, knock-off perfume. When she’s on, this go-getter slays audiences – just expect those moments to be muffled by T-Pain cameos and soaring golden eagles.
McCarthy stars as Michelle Darnell, a self-made businesswoman who clawed her way to international infamy. While ascending to greatness, Darnell made a few enemies, one of whom exposes an insider trading fiasco that lands the powerful mogul in jail. After serving a “grueling” white-color prison sentence, Darnell learns all her assets have been seized, grounding her once-lavish lifestyle.
With nowhere to go, Darnell’s former assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell), lets her crash until opportunities present themselves once again, but it’s Claire’s daughter, Rachel (Ella Anderson), who sparks the next Darnell brand. It’s hard to get back up once you’ve fallen from the top, unless you’re Michelle Darnell – and you can outsmart your nemesis/ex-lover, Renault (Dinklage).
Darnell acquires her cut-throat nature during a rough childhood, when numerous families return her like an ugly Christmas sweater after adopting her, then changing their mind. This sets a personal paranoia in motion whenever Darnell grows too close to someone (trust issues), which definitely doesn’t make for a gimmicky climax! (Sarcasm: it does) Same as her telegraphed path to redemption, which focuses more on sweet sincerity than we’d hope. Yes, Darnell does spell out foul words, punch children, and verbally abuse competitors, but for an R-rated comedy, The Boss feels bafflingly tame, and tonally confused when it comes to the turtle-neck obsessed financial genius.
McCarthy does shine through the layers of make-up Darnell plasters on each day, and delivers some stinging insults when going claws-out. When she’s at her meanest, Darnell belittles a man’s dead wife with deplorable aggression, which, of course, is the film’s funniest moment. This kill-or-be-killed business dominance works well with McCarthy’s brash attitude, until it’s overshadowed by a cheap physical gag, like falling down a flight of stairs or getting flung by a fold-out couch.
Whenever The Boss manages to legitimize McCarthy’s comedic chops, foolish crowd-pleasers cut momentum like a dull reality check, cuing another strange intro to Dinklage’s weird samurai obsession (that’s a thing). McCarthy is more a goofy jester than we’d hope, deflating Darnell’s empowering, independent presence in the process.
When calling for support, McCarthy works best with her character’s team of “Darlings,” who become a brownie-selling powerhouse envied by Girl Scout troops everywhere. Eva Peterson utilizes her taller physique for some comical intimidation tactics as Chrystal (who stands out), and Anderson is as cute, and eye-battingly charismatic, as a button. Other more aged actors pitch in when possible, including Timothy Simons as a submissive evil assistant, and Cecily Strong as Rachel’s manager from Hell, but the remaining names barely register a noticeable nod. That’s including Falcone, who appears briefly just so McCarthy can throw in a joke about the two never, EVER being intimate together.
But, while we’re here – can we talk about every filmmaker’s obsession with Peter Dinklage wearing a wig? In The Boss, Dink ditches his Pixels mullet for straight bangs and a man bun, leaping around as a pint-sized ninja. Unfortunately, most jokes are derived from his small stature, and seem effortlessly one-note – just like Tyler Labine.
I love the guy, honestly, but his selection as Bell’s love interest plays so awkwardly, from the very first time he barrels into conversation, asking for a date. There’s something off-kilter about their pairing that fails to click, only rendering Bell that much more vanilla. She’s a fine fit for a mother-of-one, but her Betty Crocker parenting skills leave no room for outstretched comedic muscles. Then again, no one gets that opportunity with McCarthy in the mix.
Bottom line – Melissa McCarthy is a big-time talent who’s made stronger impacts with much better roles before. The Boss allows her to create an over-characterized lunatic, walking in the footsteps of Will Ferrell, but a weaker script sinks her typically sky-high stock value. You will laugh as two warring packs of grade schoolers beat each other mercilessly, or when Renault transcends creep into comedian, but this is an A-grade cast playing around with C-grade material. The first 15 minutes reveal all you need to know, leaving the remaining 84 for whispered obscenities, emotion(less) lessons, and luxurious frivolity – none of which are particularly, or hilariously, inspired.
The Boss is a strange tonal mess that's not exactly Tammy bad. But even with McCarthy swinging for the fences, it still can't close the deal.