I can picture Melissa McCarthy's marriage to The Boss co-writer and director Ben Falcone being an awful lot like the film itself - an awful lot of laughs surrounded by a series of WTF? moments and times of complete and utter silence.
That really is the experience of watching McCarthy's latest flick, a film that works largely because McCarthy simply refuses to allow anything she's involved in not work and she practically, by force of nature, practically shoves the film into moments of comedy brilliance surrounded by moments where you can practically hear Carrie Underwood's cricket choir chirping in the background. While far from her best film, The Boss is a marked improvement from her last collaboration with Falcone, the uneven and underwhelming, yet still funny and entertaining, Tammy. The Boss is a welcome move away from the short of schlubby yet likable characters that have largely defined McCarthy's solo cinematic efforts, though that's likely an observation that McCarthy herself wouldn't share as you can even tell in her performances that she finds that inner gem in all of her characters. This character, the 47th wealthiest woman in America when we meet her, is a character she created some 15 years ago as a member of L.A.'s improve troupe, the Groundlings.
The mere fact that McCarthy has lived with this character in her mind for 15 years is a solid indicator that McCarthy knows this character inside and out, a knowledge that allows her to push the limits even when the film itself does not.
In The Boss, McCarthy is Michelle Darnell, a woman who takes a briefly referenced traumatic childhood and uses it as inspiration to build a life based upon absolute control and complete and utter independence. She's built a financial empire, leaving behind her a series of bitter former and current business partners and jilted ex-lovers and investors.
Whatever it takes. Right?
When a certain jilted ex proves to be her match, Michelle finds herself brought up on insider trading charges and her entire empire crumbles after her assets are frozen and she spends four months in an obviously federal prison. Released with nothing to her name, Michelle plants herself in the life of her ex-assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell) and Claire's daughter, Rachel (Ella Anderson). Uninspired until she encounters Claire's remarkable brownies and Rachel's deliciously droll Dandelions troupe and concocts a plan for Darnell's Darlings, a decidedly more aggressive girls troupe that bullies its way into Dandelions territory and puts Michelle on the path back to riches possibly at the expense of the one thing that has never really meant anything to her anyway - family.
The truth is that The Boss isn't going to serve as the proof that Falcone isn't McCarthy's Dennis Dugan, a steady yet largely unimaginative contributor to the cinematic force that is Melissa McCarthy. Now then, it should be noted that while Falcone is still finding his directorial voice, The Boss is a significant improvement in terms of filmmaking over Tammy, a film where just about everything that was wrong with the film could be placed upon Falcone's shoulders.
The same is not true here. While The Boss isn't a huge step forward, it is A step forward and I can't help but think that McCarthy is better off with a director who keeps pushing her into newer, edgier territory. Trust me. There will be those who don't particularly appreciate McCarthy's ever so slightlier edgier self here, an edgier self that includes pushing and prodding her Darlings into a knockdown, drag-out back alley encounter with the Dandelions.
Screw 'em. Comedy isn't meant to be safe and The Boss is at its funniest when McCarthy takes a gag and wrings every possible laugh out of it.
Kristen Bell, while under-utilized, proves to have a solid chemistry with McCarthy mostly owing to her naturally woven together presence of "girl next door" meets psychotically unhinged ex. Peter Dinklage practically steals every scene he's in as Renault, one of Michelle's jilted exes and a guy with more than a few quirks acquired along journey to wealth. Even more under-utilized than Bell, Kathy Bates's third collaboration with McCarthy mostly falls flat and feels overly edited. Tyler Labine, as a potential suitor for Claire, has a certain charm that makes his scenes with Claire feel honest and natural.
What about Kristen Schaal? Is there another actress who can make you smile just by showing up? Schaal's too brief appearance as the Dandelions leader is filled with comic delight. I wanted more of her. A lot more.
I can't imagine there's a soul that will consider The Boss to be McCarthy's best movie yet, but I also can't imagine too many McCarthy fans being disappointed with the film, a fairly paint-by-numbers comedy that features a far from paint-by-numbers performance from one of Hollywood's current top comedy actresses. With the re-imagined Ghostbusters on the horizon, The Boss should be funny enough and entertaining enough to hold over McCarthy fans and moviegoers anxious for a few laughs after what felt like a longer than usual awards season.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic