The Boss (2016)

Posted by Joel Copling on April 7, 2016

"The Boss" features what have to be four of the biggest laughs of 2016 so far, all of them likely the fault of some ad-libbing on the part of its primary actress. The reason the laughs, upon which we will touch later, work so well is because the sequences seem to unfold their specific gags organically on entirely their own merits. Putting them into the whole mix would add fuel to a possible hypothesis that the screenplay by Melissa McCarthy, Steve Mallory, and director Ben Falcone wants us to sympathize with the lead character. This is a much harder thing to do than laugh at a few effective jokes here and there and guffaw at four in particular.

That is because Michelle Darnell is callous, obnoxious, self-congratulatory, and, as usually comes with the previous three descriptors, selfish. She's also incredibly bitter, as the first thing we learn about her is that she has tried to conceal her place of upbringing (an orphanage) by passing it off as a magical boarding school like the one central to a popular fantasy series. The next things we learn about her are that her mentor has a long list of profanities to use in her honor, that she is domineering of her primary assistant, and that she has gotten involved with insider trading (While she is being arrested, she defends her actions by saying that, well, everyone does it and then attempts to bribe one of the arresting Federal agents).

That McCarthy, an actress whose strengths include that innate ability to be funny, sweet, and sad occasionally at the same time, is playing Michelle is almost a reason to want to like this person, but it just doesn't work like that. When she gets out of prison after four months, her assistant Claire (Kristen Bell) very reluctantly takes her in, and Michelle grows to appreciate Claire's busy life in an extra-small apartment with daughter Rachel (a very good Ella Anderson). The trio bonds when Michelle tries to make an empire of Claire's homemade brownies to show up the Scout Leader (Kristen Schaal), although the closeness comes with the price of finding that Michelle is, indeed, not a gracious human being.

Three of the four big jokes that work (The fourth is an amusing, extended gag involving a nursing bra) entirely take place within that classroom, as Michelle spars with the students and a room mother played by Annie Mumolo (including the mocking of a sickly cat and slights against said room mother's sexuality in the same breath as explaining a homosexual act to a young student). It's a peek into the potential wasted by a screenplay that eventually shifts its focus upon the kinky, complicated relationship between Michelle and Ronald (Peter Dinklage), her old professional rival and lover who now prefers to be called "Renault," which ends with (I kid you not) a duel involving kitanas. "The Boss" tries its hand at sentimentality by the end, but it seems too timid to utilize the actress who is the secret weapon at its center.

Film Information

Melissa McCarthy (Michelle), Kristen Bell (Claire), Ella Anderson (Rachel), Peter Dinklage (Ronald), Tyler Labine (Mike), Kathy Bates (Ida), Timothy Simons (Stephan), Cecily Strong (Dana), Kristen Schaal (Sandy), Annie Mumolo (Helen).

Directed by Ben Falcone and written by Falcone, Melissa McCarthy, and Steve Mallory.

Rated R (sexual content, language, brief drug use).

99 minutes.

Released on April 8, 2016.