Directed by: Ben Falcone.
Written by: Ben Falcone & Melissa McCarthy and Steve Mallory.
Starring: Melissa McCarthy (Michelle Darnell), Kristen Bell (Claire), Peter Dinklage (Renault), Ella Anderson (Rachel), Tyler Labine (Mike Beals), Kathy Bates (Ida Marquette), Cecily Strong (Dana Dandridge), Mary Sohn (Jan Keller), Kristen Schaal (Scout Leader Sandy), Eva Peterson (Chrystal), Timothy Simons (Stephan), Aleandra Newcomb (Mariana), Annie Mumolo (Helen), Presley Coley (Hannah), Ben Falcone (Marty), Margo Martindale (Sister Aluminata), Michael McDonald (Bryce Crean).
Melissa McCarthy is one of the biggest movie stars in America right now – and deserves to be. She has a unique comic persona, who is at her best the more unhinged, and off script, she goes. She understands her appeal, and embraces it. Yet, I cannot help but think that she is, at least to a certain extent, under estimating her own skillset. More often than not, films starring McCarthy just aren’t very good, that she keeps afloat almost singlehandedly, with her force of will. So it is with The Boss – a film that, like her previous film Tammy, she co-wrote with her husband, Ben Falcone, who also serves as director. McCarthy is almost the sole reason to see the film – it’s a middling, mostly unfunny comedy about a wealthy woman, Michelle Darnell (McCarthy) who goes to jail for insider trading, loses everything – and when she gets out, starts to stay with her former assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell) – and sets her sites on rebuilding her empire. Her plan? To start her own version of the Girl Scouts, and cut into their cookie sales.
Darnell is the type of larger than life character that McCarthy specializes in. At her best, McCarthy is able to find the humanity in these characters that in lesser hands would be little more than a caricature. In order to do that however, the screenplay has to give McCarthy something deeper to work with – which the screenplay for The Boss never does. Darnell is over-the-top at the beginning, and remains so throughout the film. Yes, the movie takes the expected path and makes Darnell go from greedy and selfish to something resembling a sympathetic character in the end. It’s an unconvincing transformation, but it’s hardly the point of the film. The film exists to allow McCarthy several set pieces in which she can rant and rave and carry on, and a few chances for physical comedy. She does all this, and does it well to be sure. The film is at its best when it ignores the story and simply allows McCarthy loose. The only other actor who comes close to matching McCarthy is Peter Dinklage, who plays her rival, who is also in love with her. Dinklage completely commits to his characters strange insanity – and steals most of the scenes he’s in.
What is unfortunate about The Boss is that it spends far too much of its time on everything else. Kristen Bell is a fine comic actress, but she is given nothing to do as Claire except be a stick-in-the-mud. It’s the straight man role, but rarely has a straight man been this boring. A love story subplot between her and Tyler Labine goes nowhere and pretty much drags the movie to a stop every time it starts. Slightly better are supporting performances by Kristen Schaal and Annie Mumolo, as the soft spoken Girl Guides leader, and a very loud mother respectively, but they are barely in the film.
The Boss certainly has its moments. McCarthy is talented enough that she’s going to make you laugh at least a few times if she’s trying – and if nothing else, she seems to be trying very, very hard. Yet I cannot help but think that McCarthy, who after all co-wrote the movie, is underselling herself. She`s more talented than The Boss allows her to be. Yes, she can go big and get laughs – and she does. But there’s more to her than that – it’s there in a film like The Nines, which she made before she was a movie star - and it’s something I wish she'd tap into more often.