Melissa McCarthy is one of the most successful comedic performers in Hollywood today, and good for her. Given some of the laugh factories that she’s headlined, she deserves it. However, based on the unfortunate ‘Tammy’ and her latest feature, ‘The Boss’, it’s starting to look as though McCarthy probably shouldn’t be writing her own screenplays.
‘The Boss’ is certainly an improvement on the last feature that she co-wrote with her husband Ben Falcone (who also directed both movies), but only because more jokes land. As a piece of storytelling, it’s still a bit of a mess that completely derails somewhere in the last half hour. Although enough of the gags in this laugh delivery system score for a decent night at the movies, it’s just a shame that not much else works.
McCarthy stars as Michelle Darnell, a popular public speaker and ruthless businesswoman for whom using people for money is a way of life. After an unnecessary prologue showing her childhood bouncing between foster homes, we see Darnell at the peak of her powers delivering a big dumb speech to adoring fans before screwing over her arch nemesis, Renault (Peter Dinklage), one more time. Unfortunately, some insider trading was involved, which Renault uses to get Darnell imprisoned before buying her entire company.
Once Darnell gets out of prison, she has nothing and no one, but is determined to win back her fortune. She moves in with her former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell) and her daughter (Ella Anderson), and Darnell proves to be a charming bad influence. After learning that Claire makes a killer brownie, Darnell kicks off a business of Girl Scout brownie selling that she infuses with violence and vulgarity to big success. In fact, Darnell even forms a bit of a family unit with Claire and her daughter, which given that prologue is guaranteed to lead to a bit of a breakdown and a wee bit of tearful drama just in time for the third act.
First up, McCarthy is indeed hilarious in the title role that she has played since her days in The Groundlings. Wearing a series of absurd turtlenecks and always only a few seconds away from unleashing a torrent of swears or a bit of physical business, the role lets McCarthy cut loose into all of her glorious comedic excess. The Gary Sanchez production features some of the company’s trademark absurdism, allowing McCarthy to go bigger and sillier than ever before with some gut-busting results. Around her are some pretty strong scene stealers, like Peter Dinklage’s hysterically straight-laced villain, Cecily Strong from ‘SNL’ delivering some fantastically awkward cringe comedy, Kathy Bates matching McCarthy’s sweary stunts as a mentor, and a collection of young girls who become McCarthy’s gang of head-bashing and brownie-selling thugs.
The trouble with ‘The Boss’ isn’t so much the absurdist tone, McCarthy’s performance, or any of the supporting players. That stuff all works just fine. Unfortunately, the story is a bit predictable and often downright messy. Sure, most comedies hinged on a star playing a ridiculous lead have only the most basic of plot structures to hang the jokes on, but this one is particularly dull. It’s all too easy to accurately predict every twist long before it arrives and rarely possible to care about these living cartoons when any attempt at empathetic drama arrives. Even worse, the script completely runs out of gas in the last twenty minutes, eventually cramming in both a dull heist and groan-worthy samurai sword fight in a desperate attempt to stretch the movie out to 90 minutes. Visually, everything is rather flat as well, which is great for the actors to do their thing, but always boring to look at, especially during the disastrous action finale.
‘The Boss’ doesn’t quite hold together as a movie, but it’s at least pretty funny. For about half an hour somewhere in the middle, it plays like absolute gangbusters. That’s not quite enough to be a success, though, especially with a final third that can be downright painful to watch. McCarthy and Falcone might have a knack for coming up with characters that the actress can excel at, but they aren’t particularly strong storytellers and certainly aren’t visually gifted filmmakers. That said, this one holds together better than ‘Tammy’,and at least decides on a consistent tone. So they are improving. Maybe one day they’ll come up with something that’s funny and engaging all the way though. In the meantime, it would probably be more productive for McCarthy to use her star power to get other people’s screenplays off the ground.
Movie stars only get a certain window of time in which they’re powerful enough to get projects greenlit in Hollywood simply signing on. While I understand and admire the ambition of McCarthy using that enviable position to try her hand at writing, now might not be the best time to learn that craft by trial-and-error. Now is the time to suck up all the best scripts available. After all, she won’t be the first name on the mailing list for those screenplays forever.