As much an argument for the inherent value of our betters as it is a narcissistic farce, The Boss is yet another comedy about redemption. Ben Falcone is responsible for directing and writing this thing, with Melissa McCarthy and Steve Mallory helping with the screenplay. Falcone and McCarthy also worked together on 2014’s Tammy, although that outing was less insidious.
Like many modern comedies, The Boss has its roots in foul characters and attempts to tie their obnoxiousness to some loose assembly of family values. There’s something to the misfits and weirdos of the genre, but this 2016 outing finds its protagonist as one of the richest women in America and sets the stage for a full-blown apologia for her abusive behaviour.
McCarthy stars as Michelle Darnell, the 47th richest woman in America. When we meet her, she’s putting on an elaborate arena show that tells her audience how to make some “real fucking money.” Her assistant Claire (Kristen Bell) hasn’t had a raise and is forced to quit to find better work and her business rival Renault (Peter Dinklage) has her put in prison for insider trading.
After serving four months in the luxury clink, Michelle emerges. She moves in with Claire and it isn’t long before she sets her sights on building her worth again, which involves selling brownies by using Claire’s daughter (Ella Anderson) and other girls as workers. Renault resurfaces for another swipe and revenge and Claire gets a love interest (Tyler Labine) because reasons.
It’s tempting to discard The Boss as yet another arrangement of crass jokes and crude setups, but vulgarity can be a sublime art in the right hands. In this universe, the jokes are loosely arranged and delivered without much spirit. McCarthy may exemplify the hairstyle and dress of a Suze Orman type, but there’s little by way of actual life in the part.
The movie attempts to give her a charge because she’s a rich woman who has designs on fashioning some sort of kingdom based on laudable concepts of commercial feminism, which in turn excuses all manner of cruel and abusive remarks. Most of these remarks are directed at preteen girls and things bubble over just in time for a street fight.
McCarthy is great when she plays a character who earns it. She comes by her tactlessness honestly and becomes a figure of exhaustion and frustration as she tries to navigate her way through the world. But in The Boss, she plays against her strengths and the drooping screenplay tries to shoehorn her into slapstick tropes anyway.
So while McCarthy’s Michelle tumbles down the stairs or gets tossed against a wall, the laughs don’t come because they aren’t earned. While it could’ve been hilarious to watch a Trump-ish dipshit meet some physical due, The Boss insists on rewarding and redeeming its lead. Any wonderful schadenfreude is undone.
Those waiting for Falcone’s picture to unload some sort of satirical groove against the superrich will have to keep waiting. In this world, Michelle is the hero. She gets to benefit from a riches-to-rags-to-riches tale that casts the other characters, like Bell’s Claire, as only too happy to put up with an infinite stream of exploitation.
Speaking of Claire, it’s difficult to find a more unquestionably generous person in modern comedies. She only exhibits the slightest resistance to Michelle and swallows the pill without asking questions. She is cast as an everlasting convict in a sea of inert jobs, with the affluent maven her only lifeline to personal accomplishment. That she has her daughter praising Michelle’s virtues is the icing on the propaganda.
McCarthy is a talented performer and her earnestness has always been one of her greatest gifts. But when that earnestness is set loose in service of a sociopathic personality on her way to unmerited redemption, it’s hard to find much to laugh at.