Melissa McCarthy’s career is a series of performances that outclass her films. With the exception of Spy and Ghostbusters, none of McCarthy’s films matched her talent, commitment, and verve. 2016’s The Boss is a solid comedic outing that works as a fun – if undemanding – vehicle for the comedienne’s vast talents. Written by McCarthy, Ben Falcone (McCarthy’s husband and the film’s director), and Steve Mallory, The Boss is a sprightly, breezy way of spending a couple hours.
McCarthy stars as Michelle Darnell, a character she created while a member of the legendary The Groundlings. Michelle is a multi-media tycoon – a lampoon amalgam of Donald Trump, Suze Orman, and Martha Stewart – who is arrested for insider trading. After serving a sinfully short sentence of merely five months, she’s left broke, alone, and homeless. With few prospects, Michelle turns to her former assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell), a single mother who’s perennially overworked and exhausted. Michelle – used to the finer things in life like owning her own helicopter or skyscrapers – has trouble adjusting to the simpler life of sharing Claire’s relatively iddy bitty apartment (in what looks like Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood).
Frustrated with little outlet for her talents, Michelle eyes the local girl scout-esque troupe in which Claire’s daughter Rachel is a member of; poaching members of the troupe, Michelle births a new startup – Darnell’s Darlings – a girl scout troupe that sells Claire’s amazing brownies. Before Michelle realizes it, she falls for her former assistant and her cute little tyke and the three form a quirky family. Looming in the background is Peter Dinklage’s Renault (or Ronald), Melissa’s former lover-turned-rival who’s plotting to muscle in on Michelle’s new business venture.
The Boss is an undemanding, unambitious little film that serves dutifully as a funny entry in McCarthy’s oeuvre. The script – some of it feeling improvised – is solid, though it starts to lose its logic in the final act, where it sends its characters on a caper that culminates in a surprisingly violent sword-fighting scene between McCarthy and Dinklage. And though the screenwriters are capable of penning a solid script, it doesn’t take much time to develop Michelle’s friendship with Claire, nor does it take enough time to show the growth of their fledgling company (its huge success feels too fast and unearned).
As a director, Falone (who has a cameo as Michelle’s much-abused lawyer) doesn’t show much personality or distinction. It’s a nondescript effort, but he’s smart in that he lets McCarthy do her thing – and she does it beautifully. Even in the most mundane situation, the comedienne manages to perform movie magic. Her Michelle isn’t much of a character (and there’s some forced backstory stuff about Michelle having a wretched childhood in a series of foster homes that doesn’t feel earned or natural), but even if the role doesn’t tax McCarthy’s acting skills, she gets to show off her estimable comedy chops. As support, Bell is fine and Dinklage has some goofy fun (and in a smaller role, Kathy Bates chews up some scenery as Michelle’s mentor/mother figure). But this is clearly McCarthy’s show and she’s a whirling dervish of mugging.
At this point in her career, McCarthy has graduated from mere talented character actress to a full-fledged movie superstar. The Boss is an enjoyable effort, but one that is strikingly mediocre, which is a somewhat disappointing theme in her film career. The film did well in the box office (as do most of her films), but it would be nice if she veered more toward smart, funny, and thoughtful movies like Spy or St. Vincent or even Bridesmaids. Her box office appeal shows her having the kind of commercial legs to compete with the likes of Will Ferrell or Seth Rogan, but given how smart she is – both as a comic and an actress – it would be nice to see her avoid easy junk like this and hold out for smarter projects.