The Boss is the second pairing of star Melissa McCarthy with her husband Ben Falcone as director working off a script they wrote with fellow former Groundling Steve Mallory. A first such pairing of director and star yielded Tammy in 2014 which was a box office success but not as critically celebrated as McCarthy’s pairings with director Paul Feig. A comparison that was unfair in the sense that Tammy rather than being a broad comedy was designed to say something about life and the people who fall through the cracks of our society. It was a harder going narrative despite some comic riffing which can’t earn forgiveness for all its sins but can help explain why it is not as enjoyable as other films. The marketing has presented The Boss as a broader comedy with a larger than life protagonist and huge over the top set piece where Girl Scouts have the kind of street fight Ron Burgundy would find himself in. Yet it too is a parable about relationships being more important that success and having the courage to let people in but it’s a lot less depressing than Tammy at times could be.
Michelle Darnell was created years ago by McCarthy when she was a member of the comedy troupe Groundlings. A parody of self-help gurus and successful business entrepreneurs, Michelle Darnell finds herself charged with white collar crime and all her assets frozen. When she gets out of jail the only person who will speak to her is her former personal assistant Claire Rawlins (Kristen Bell) who is now working a dead end job to help take care of her daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson). While at a meeting for Rachel’s Dandelions Group (they’re Girl Scouts in everything but name) where fundraising is mentioned, Darnell sees an opportunity for a new business venture. She creates a rival group of Darnell’s Darlings who sell Brownies that Claire makes. There are forces at work including a former betrayed lover and colleague of Michelle called Renault played by Peter Dinklage. There’s also a love interest in the form of Tyler Labine’s Mike Beals who works with Claire, is a nice guy and is funny and has a nice face but is not being asked to pose for the cover of Vanity Fair next week.
There’s something uneven in the tone of The Boss, one minute we’re feeling the very real harshness of a woman walking the streets with nowhere else to go. In one scene people attempt to kill people with swords and it all feels like a little too real to shrug off when it’s over. On the other hand the overblown street fight was a lot of fun but seems out of place with some of the realities the film acknowledges. There are some great insults and put downs and some don’t care for predictable pratfalls but the audience did laugh when a sofa bed sprang McCarthy into a wall. If you’re going to knock on the door, I guess you got to step through it. Some moments also feel underserved; maybe to keep Darnell a character rather than a caricature they missed some opportunities to really parody similar real life figures.
Yet the film looks good enough for a second time director although editing could be tighter, I particularly like the aping of a heist sequence. The editing could be tighter but at least Falcone has mastered establishing shots, maybe Zack Snyder should call him for some tips. The cast is likeable enough, Anderson, Bell & McCarthy share a nice chemistry as the heart of the film and there is a good message under all the gross jokes and pratfalls. At times you feel like celebrating the fact that here is a gross out comedy that has 3 central female characters at the heart of it and celebrates motherhood and strong female relationships. At other times cookies get shoved down butt cracks and you wonder if something has been lost. One of the funniest bits has been featured a lot in advertising where McCarthy and Bell prepare Claire for her first date with Tyler. Other scenes don’t stick the landing as good as this but there’s enough here to recommend for fans of McCarthy. Based off this second effort I would be interested to see whether the third time pairing would be a charm.