“White collar crime doesn’t count!”
Last year, I saw Melissa McCarthy grace the screen in Spy, set in the world of espionage. This year, I sat down at the same theater with the same person to watch her newest film, The Boss. The results, I’m sad to say, were not the same as the last time all of these elements combined.
In Spy, McCarthy played a quiet, shy woman forced into the spotlight at her job. In The Boss, she is Michelle Darnell, a loud and boisterous woman forced out of her spot at the top of her field due to some insider trading. Once out, she finds her way back to the business world in the form of a for-profit Girl Scout-type troop called Darnell’s Darlings. With the help of her former assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell), and her daughter, Rachel (Ella Anderson), Darnell also finds out what true friends are.
Many critique McCarthy for “just doing that one thing she does.” Right, sure. Like Will Ferrell “just does that yelling thing,” or Chevy Chase “just falls down a lot.” McCarthy has, in fact, shown incredible range throughout her career. In addition to the aforementioned Spy, she has been the smart, strong friend who doles out tough love (Bridesmaids); a train wreck of a person with a soft heart (Tammy); and from what I’ve seen of Gilmore Girls (just a bit here and there), a genuinely sweet and kind lady. In a lot of these, she employs her special brand of rhetorically bitch slapping most of the people with whom she comes in contact, but I certainly don’t find the characters behind those verbal assaults to be the same from film to film.
In all honesty, the best thing about the movie is all of the quotable one-liners, whether they are from one of McCarthy’s brilliant barbs or a perfectly weird reading by Peter Dinklage (as Darnell’s ex-lover and current nemesis, Ronald/Renault). Why does Dinklage’s character have two names? Does he play two roles? No, he started going by Renault after Darnell screwed him over back in the early 90s. A funny flashback to this moment ends with him stating “Ronald is dead.” One of my favorites quips of the whole film was “That sweater makes you look like you go grocery shopping at CVS.” It was especially sweet when I had to run to CVS directly after the movie (not for groceries, mind you). Dinklage, for his part, is just going for it in every scene, amping up his character’s oddball tendencies. These efforts don’t always yield the desired effect, but when it works, it works in delightfully bizarre ways.
Where the movie fails most is letting jokes hang in the air too much. A few scenes which had clear out points are left going a bit too long, with (brilliantly talented) improvisers just being let loose. I’m all for improvisation, but it generally works best in the meat of a scene, not at the end, where too often it fizzles out even in the most capable of hands. This isn’t to say this tactic never works. Several scenes end with subtle taps rather than strong punches, and that subtlety is perfect. It’s also clear that director/co-writer Ben Falcone lets these scenes go because he loves his actors. Unfortunately, the jokes just don’t always land, and the scenes often awkwardly limp to a close.
The film also hits a rough patch about two thirds of the way through, where the shift in tone is somewhat abrupt and the story meanders strangely. Things pick back up, but it’s a bad point for the energy level to drop out of a movie. Between this and Tammy, Falcone (McCarthy’s husband) clearly hasn’t hit his groove as a comedic director. I don’t find his films as terrible as many reviews indicate. Especially in the case of Tammy, there is an underlying humanity that cuts through all of the verbal assaults and lowbrow humor.
The Boss is certainly not the best film featuring McCarthy (or Bell, or Dinklage), but it has enough solid laughs and sweetness to make it worth a Sunday afternoon viewing or a rainy day pick-me-up.