Movie Review: 'The Boss' (2016)

Husband-and-wife comedy force, Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone, are back with their follow-up to the underrated “Tammy”. Directed by Falcone, starring McCarthy and written by Falcone and McCarthy alongside Steve Mallory; “The Boss” is another entertaining collaboration from the married duo. The movie follows Michelle Darnell (McCarthy) a mega successful CEO, who tours as a motivational speaker to sold-out coliseums.

When she is at the pinnacle of her success, she is toppled by her onetime lover turned bitter nemesis (Peter Dinklage), who outs her to the authorities for insider trading. Sent to prison for five months and left with nothing of her empire when she is released, Michelle resolves to get back on her feet by moving in with her former assistant (Kristen Bell); a harried single mom.

After a bit of wallowing, Michelle finds unexpected inspiration for a new business venture when she takes Claire’s (Bell) daughter (Ella Anderson) to her Dandelions meeting - an organization akin to the Girl Scouts. Realizing there is a capitalistic gain to be leveraged; Michelle decides to launch her own rival version of the group using Claire’s brownie recipe as its commodity cornerstone.

Of course she has to contend with a lot of humorous tension from those she is trying to usurp and if there is one bit that needed more fleshing out, it is Michelle’s rivalry with the uptight mom of one of Rachel’s classmates. Their enmity heats up too quickly and without enough vitriolic provocation to warrant the ensuing battle that transpires; thus making the subplot feel forced. Like other aspects of the movie, it is a tad undercooked. 

From the point where Michelle becomes involved with her answer to the Dandelions, “The Boss” takes a turn towards a sort of R-rated version of “Troop Beverly Hills” as heading the group leads to her gaining some personal growth. Despite her Teflon demeanor, Michelle hides the emotional trauma of rejection, having been abandoned by her foster parents and returned to the orphanage several times throughout her childhood.

This is the poignant side of the raunchy comedy that braces it from falling into comedic hyperbole and where Michelle’s callous disposition is amusingly challenged by the full court melt produced by Claire and Rachel’s enduring kindness.

See “The Boss” could have been a full blown, rough and tumble, lampoon of self-help gurus or a non-stop ribbing of a certain celebrity homemaker and yet it takes an alternative route that is far more rewarding in the long run. Yes, the movie possesses McCarthy’s signature barb-wired rants and cheeky off-color jokes. It just has an added touch of blustery heart thrown in to balance it all out.

One unexpected development is how quickly the movie moves away from satire, leaving it behind soon after it begins; ultimately blazing a trail entirely beholden to itself. It takes a few general swipes at everything but it is much less belligerent in its execution than McCarthy’s buddy flick with Sandra Bullock, “The Heat”.

If there is one issue with this obvious shift in direction, it is that the beginning does not quite match up with the end product. The opening minutes teasing a story arc that never comes to bear; though it all develops in a natural manner, reminiscent of real life’s surprising detours.

The strengths of the film lie with McCarthy and the commitment to its subplots involving Claire, her nascent romance with a colleague (an affable Tyler Labine) and her overall dynamic with Michelle, all of which yield exceedingly funny moments. Kristen Bell lands an excellent turn as the straight-man to McCarthy’s animated protagonist and the chemistry between the two ladies is brilliant; Bell supplying the perfect amount of sugar to complement McCarthy’s spice.

Kid actor Ella Anderson also gives a crucially terrific performance as Claire's compassionate daughter, striking a believable on-screen bond with both McCarthy and Bell. While Peter Dinklage, who one would hope to see getting some roles outside of comedy due the strength of his dramatic performance on “Game of Thrones”, delivers an engaging performance as Michelle’s ex and it is worth noting that their romance is intriguingly well-played.

As he did in “Tammy”, Falcone showcases McCarthy’s incredible strengths, not only as a comedian but as an actor. She can play the frosty fem scrooge one minute and the vulnerable, bubbly heroine; you cannot help rooting for the next. So often with a single expression McCarthy can have you howling with laughter before that touch of sadness crosses her face, breaking your heart into a million pieces. As she proved with her previous roles in “St. Vincent” and “Identity Thief”, she has a range as an actress few possess and she gets a wonderful chance to demonstrate that here.

As great as she is at delivering acerbic dialogue, her abilities with physical comedy are just as impressive and the sight gags in “The Boss” are among her very best. Where “Spy” gave her a direct canon at which to shoot her zingers, “The Boss” has a broader focus, allowing her to play a little looser than usual.

As previously mentioned, this flick is not about spoofing anything in particular. While promoted as one aimed at a certain sheer haired, financial expert; the jokes about that individual dry up quickly and are so subtle, it would take a keen and highly motivated observer to recognize them.

The unevenness of the movie’s energy does supply a suspense not commonly seen in comedies; which turns out to be an inadvertently, positive side effect. In some instances, there is a sense it meanders, caught up in constructing a string of comedic scenarios rather than using the central story as the mechanism to let them occur.

That said; it contains a lot of greatly hilarious moments. Good messages about the fulfillment of family, entrepreneurship and never giving up on your ambitions, generate the film’s thematic significance. In the end, McCarthy and company handle the story’s ebbs and flows like a boss. Rating: 7/10

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