Movie Review: McCarthy’s improvisation makes ‘The Boss’ funny, plot makes it struggle
Movies aren’t sitcoms. Some comedies would just would work a little better if they eschewed a typical three act structure in favor of the kind of jangly, slice of life aimlessness that Robert Altman brought to his better and more underrated movies.
Most comedies today are already built upon a loose, improvisational structure. Why not take that structure to its inevitable conclusion? Case in point, last summer’s “Train Wreck” would’ve worked better if it tossed out its romantic comedy elements, which seemed like a begrudging half-measure anyway, and became a series of barely connected vignettes focusing on Amy Schumer’s self-destructive love life. It isn’t necessary to cram a story-arc into character based comedies. We can spend time with characters without seeing them love, laugh, learn and find some sort of redemption. “The Bronze” didn’t need to be about Melissa Rauch’s character growing up and moving on and neither did Melissa McCarthy’s latest comedy “The Boss,” a film where plot developments are so forced, rushed and perfunctory you wonder why director/co-writer/McCarthy’s spouse Ben Falcone bothered.
It should be noted that “The Boss” is a funny movie mostly because of McCarthy’s fearlessness and inherent likability. In lesser hands her Michelle Darnell,“the 47th richest woman in America,” would be a grotesque irritant. It’s hard to imagine anyone pulling off this character as effectively. Especially during the opening which finds her childishly entitled titan of industry boasting about reuniting all of the original members of Destiny’s Child to perform in her living room only to force them to break up again as well as insisting on incorrectly performing Abbott and Costello’s ‘Who’s on First’ routine as her assistant (Kristen Bell) struggles to apply teeth whitener to Michelle’s yappy mouth.
Like Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge, she manages to turn a potentially odious character into something far more sympathetic and poignant. Especially when she pays for her hubris when a jilted lover (Peter Dinklage) busts her for insider trading leaving her homeless after serving a stint in a white collar prison. With nowhere else to turn, Michelle bullies her way into living on the couch of her former assistant only to, improbably, gain her second wind as a sort of Girl Scout cookie mogul after a chance encounter at a rowdy Dandelion Troop meeting.
As in “The Heat,” the gold standard of McCarthy comedies that “The Boss” is simultaneously better than and not quite as good as, McCarthy barrels through the movie pummeling her co-stars with foul yet intricate insults — one stand out scene has her telling a colleague that his dead wife is banging misshapen IT guys in hell — but, to McCarthy’s credit, allows her co-stars to be funny and not serve just as comic foils. Bell, accustomed to this loosey-goosey style of comedy thanks to her appearances on TV shows like “Party Down”, more than holds her own against McCarthy and displays the kind of easy going chemistry with her co-star that was lacking between Sandra Bullock and McCarthy in “The Heat.” Additionally, Dinklage, Cecily Strong, Kristen Schaal and Kathy Bates all manage to have their own scene stealing moments.
On the downside, “The Boss” leans a bit too heavily on the kind of easy ‘fatty-goes-boom-boom’ style of slapstick that Chris Farley was last to truly pull off. Additionally, the plot doesn’t seem to function as anything beyond an obstacle, something the filmmakers can barely navigate through. Plot points suddenly lurch into the foreground awkwardly and without warning. Like “Zoolander 2”, it takes until the third act for the plot to gain any kind of momentum and when it finally does, it’s rushed and mostly nonsensical. Basically, it’s a shame that comedies with such an improvised, impulsive air aren’t allowed to fully scratch their on-the-spot itches in the way that “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and some mumblecore movies can. You get the sense that “The Boss” would be a better movie if it simply ignored 7o percent of the script and just winged it until the battery in the digital camera died.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage
Director: Ben Falcone
Weekender Rating: WWW
Length: 99 minutes