Movie Review: The Boss
By Ben Gruchow
April 14, 2016
By this point in the lady's career, weighed by a roughly-equal proportion of good ventures to bad, we can narrow Melissa McCarthy's character approach into two different aesthetics. There is the caustic hothead with a sympathetic core, and there is the innocuous protagonist masking a caustic hothead with a sympathetic core. Lest we rightfully think that this forms a fairly narrow spectrum of acting choices, we must note that McCarthy attacks those archetypes with a commitment and intensity that focuses the audience's attention squarely on her, to the exclusion of everything and everyone else on-screen. This is occasionally to the movie's minor detriment (there is an incisive look at depression as self-fulfilling prophecy in Bridesmaids that's almost completely upstaged by McCarthy's magnetism whenever she appears onscreen), but more often to the benefit of an otherwise mediocre or outright shoddy piece of work (see: 2013's lazy Identity Thief, 2014's somnambulant Tammy, and even the unpleasant undertones underneath the energy of her performance in The Heat).
She's a red-light-on performer, a natural, and she does such superhuman work to save The Boss from itself that I almost feel compelled to give the film a pass. She plays a role that would be, I think, unworkable in the custody of just about anyone else. Michelle Darnell, the titular Boss, CEO of multiple corporations until she's arrested for a bout of insider trading and consigned to the living room couch of her former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell), is a terrible protagonist; take McCarthy out of the role and you have a story about an emotionally stunted, repugnant misanthrope who goes from taking advantage of people while wealthy to taking advantage of people while destitute, with a subplot about Darnell's family issues shoehorned into the third act.
Adding onto this unwieldy alchemy of unplayable role and unyielding charisma is a plot universe of the lower order: Claire has a young daughter, who factors into every decision she ever makes and thus mechanically provides her with something resembling character motivation. Then there is the plot to get Darnell back onto her feet by competing with the local Girl Scout-esque troop for business, and the adversarial leader of the troop, and then on top of it all there's Darnell's business rival and one-time lover Renault (Peter Dinklage); for reasons that will eventually become clear, he has an interest in making sure that Darnell doesn't re-ascend to her position of power.
There's a lot of plot there, even though none of it is original or very meaningful, and it requires a deft directorial hand merely to keep these plates spinning in a way that renders the plot machinery invisible (or tolerable). Ben Falcone, whose last effort was Tammy, is not such an individual, and so The Boss proceeds forward in a series of fits and starts, dawdling for far too long on useless by-plots like the Scout troop meetings (they're called Dandelions here, as if it matters) before accelerating through the entire competition plot and plan for Darnell's resurgence, compressing it into about five minutes of arrhythmic story developments. And we haven't yet arrived at the point where the movie tries to reach for our heartstrings, where the cause of Darnell's antagonistic and misanthropic behavior is revealed, if not adequately justified.