The Boss is cyclonic comic Melissa McCarthy’s latest expletive-peppered outing. Some quality slapstick, but too many gags fall flat.
Think Melissa McCarthy, you think big, brash and vulgar, and that’s just what you get in her character Michelle Darnell, the screen-hogging lead in The Boss.
All we need to know of Michelle’s backstory is dispensed with in a series of opening shots of her at different ages being returned by disenchanted foster parents to the orphanage at which she spent her childhood. She starts as a cute, chubby little girl bewildered at her rejection and ends as a chubbier adolescent graduate of the school of hard knocks, hardened and derisive of families, and resolving to go it alone and make a roaring business success of herself.
As brief and cruelly comic an insight into her formative years as this time-compressed intro is, it is important in setting up the character as worthy of sympathy, rather than outright revulsion. It might also be read as tongue-in-cheek scripting, a token can’t-be-arsed exposition that winks at viewers alert to dramatic structure (likely to be few and far between at a comedy like this, clearly aimed at big box office returns).
Cut to present-day Michelle as an extravagantly attired business guru making a spectacular stage entrance aboard a descending golden phoenix. Music blares, dancers gyrate and an adoring packed crowd erupts in jubilant applause in anticipation of learning her secrets to getting rich. An obvious but enjoyable send-up of those ridiculous OTT American motivational speaker routines, yes, but not far removed from the tacky reality.
Her world comes crashing down when bitter ex-lover and business mogul Renault (Peter Dinklage), a vengeful pony-tailed dwarf, dobs her in for insider trading, resulting in her jailing and the collapse of her business empire, and opening the way for the commencement of the narrative proper.
Broke, friendless and just out of jail, Melissa is taken in by her former assistant, single mum Claire (Kristin Bell). Ever the entrepreneur, she hits on the idea of their forming a partnership to market Claire’s delicious brownies commercially. Her distribution strategy is to poach a local girl scout group as her sales team, and tap into their nationwide branches. Rolling up to one of their meetings, she turns the girls against their leader, and tempts them away from their nerdy activities with promises of profits under her sales mentorship. She also recruits some tough local girls to provide a little strong-arm support, culminating in a mass street brawl (which is cartoon like and bloodless).
Of course, the business takes off. Of course, things don’t run smoothly. Of course, it all ends happily ever after. The formulaic shape of big-box-office comedy is a given.
As is Melissa McCarthy’s central role. Her Michelle Darnell character is in yer face from go to whoa – and in the faces of the other characters who cross her. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of this mama. She’s the queen of zingers. As a larger gal, she’s also surprisingly agile, featuring in some quality slapstick (there’s a one-take shot that hurts to watch in which she’s flung against a wall when an extended sofa bed springs back into compact position, and another in which she thumps down a flight of stairs on her rump – admittedly well-padded, but ouch!).
Claire’s little sweetie of a daughter, Rachel (beautifully played by Ella Anderson), has a relatively small but important role as a model of the child Michelle might have been if she’d had the support of a loving parent. The two hit it off until Michelle hurts the little girl’s feelings by rejecting a picture she has drawn of the three of them, taken aback by the child’s observation that they are “like a weird family”. This adds a much-needed element of pathos, prompting Michelle to do some soul-searching and ultimately bringing out some humanity in her.
McCarthy’s brand of comedy is not for delicate ears – she throws expletives around in excessive abandon, especially delighting in inappropriate utterances in front of kiddies. It’s not for delicate eyes, either. There’s one scene in which Claire walks in on Michelle applying tanning cream and cops a full-on of her privates. Good ol’ Michelle is in no hurry to assume a more modest position.
Is the movie worth seeing? If you don’t know her work, this is probably not the best introduction. If you didn’t get much out of her other comedies, no. If you did, there are enough laughs here to make it worthwhile, although a lot of the gags fall flat.
The success or otherwise of the humour aside, there is something oddly compelling and enigmatic about McCarthy. Sure, as is routinely claimed, she’s comfortable in her skin and striking a blow for ‘real’ women – the majority who do not conform to the fashion mag body type. But there’s something more interesting going on. There’s an anger there, a compulsion to outrage, and a middle finger thrust belligerently in the air, even if the mainstream orientation of her films limits how far she can push her subversive side. In this sense, she’s a prisoner of her own successful branding, but you sense that if anyone would risk all that to break free and really cut loose, whatever the cost, it could be Ms McCarthy. Here’s hoping.
Like her or not, she’s not going to fade away any time soon (but to be honest, here’s to her giving her Michelle Darnell character the arse at this point).
Movie Website: http://www.thebossfilm.com/
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