The Boss  is the latest film starring Melissa McCarthy. The film was written and directed by her spouse, Ben Falcone, who often appears in cameos alongside McCarthy. In this film, he’s her lawyer. You can see her abuse him with a tennis ball in the trailer. But also, don’t watch the trailer if you haven’t seen it. Instead, allow me: In this film, McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, a successful CEO of not one, but three fortune 500 companies who ends up jailed for insider trading. The film chronicles her life as she tries to get back on her feet. There are adventures and misadventures.
Queen McCarthy is Bae (the sane one, not the anti-vaxxer)… What can I say? Melissa McCarthy is one talented lady; which has been evident since her days as Sookie St. James: gourmet chef extraordinaire and bestie to Lorelai Gilmore. The Boss gives her a platform to channel a character that is everything that Sookie wasn’t: super A-type; a bit jaded; and both immensely callous and intensely narcissistic. And McCarthy is all that and then some in this film. McCarthy also may not be the sole commonality between The Boss and Gilmore Girls as the part about this film that I do appreciate is very much some of the same reasons that Gilmore Girls is near and dear to my heart; which is that 1. it passes the Bechdel test and 2. though The Boss has its fair share of inane cattiness, ultimately, the film focuses on the age-old idea of female bonds and how those can form the family that you may not necessarily have been lucky enough to have been born into. Amidst the dong-fest that is our media, it’s nice to find a story that prominently features female bonds that extend beyond their cis/heteronormative relationships. (Kind of related, but a bit of a tangent: Kathy Bates looks fantastic in this film. Her shock of hair that’s as white as pristine snow is the definition of glory. Talk about hair goals. Also, since I’m on a tangent anyway, can I just say: What a curious decision it is to put Melissa McCarthy in a succession of stuffy turtlenecks. Personally, I’m of the opinion that turtlenecks are the brainchild of a diabolical fashion sadist who wants to imbue the sense of minor strangulation on all the poor suckers who get roped into the trend so I can’t imagine that Melissa had a whole lot of fun with her costumes.)
Is “I’m…” Or “I Am…” More Funny? Having said all of this—and having really wanted to like this film—no dosage of McCarthy talent or female bonds can save The Boss from its foibles. As with everything, comedy is a matter of taste—and perhaps there are people for whom the comedy of this film is uniquely suited; however, I can safely say that I am not a part of that demographic. The number of successful joke/gags in The Boss can be counted on one hand and this is already being generous. To add insult to injury, the film’s most successful joke is repeated, almost as a parting gift, at the end of the film, but reads more like desperation as it seems to imply that Falcone and his writing partner, Steve Mallory, fail to recognize the lack of impact that would result on repeating this joke. Faulkner advises us that, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings,” which is, without question, something that I struggle with and something that I have little doubt Falcone and Mallory also wrestled with a bit. So, it’s understandable. But is it forgivable? That is less irrefutable. Judging solely from the variation of lines from the film’s older trailers in relation to its final iteration, it looks like this film was written and re-written and workshopped to death and it kinda shows.
Squandered Potential…The Boss also has other unfortunate foibles: for instance, though the star is McCarthy (and rightfully so—she’s amazing), many actors’ talents are under-utilized in this film. Timothy Simons of Veep fame; Kristen Schaal of everything fame; Peter Dinklage of fame-that-needs-no exposition-at-all are all actors with considerable comedic/acting chops and they’re given uninspired, cliched, one-dimensional characters to play. In fact, every single one of their characters is a broad strokes stereotype that can be found littered amongst the bevy of generic mediocre comedies that comprise a good 70-80% of Netflix’s comedy section. Other times, the “comedy” is so transparent that it’s almost cringeworthy. For instance, when Michelle Darnell threatens to shove some chocolate clusters up another character’s ass, Falcone’s camera lingers on that character’s nonplussed face as if to say, “Look how bad we’re being!” This characterizes many of the jokes in The Boss and as far as comedy goes, this is pretty unoriginal. Shock is one way to get a laugh, but if this is what The Boss is going for, then it actually may be too tame. When a child says, “Fuck!” for the first time, they will, of course, snigger under their breath: they know they’ve said a bad word and there’s a thrill to that. Much of The Boss feels like the movie equivalent of that: a child sniggering after they’ve said a bad word. It’s maybe cute the first time, but that declines steeply and exponentially upon repetition.
Make America Great Again? This film is so American, which almost seems unfair to point out—after all, this is an American film. And yet, it almost seems remiss to not point it out because here’s the thing: when a joke doesn’t land, it’s revealing. It shows us what the creators thought would be funny and in this, it’s pretty easy to spot the WASPy, puritanical roots of America where something like “girl on girl stuff” can be passed off as a punchline. And The Boss is by no means alone in this. Many American comedies are just as regressive. Perhaps, what I’m lamenting isn’t so much The Boss, but the state of American comedies, but unfortunately for the film, it just so happens to be the latest iteration of an uninspired American comedy. Yet, perhaps what is most lamentable is just how boring The Boss is: boring staging, boring blue dialogue, boring music. They say that it’s not over till the fat lady sings, but it looks like here, Falcone has traded her in for the fat lady with the dirty mouth and no one gets to go home until she’s said her piece—irrespective of whether her piece should be said or not.