‘The Boss’ Review: Melissa McCarthy Should Get No Promotion For This Stale Comedy

It’s hard to write a review for a wholly generic comedy, especially one as unenthused as The Boss. The latest from husband and wife duo Melissa McCarthy and director Ben Falcone, it’s an earnest but uninspired shrug of a movie, one that comes from a good place but doesn’t know how to amount to anything worth the time and effort of everyone involved. Much like their first film together, 2014’s Tammy, it settles on mediocrity without deciding — or, perhaps, caring — how it can be elevated beyond such nimble intentions.

What results is a wishy-washy fail-safe of a mainstream comedy that resorts to course language, excessive vagina jokes and half-hearted set pieces to desperately gain some easy laughs at the expense of McCarthy’s tired, overly-familiar, slapstick-heavy shtick. Despite being called The Boss, this yuk-less bore might be among the least-directed mainstream comedies I’ve seen in a little while. And in an age of listless, Judd Apatow-inspired improv-fests, that’s saying something.

Falcone’s sophomore feature centers on Michelle Darnell (McCarthy), a tough-luck child who decided, after years of being rejected from foster homes, to denounce family and make her own fortune instead. Now the 47th wealthiest woman in America, her best-selling self-help advice sells out stadiums — ones where she comes armed with flashing lights, back-up dancers and fire blasting as she raps with T-Pain and tells everyone they, too, can get rich quick. Once a rejected nobody, she’s a capitalist mogul who, carried by her ever-supportive assistant Claire (Kristen Bell), will do everything in her power to make sure her past is long behind her. But Michelle’s troubles are merely ahead of her when Renault (Peter Dinklage), a fellow millionaire and former flame, returns into her life.

After Renault confesses her insider trading to the feds, Michelle finds herself with a five-month prison sentence, her stock options dried up, her property seized and her bank account dry. And with nowhere to go and no friends to turn to, Michelle slinks her way onto the couch of her former assistant and her young, precocious daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson). Depressed by everyone’s overwhelming rejection, Michelle soon finds her sense of purpose rejuvenated when, taking Rachel to her troop meeting, she discovers she can make a heavy profit and a small fortune from these girls’ cookie-selling dexterity and Claire’s irresistibly delicious brownies. Together, she, Claire, Rachel and several other neighbor girls form Darnell’s Darlings, and it takes the town by storm. But just when it seems like things are going well for Michelle, she finds a way to make things take a turn for the worst, yet again.


Much like Tammy, it’s evident McCarthy, Falcone and fellow screenwriter Steve Mallory wrote a character over a story with their newest film. Rather, they envisioned the image of a character over anything else. Michelle’s short, stark red hair and excessive fashion sense are the only things that are truly defined with her personality. Beyond her enormous wealth and prickly attitude, there’s nothing really to her, and her band of supporting characters only fair worse. Each one is more one-note than the next, and it’s evident they’re just there to help tell Michelle’s story — which wouldn’t be bad, if there was something funny or interesting about her. But the screenwriters often take the simplest and most direct routes with her arc, never choosing to explore her backstory in-depth or provide any social commentary regarding her fluctuating social status.

More than anything else, this is what makes The Boss so boring and plain. Michelle is defined more for how many times she falls down or how many f-bombs she can fit in a sentence than anything original or worthwhile. Hardly ever do they take advantage of her rise-and-fall, and often the pacing feels too rushed to accommodate any of the laughs this movie might’ve had. Falcone often seems in a hurry to get to the next joke or the next set piece, and in the few moments he does slow the film down, it only makes it become more treacherous and disinteresting. It’s a bit of a lose-lose battle, in that sense. The Boss becomes more comically sterile as a result, and it doesn’t help that the filmmakers run out of juice before the 30-minute mark.

There’s an underlining heart to The Boss that’s undermined by Michelle’s unlikable demeanor. Similar to the equally ill-fated The Incredible Burt Wonderstone a few years back, Falcone and his team mistakenly believe a hastily-placed sad-sack child backstory will make the uninviting main character more appealing, but it doesn’t work that way. Not only is McCarthy’s character unsavory and unrelatable, she’s simply poorly defined. Her growth is murky from the on-set, and it’s never clear why other characters go along with her plans — beyond her persistently demeaning attitude and her wealth when she had it. More so than in some of McCarthy’s other comedies, there’s effort made to make Michelle feel more human and sympathetic, but they don’t track a lot of friction. They mostly feel through-the-motions, especially narratively, and they lack any believability or conviction.

Moreover, Bell wields a confused, mildly disorientated face throughout the entire proceedings as McCarthy’s right wing, unsure of how to elevate the material or do anything other than coast on her likable on-screen sweetness. Anderson is appealing enough, but she doesn’t get much to work with since the people behind-the-camera are too concerned with making her adorable than doing anything worthwhile with her character. And Dinklage starts out strong enough —as he’s clearly game to play ball with what’s he’s given — but after a while, much like his role in Pixels last year, it’s apparent his villainous turn is going nowhere fast, and this immensely talented actor is left to flounder with what amounts to little more than a wacky, undersexed, prissy weirdo with a Derek Zoolander voice. It’s sad to watch, not to mention a little embarrassing and downright degrading.

Meanwhile, fellow supporting cast members Tyler Labine, as Claire’s affable love interest Mike, Michael McDonald, as Michelle’s former co-worker Bryce Crean, and Kristen Schaal, as Scout Leader Sandy, are the only ones that earn any half-hearted smiles or light chuckles throughout this milquetoast affair. Kathy Bates does her best with what little she’s given as Ida Marquette, Michelle’s former mentor, but her sharply-tuned comedic skills are never rewarded in what ultimately amounts to five-minutes of screen time, if that. Margo Martindale, similarly, is utterly wasted as Sister Aluminata, Michelle’s former caretaker nun, and Cecily Strong peddles strong but goes nowhere with Dana Dandridge, Claire’s oddball new boss with an unhealthy obsession for her previous one. It’s a cast with a lot of miles but nowhere to drive.

At a reasonable 99 minutes, The Boss doesn’t meander as long as some of McCarthy’s other comedies like, say, the unbearable The Heat or the downright-intolerable Identity Thief. Nevertheless, it still feels fairly sluggish. Its consistently broad presentation, heightened by Falcone’s auteur blocking, overlit lightning and sitcom-esque camera staging, gives the entire film a vanilla flavor. There’s nothing palpable or charming about anything on-screen, and it makes the common mistake of assuming more foul language and sex jokes will give it some taste. Or, perhaps, some edginess among its comedy peers. But what results is a little more than tedious banality, one quite likely to be forgotten in due time. It never learns one of the most important rules of business: make a good impression. In fact, it never learns to make an impression at all.

Will Ashton
Will Ashton
Will Ashton bleeds his pen to CutPrintFilm, The Playlist, MovieBoozer, We Got This Covered and beyond. One day, he'll become Jack Burton. You wait and see, buddy boy.