Movie Review: The Boss

“The Boss” is pitifully lacking in self-awareness. It’s a film that wants to live in Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s universe, where there are real-life news anchor gang wars that end in people losing limbs. To be fair, it’s easy to see why they thought the audience might view the films the same way. “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights” both feature pompous shells of a human being who are humbled on a grand scale, much like Melissa McCarthy’s character here, but that is where the similarities end. What “The Boss” gets wrong is the meanness factor. Will Ferrell’s characters in the aforementioned films are dim and shallow, but harmless, while McCarthy’s character is an unrepentant, hostile sociopath from birth. Worse, the film treats this as a virtue.

Michelle Darnelle (McCarthy) is, by the audience’s viewpoint, a thrice-abandoned orphan who grows up to become a ruthless, filthy-rich business executive. Renault (Peter Dinklage), a former lover-turned rival, gets her indicted on insider trading, whereupon she is sent to prison and loses everything. Upon her release, she arrives at the door of her former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell) because she has nowhere else to go. Claire resents the way Michelle treated her, but because she’s a decent human being, Claire allows Michelle to stay, and as Michelle ingratiates herself in Claire’s life, she sees a business opportunity when she attends a Daffodils meeting with Claire’s daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson), and they discuss cookie sales. Shortly afterward, Michelle tastes one of Claire’s family recipe brownies. Darnelle’s Darlings is born, the brownies are their cash cow, and Michelle is back in the game.

There is comedic potential in the idea of someone encouraging a bunch of kids to abandon community service and go for the cheddar. For that to work, though, the lead has to play the fool, because that’s a shitty thing to do, and the lead needs to learn that. Instead, the script sees Michelle as the hero, even when she’s dropping MF bombs in a Daffodils meeting, and repeatedly referring to a taller girl as a boy. Think about that for a second: Melissa McCarthy, who for the record is wearing the ugliest clothes of anyone in the film, plays someone who repeatedly insults a child (!) for her looks (!!), and the audience is supposed to laugh with her. As I said, zero self-awareness.

Several talented, funny people are slumming here. Kristen Bell tries her best to play the straight man, but she is powerless to stop this one from going off the rails. Peter Dinklage is clearly in full paycheck mode, because he’s just made this and “Pixels” back to back. I hope he used the money to buy an island. Cecily Strong and Kristen Schaal are both very funny actresses and utterly wasted here. Tyler Labine’s character is desperate to the point of creepiness, and is apparently the best that Kristen Bell’s character can do with her love life, because even pretty single mothers are undesirable because they’re single mothers.

Even as they try (in vain) to redeem Michelle, she reveals information that proves that she remains every bit the conniving, untrustworthy weasel that she was at the beginning, and has learned nothing from her fall from grace. But she’s forgiven in the end anyway, because money. (Not a spoiler, if you’ve seen more than five movies.) “The Boss” is basically a movie about a bully, starring a bully, with a pro-bully slant, written and directed by the bully’s parents. It’s one of the most morally repugnant, mean-spirited, tone-deaf films you will ever see, but here’s the kicker: it could have gotten away with the first two, if it were funny. But it’s not. It’s spectacularly, almost historically unfunny.

1.5 out of 5 stars (1.5 / 5)
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