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NPR Arts & Life

Melissa McCarthy Is Very Rich And Very Mean As 'The Boss'

Melissa McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, an industry titan trying to rebrand her image after a jail sentence, in <em>The Boss</em>.
Melissa McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, an industry titan trying to rebrand her image after a jail sentence, in <em>The Boss</em>.

You never see Melissa McCarthy's neck in The Boss. This is the film's best joke, because instead of being beaten into the ground, it goes completely unremarked upon. The fiery comedian, playing a CEO named Michelle Darnell who puts elements of Donald Trump's mouth under Suze Orman's hairdo, has made turtlenecks a permanent part of her wardrobe. This holds true even once she's taken the plunge from top executive of several unspecified companies to sleeping on a former subordinate's couch. The turtleneck gag is admirably silly but so slight it never really builds to anything, which is just the movie in a nutshell.

McCarthy is playing the "47th-richest woman in the world," but she must by this point be Hollywood's number-one source of foot-in-mouth disease, having time and time again demonstrated to male executives that people will watch female-fronted comedies. Her ability to be coarse and R-rated is already making waves in the industry, influencing the heroines of smaller films like The Bronze to get just as nasty. But McCarthy has made her clunkers, too, like any respectable box-office draw, and The Boss has a distinct clunking sound.

The premise, like that of last year's Get Hard, is a white-collar spoof. The government seizes Darnell's assets after the serpent-tongued hyper-capitalist is arrested for insider trading, forcing her to rebuild from scratch with the extraordinarily patient generosity of Claire (Kristen Bell), the assistant she long spurned. Claire is raising a daughter on her own (lovable child actor Ella Anderson), and the three women get to share the spotlight without having to talk about men or shopping. Instead, well, they talk business.

"First rule of business: Pretend to negotiate, and then take what you want," Darnell says. But her movie neither negotiates nor takes many laughs. The Boss has a couple good bits about cushy white-collar prisons and the cult of personality the rich build around themselves, but keeps getting sidetracked with easy sight gags and McCarthy's familiar taboo-crushing insults, which after a while become boring, not offensive. Bell is as likable onscreen as ever, but she's no true foil to McCarthy in the manner of Rose Byrne ( Spy) or Sandra Bullock ( The Heat).

Darnell's big idea to rocket her way back to the top is to compete with the Girl Scouts — or, rather, the "Dandelions," because this film does not share its protagonist's zest for courting litigation. When she learns about the cookie-selling operation, of which Claire's daughter is a member, Darnell sees not female empowerment but free labor. She launches a rival organization called "Darnell's Darlings," has the girls sell Claire's brownies, and gives them profits instead of patches.

Conceptually this is smart, though painting the Scouts as ruthless Samoas-hawking sharks is old hat by now. (They even made it into the Oscars this year.) But again, the film fails to build anything grand from this idea. When the girls face off in a turf war, they grab each other's hair and throw roundhouse kicks, and McCarthy clotheslines a teenager. The humor is meant to come from the scene's shock value, we gather, but the whole thing really just feels ... unpleasant. Like a batch of cookies that came out far too bitter.

Following Tammy, this is the second co-writing effort between McCarthy and her husband/director, Ben Falcone. The Bosskeeps to the mainstream comedy rails where Tammydid not; nothing in the storyline, direction or character types is remotely fresh. Absent Paul Feig, the helmer of McCarthy's deliciously entertaining trilogy Bridesmaids, The Heatand Spy (as well as her upcoming Ghostbustersremake), the star's talents never seem to spark. The film's flaw as a comedy is that it fails to make Darnell, whose old office was flanked by larger-than-life portraits of herself, a true fish out of water once she's marooned in middle-class Chicago. Being catapulted by a springy fold-out couch isn't a joke on her pampered personality — it's just a joke on the couch.

In a movie clearly designed to spark more Bechdel Test-passing onscreen interactions between women, it seems a sin to admit the film's funniest performance comes from a dude. Peter Dinklage, man bun in tow, plays Michelle's corporate rival and ex-boyfriend, who puts his samurai training to use sabotaging her career as his pained face and demeanor betray deep unrequited love. Dinklage steals the show because he's able to sell his character with something deeper than profanity, violence and stale jokes about the cartoonishly wealthy. In today's ruthless corporate world, you have to bring your A game — and your turtlenecks.

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