The only thing separating The Boss from a standard, nauseating Adam Sandler film is the lingering belief that there be some inherent quality to anything Melissa McCarthy does. But in all honesty, any McCarthy starring vehicle not directed by Paul Feig should swiftly disabuse us of that notion. Make no mistake – McCarthy is a brilliant performer with boundless comic energy, but she’s not immune to being left stranded by painful, disastrous material.
The issue becomes more glaring, however, when McCarthy is the source of that disastrous material. The Boss is the second “family project,” as it were, to be thrust onto the masses by McCarthy and husband, actor-director Ben Falcone. The first was 2014’s Tammy, which was awful, but it might give you an idea of just how excruciating The Boss is when I confess to you that it made me think back on Tammy with fondness by comparison. For all its abominable inanity, the former film at least had a shred of human perspective on its characters and created an ever-so-slight comic tension in the loose construction of its would-be narrative. “Loose” is a pipe dream in The Boss’ screenplay, a contextless mash-up of empty caricatures, eye-rolling tropes, cringe-inducing set pieces, and unearned emotional syrup.
Such an eye-crossing wonderment is The Boss that it only barely qualifies as a “movie,” just because it was shot, edited, and now has been permitted to flicker on a screen. On any substantive criteria, however, it doesn’t pass the smell test. The “story” is a random compilation of tired formulas layered one on top of the other until it’s difficult to discern what the film is really wanting to be. Is it satire? Is it farce? Is it meant to be taken seriously? Once all is said and done, it qualifies as bottom-of-the-barrel comic grostesquerie with an uncomfortable layer of faux-emotional mayonnaise. See where I was going with the Sandler comparison?
McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, the “47th richest woman in the world.” A prologue informs us that Michelle grew up an orphan and was returned by three different families, after which she apparently sets course to dominate the business world (?). Cut to present day, when hot-shot Michelle presides over get-rich-my-way events where she takes the stage flanked by pyrotechnics and raps with T-Pain. It’s every bit as painful as it sounds. Five minutes later, Michelle is arrested for insider trading, a crime this film has no interest in knowing anything about, merely using it as a conduit to knock this female Trump down to size. Five more minutes later, she’s released from prison, homeless and penniless… again, because the movie is clueless. It’s been a long while since a film made less tangible effort to motivate its terrible plot.
Michelle invades the home of her former assistant (Kristen Bell), who has transitioned to a nondescript job at a stock office with an overtly creepy boss and standard deskmate love interest. The assistant has a young daughter who’s a girl scout. The assistant also makes delicious brownies. One of the girl scout moms is a total bitch, so of course Michelle hatches a plan to create a rival girl scout troop that sells brownies instead of cookies. All of this is treated by the film as not only plausible, but brilliant. To describe the screenplay’s narrative correlations as “rough” would be overly complimentary.
Insufferable broadness is the only constant in The Boss’ shifting comic identity, which wants to be raunchy but cuddly, mean but sweet, over-the-top yet entirely earnest. Will Ferrell and Adam McKay served as producers, and there’s a scene ripped right out of the Anchorman DNA strand that stands out even in the midst of the film’s unending chaos, wherein Michelle’s upstart group of brownie-selling pre-teens has a violent run-in with the opposing group of standard cookie-peddling scouts. It’s such a random, sore-thumb bit of ridiculousness that it provides a hint of what the movie could’ve been had it followed through with the strength of that conviction from beginning to end. The Boss lacks the boldness to be a purposefully crazy mess. It’s just a crazy mess.