Combustible Celluloid
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With: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson, Kristen Schaal, Kathy Bates, Margo Martindale, Timothy Simons, Annie Mumolo, Eva Peterson, Cecily Strong
Written by: Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone, Steve Mallory
Directed by: Ben Falcone
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language and brief drug use
Running Time: 99
Date: 04/08/2016

The Boss (2016)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hammy Honcho

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Melissa McCarthy is a comedy force to be reckoned with, and, one feels, someone perfect for our times. Yet it seems a little difficult to consistently focus her comedy chops throughout an entire feature film. Her work with Paul Feig is terrific — when she's at her best, she's empowered — but otherwise, she seems to fall prey to the wrong kind of lowbrow. The Boss is co-written and directed by her husband Ben Falcone. I did not see their previous collaboration, Tammy (2014), but judging by its general reception, and judging by The Boss, I'd guess that a spousal relationship and a working relationship are two different things.

In The Boss, McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell, a wealthy, powerful, badass businesswoman, forever seen in absurdly high-necked collars. In a prologue, we see her growing up in a boarding school, continually rejected by foster families, until she develops a coldness toward emotional attachments. When her ex-lover and current rival, Renault (Peter Dinklage), nails her and sends her to prison for fraud, she emerges penniless. The only person who will take her in is her former assistant, single mom Claire (Kristen Bell) and her daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson, coincidentally, also the name of my niece). She's a bad houseguest for a while until she decides to turn Claire's homemade brownies into a business.

Then we get the usual montages, bizarre slapstick moments, betrayal (Michelle thinks that Claire and Rachel are getting too close, like a family, so she retreats) and misunderstanding (Michelle sees Claire and Renault speaking through a window and assumes she's being sold out). Part of the problem here is that, when you have a movie about a rambunctious, rebellious soul, and the movie itself is the picture of Hollywood three-act formula, then things just don't come together.

But even within individual scenes, McCarthy and Falcone can't seem to find a comic rhythm. She riffs and improvises but long scenes are simply flat, without even a chuckle. A few other scenes manage a belly laugh or two, but there are long waits for those. I think the secret is that Michelle is too much of a caricature; she doesn't have the soul of, say, Megan in Bridesmaids or Susan in Spy. She never feels like a person. She learns lessons, but she never has doubts or fears. That lack of center spirals downward throughout the film, to the character interactions, the character arc, and the story itself. McCarthy may be a "boss," but this movie doesn't feel like it's in charge of anything.

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