"The Boss," a comedy starring Melissa McCarthy and directed by her husband, Ben Falcone, is more interesting to talk about than it is to watch. That's not saying much, because it is the worst kind of bad movie. This film about a disgraced businesswoman trying to reinvent herself isn't actively, confidently, exuberantly bad, in a way that engages with you and forces you to react. It's passively bad. It switches gears to no discernible purpose and has things happen that don't constitute "events" in any meaningful sense, and throughout its last hour it keeps jumping into your lap and demanding love without doing anything to earn it.
I said up top that Melissa McCarthy plays a disgraced businesswoman trying to re-invent herself. If that description were the main motor driving "The Boss" it might've at least had some zing. McCarthy is a brilliant physical comic, in a particular mode: id-monster, reptilian brain clowning. She's the kind of actor who can crash through a wall spouting gibberish and make you believe that it's something that a person might actually do. Like Jonathan Winters, Chris Farley, early Steve Martin and Robin Williams, she shines when disrupting order—when unthinkable desires suddenly seize her characters, or unacceptable thoughts make their way from their brains and express themselves as uncalled-for, bizarre or hurtful observations. But that's not what she's doing here. Here she's mostly begging for love.
McCarthy's other star vehicles have had a bit of this "please love me" thing, but in general, the less obviously her films go to that well, the more focused and entertaining they are (which is one reason why "Spy" is a better film than "Identity Thief"). McCarthy's character in "The Boss," Michelle Darnell, is a self-help guru and businesswoman extraordinaire who was raised in
an orphanage where she was repeatedly paired up with possible adoptive
families who all rejected her and sent her back to the care of the
sisters. The movie drains her of any distinguishing characteristics save poor impulse control and pathological neediness. When the neediness overwhelms everything else (which happens around the 15 or 20 minute mark) the effect is off-putting and depressing, and there are no compensatory virtues (brilliantly staged slapstick, well-rounded characters, audacious images) to distract you from how tedious it all is.
What a shame; the filmmakers might've really had something. The opening ten minutes do a fine job of explaining, within the confines of super-broad comedy, how this woman channeled her feelings of loneliness and rejection into financial success. Michelle fills huge auditoriums with people who've come to hear her preach the gospel of wealth and autonomy: cutting off people who are dragging you down, not giving a damn what anybody thinks of your ambition and appetite, doing whatever you have to do to get over on the competition. Michelle makes her entrance on a huge sculpture of a phoenix, a mythological animal that will pop up as an inspirational symbol later. She whips ticket buyers into a frenzy by promising to teach them how to make "some real f-----g money!" As written by McCarthy, Falcone and Steve Mallory, this sequence and the one immediately following have a goofy satirical spark. Even without the orphanage backstory, we would have figured out that the heroine grew up poor: she thinks of money only in terms of what she can buy with it, and her idea of how rich people live is a cartoon fantasy of fancy cars, country clubs, hotel suites, valets, and self-portraits. It's bracing to watch Michelle profit off people who also think of money in terms of vindication and happiness. There's a metaphor for modern America in here somewhere, and "The Boss" gets close to finding it.