It’s mostly more of the same cold, bitter stew that passes for comedy in Hollywood: lots of slapstick and grossout that theoretically appeals only to children, and lots of crudity and viciousness that is allegedly “adult” humor, which leaves you wondering just who the heck is supposed to be the audience for this. And The Boss also suffers from the genre’s typical unconvincing mix of the silly and the sentimental: it is extraordinarily difficult to pull off a shift in tone from Looney Tunes to Frank Capra, and it once again fails to work here.
That said, I didn’t completely despair of this movie. Melissa McCarthy (Spy, The Heat) is closer to a comic ethos that works for her than she was in her last outing with director and coscreenwriter Ben Falcone, the aimless Tammy, with her character Michelle Darnell, a Trump-esque billionaire and get-rich self-help guru who loses everything after she is convicted of insider trading. Okay, it’s probably not very realistic that she would go to prison for that, or lose all her assets, because how often do people like her suffer for their crimes? But I like the unspoken acceptance the movie has for the reality that obnoxious narcissism fueled by money and power is a gender-neutral thing (or would be, if more women had the opportunity). Darnell even gets a powerful mentor-slash-rival in another sharklike women billionaire (Kathy Bates: When Marnie Was There, Midnight in Paris).
With nowhere else to go after she gets out of prison — her homes have been seized and, as a terrible person, she has no friends or family to help her — Darnell has no choice but to turn to her former assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell: Zootropolis, Veronica Mars). (This may be rather unrealistic too; wealthy male assholes always manage to secure spouses. Though in Darnell’s case, with her money gone, there would be no reason for anyone to have stuck around.) And it’s through Claire’s daughter, Rachel (Ella Anderson: Unfinished Business), that Darnell finds her comeback business, selling Claire’s “mind-blowing” homemade brownies door-to-door à la the Girl Scouts with their cookies. In fact, it’s the analog organization of the “Dandelions” — Rachel is a member of the local troop — that inspires Darnell to enlist the Dandelion misfits in the business. I liked this aspect of the film a lot: as a long-ago member of the Girl Scouts, I know firsthand the hierarchies of a girl’s childhood experience that comes to the fore in such an organization. It embodies jealousies and rivalries and cliquishness — that is, ones that have nothing to do with competing for boys and showing off at romance — that often aren’t seen onscreen.
Sadly, there are only sporadic moments of genuine amusement or actual satire that come out of that; the street fight between cookie sellers and browner hawkers is one, and features some clever comic imagery. But this is a realm ripe for a good hard comedic takedown, and one that gets shamefully ignored. (I can think of only a handful of films that deal with such matters — Clueless, Mean Girls, Bring It On, Legally Blonde, maybe Pitch Perfect — and they’re mostly a decade or two old.) Still, the girl-power theme running through The Boss, however inexpertly, does give it a tiny bit of freshness.