Corners the Funny Business
By Michael S. Goldberger
It has been suggested that Melissa McCarthy’s scurrilous business tycoon in director-husband Ben Falcone’s “The Boss” is a female Donald Trump. Indeed, there are similarities, the main difference being that McCarthy’s robber baron is likeable.
While equally egocentric, delusional and selfish to a fault, we sense there’s a moral core there somewhere. Fact is, real-life people rarely repent and change their spots. So we count on fictitious Scrooges to seek redemption and please our innate sense of right and wrong.
A prologue detailing a childhood scarred by abandonment explains the psychology that went into creating Ms. McCarthy’s Michelle Darnell, the mogul extraordinaire who, through a classical case of hubris, winds up going to the pokey for insider trading. But she’s a tough-skinned and savvy gal determined upon her release to regain the empire she once ruled. However, the enemies she made on the way up relish her tragic fall and are determined that she stay down and out.
Only we softies care what happens to Michelle. Oh, and maybe her former personal assistant, Claire. Gee, the tyrant sure was indifferent to the single mom, played by Kristen Bell. It’s no wonder the once-devoted employee is at first hesitant to help the disgraced title character. But then, while wrapped in a typical morality play, this is a farce and thoughts of revenge are just one of the many foibles the screenplay sees fit to scoff at.
Somewhat reminiscent of how the great Rodney Dangerfield and other standup artists before him packaged their shtick in feature-length celluloid, the script, while not badly written, is but a vehicle for McCarthy’s scattershot criticism of whatever comes to mind. No vanity, prejudice, pretense or mendacity goes unturned. And, while tilling the comic soil, McCarthy seeks, finds and artfully sticks her toe across the proverbial line that George Carlin suggested all good comedians should challenge.
More importantly, like John Candy after he had finally achieved top-banana status, McCarthy’s girth is no longer the brunt of the joke. It is quite freeing. Suddenly, the weight of her humor, pun shamefully intended, is shifted to her comedic perspective, a uniquely acerbic take on things previously obfuscated by the initial emphasis on her size.
Now, rather than dumpy, downtrodden and dysfunctional, her albeit cutthroat magnate is a veritable fashion plate, an icon of the plus-sized whose stylish selectivity suggests a latter day Loretta Young. If chubbiness enters into matters, it’s only in the context that she has overcome the obstacles intolerantly associated with body mass. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she is wealthy, or at least once was. Doubtlessly making a sociological observation, fat rich is viewed with far more acceptance than fat poor.
There’s not much to the plot, a contemporary, neo-vaudevillian chain of predictability that bounces from one gag to the next, all the while stringing along our hopes that self-centered Michelle will ultimately achieve grace. Adding a perfunctory complication, the evolving back story reveals her Achilles heel in the personage of the diminutive Peter Dinklage’s Renault, an equally sly former partner and inamorato out to settle a grudge.
The chemistry is good, and melds nicely with the bond Michelle forms with Claire and her daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson), who features the extraverted impresario an Auntie Mame of sorts. But while things get a bit cozy and family-like when the former employee allows Michelle to move in and plan her resurrection, we’re soon speculating motives. You see, it’s quite serendipitous that Claire just happens to bake outrageously great brownies which, in slot-machine fashion, set dollar signs revolving in Michelle’s eyes.
Of course the implied question is, will Michelle simply revert to her ruthless self? Suffice it to note, a series of misunderstandings, some progress-deterring barrels tossed at her knees and a daring exploit leading to the grand climax are all merely excuses for some good, if not necessarily clean, fun. Naughty but nice, though not in the old sense of the term, Miss McCarthy earns the film its R-rating in spades.
The satire on wealth and power is emblazoned with McCarthy’s in-your-face nuttiness. Still, from a surprising amount of pratfall-filled slapstick to a steady flow of character deprecation, things never get really mean spirited. Rather, the scenario wafts us along in a screwy, lighthearted take on the human condition, smartly counterbalancing lowbrow joke with witty observation.
Like Jerry Lewis, criticized by comic snobs for his juvenility, McCarthy has nonetheless gained an audience, most of whom are at a loss to explain the attraction. She’s just funny. Here, she makes her big shot a buffoon who, in the final analysis doesn’t really take herself too seriously. The characterization is a welcome, vicarious antidote to those politically ambitious, real-life fat cats who arrogantly believe their financial accomplishments entitle them to be “The Boss.”
“The Boss,” rated R, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Ben Falcone and stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell and Peter Dinklage. Running time: 99 minutes