It’s becoming readily apparent that Melissa McCarthy is turning into the John Candy of the new millennium. Both performers are known for their larger than life character. Both are also known for their unique physical traits. Both got their start in improv and moved on to TV stardom. Now, with The Boss, McCarthy is clearly catching up to the late, great Second City Television alum in the “comedic talent that the movies don’t quite know what to do with” category.
Even with her husband Ben Falconer behind the lens and a character pulled directly from her years in LA’s the Groundlings, this relatively entertaining comedy can’t get its act together long enough to amount to much. It also avoids trading on McCarthy’s size, something Candy’s films relied on to a fault to find the funny. In her case, it’s all about being rude and crude. There are some good jokes here, and you will laugh, but that’s about it. You won’t care or remember anything afterwards.
We first meet Michelle Darnell (McCarthy) when she is a kid, being rejected by one adoptive family after another. We also learn about a past liaison with a man named Reynold (Peter Dinklage) who know goes by the name Renault. In the present, Darnell is the self-described 47th richest woman in the world. She’s also a real despot to her overworked single mom assistant Claire (Kristen Bell) and sycophantic aide Tito (Cedric Yarborough).
She’s arrested for insider trading and is forced to spend four months in jail. Upon release, she relies on the kindness of Claire and her daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) for a place to stay.
So it continues. Darnell soon discovers the lucrative world of selling cookies door-to-door ala the Girl Scouts (here called the Dandelions). Claire makes a killer brownie, so the next thing you know, Darnell is rebuilding her empire on the backs of some willing school kids. Renault gets jealous and plots a takeover and our single mom starts dating a guy named Mike (Tyler Labine) because, well, because the movie doesn’t have enough narrative distractions at this point.
Oh, and did we mention that Kathy Bates shows up as a mentor? And that T-Pain and Gayle King are here as well?
Let’s catch our breath for a moment, shall we? As you can tell, the main problem with The Boss is that there is way too much plot. A good comedian bounces off their surroundings. You don’t have to keep feeding them things to react to. But here, Falcone stacks the decks and keeps dealing from the bottom. We get the whole orphanage thing. Then the moment from the trailer when McCarthy descends from the ceiling of a theater, putting on a spectacle to celebrate who she is. We get the Dinklage stuff, the backstory on their relationship, then Claire’s issues, then her daughter’s.
By the time we get to the subtext of the story — Darnell’s redemption at the hands of some pastry pushing kids — we’re already overwhelmed. In a film like Uncle Buck, Candy merely had to show up to watch his brother’s kids, and aside from the thread involving the rebellious teen daughter, John Hughes made sure to concentrate the gags on his lead and two adorable kid foils. No last act breaking and entering. No constant back and forth between his cruel childhood and his questionable present. Even though it was made in-house, McCarthy speaking, The Boss often feels like a film via committee.
McCarthy is so much better than the material she gives herself. Instead of letting it all hang out and turn things into a decidedly hard-R hoot, ala Deadpool, there’s this conservative undercurrent that keeps getting in the way. Apparently, in order to redeem some who is vile and reprehensible in their people skills, they have to become completely defanged and generic. Instead of doing all the things that made her a success initially, Darnell must learn to do them without her acerbic wit and dictatorial nature. It’s like telling a prize fighter to take on the champ with both hands tied behind his back and his opponent’s gloves are loaded with lead.
We can support a likeable villain, and McCarthy can sell such a proposition. We can also get behind a misguided mogul who discovers an inner humanity. But The Boss doesn’t believe in those concepts. Instead, it wants to have its blue humor and its warm and fuzzy together, in the same mix. The story plays like its lead — it’s pulled in 30 different directions and none of them are fruitful.
Still, like Candy, McCarthy is such an ace that we appreciate the effort, even if it doesn’t add up to a total success. We have to settle for scattered laughs. We have to overlook the attempts to find something deeper. At least body shaming doesn’t become the main reason for this film to exist. McCarthy has managed one advance over the career of the beloved Canadian funnyman. As for The Boss, she appears to be embracing everything else about Candy, and it’s not helping her film career.