Sunday 25 March 2018

Review - The Boss: Too much talking, not enough jokes

Gifted comedian Melissa McCarthy tries her best, but is let down by a messy script

Comedy clout: Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Bell tag-team in 'The Boss'.
Comedy clout: Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Bell tag-team in 'The Boss'.

Paul Whitington

A few short years back, Melissa McCarthy was a little-known TV actress and comedian who earned a crust on shows like 'Gilmore Girls' and 'Mike & Molly', and sometimes turned up on 'Saturday Night Live'. Then 'Bridesmaids' came along, and an eye-catching supporting role turned her into an overnight star at the tender age of 40. Ms McCarthy did things in 'Bridesmaids' that no woman had attempted before, moments of daring slapsticks as disgusting as they were hilarious: she did it all with a straight face, and more than got away with it.

There was something almost Belushi-esque about her bombastic, fearless comedy: like the late lamented comic, Melissa is on the portly side (no nice way of saying these things), and often plays deranged and obsessive characters who have no idea they're funny. The irony of this comparison would not be lost on Ms McCarthy, because Belushi was a bit of a misogynist, but if so the laugh's on him, because she's already become a bigger star than he was by shattering the notion that women can't carry comedies.

If only they were good comedies. Since 'Bridesmaids', Melissa McCarthy has starred in a string of films that have failed to do justice to her talent, and sublime timing. In movies like 'Identity Thief', 'The Heat' and 'Tammy', she's been cast as an agent of chaos who cannot be reasoned with and is driven by some crazed inner logic: she gives it her all and does it well, but her outings have become increasingly shrill, and indistinguishable. Unfortunately, this latest vehicle only proves the point.

There are traces in The Boss of what might have become an accomplished film if only everyone had kept their nerve and stayed a little calmer: its plot and mood reminded me at times of the 80s comedy 'Trading Places', but also of Charles Dickens' 'Christmas Carol'. Michelle Darnell (Ms McCarthy) is the Ebenezer Scrooge of the piece, a hugely successful businesswoman and entrepreneur who's made a fortune out of motivational speaking.

Michelle grew up in a Catholic orphanage, and was repeatedly rejected by foster families. As a result she trusts no one, is self-reliant to a fault and pretty much impossible to get along with. She treats her personal assistant Claire (Kristen Bell) like an indentured slave, and lives like a doge in a sprawling urban mansion.

But this bubble of privilege is burst when she's arrested for insider trading and sent to prison.

When Michelle gets out she finds that all her assets including her various properties have been seized, leaving her without a bean, a home - or a friend. In desperation, she turns to Claire, who most reluctantly takes her in.

Claire is a single mother with a 10-year-old daughter called Rachel, and has been forced to take a soul-sucking clerical job to support her. On her uppers but thinking as big as ever, Michelle comes up with a business plan that might just save them all. But first she must learn to curb her innate obnoxiousness and learn how to be part of a makeshift family.

In The Boss's funniest scenes, Michelle tries to enlist Rachel's girl guide troop in her business scheme and ends up clashing with a bossy mother called Helen (Annie Mumolo), leading to name-calling, one-upmanship and a protracted street fight.

Peter Dinklage gives a compellingly hammy and melodramatic turn playing the film's villain, Renault, a rival mogul and Michelle's jilted lover, and Kathy Bates appears briefly as her mentor. But it's Ms McCarthy who's left to carry this film, and she can't be faulted for lack of effort.

There are funny moments of course, but also way too much talking: thin jokes are allowed to splutter on inanely through scenes, and the film loses pace and focus frequently, particularly in a long climactic scene that feels like one of those over-neat Scooby Doo denouements. Ms McCarthy deserves better.

The Boss

(15A, 99 mins)

2 Stars

Irish Independent

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