Since breaking onto the scene with Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy has carved out a strong niche for herself. While she's often been accused of playing essentially the same character in several movies, it's a character that tends to have some charm and that audiences find funny. While her humor tends to be more of the “laughing at” school as opposed to “laughing with,” some of that is lessened by the fact that she’s the one she wants you to laugh at. Luckily, The Boss isn’t quite the same character that Melissa McCarthy always plays, but she's definitely related to them.
Melissa McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell. She grew up an orphan, having been returned by numerous potential families for undisclosed reasons. After seeing her rough upbringing we fast-forward a couple of decades to find Michelle as a Suze Orman style motivational speaker slash cutthroat businesswoman. She’s the “47th richest woman in America” and she’s gone from having no control over her life to having complete control over everything. That is, until it turns out one of her business deals was based on insider information, and the SEC comes calling. She’s sentenced to a few months at "Club Fed", and when she gets out her empire is in ruins. Only her former assistant, played by Kristen Bell, will take her in. From there, she looks for a way to rebuild herself, which she finds when she takes her assistant’s daughter to her Girl Scout-ish Dandelions meeting.
While the previous description actually comes across as a fairly coherent plot, The Boss feels more like a series of comedy sketches as opposed to a single film, the narrative through-line is there, but only as a means to serve Melissa McCarthy's comedy. Having said that, many of the sketches are funny. They’re loud, brash, and vulgar, but also funny. While most of the film exists to serve up softballs to McCarthy, she consistently turns them into base hits. Kristen Bell is a worthy, if mostly inconsequential, straight woman.
While I say the movie is funny, this is only if your idea of funny includes swearing at children, and/or swearing children. If that idea upsets you, then there’s a lot here you won’t find funny. If the mental image of Dandelion girls having a knock-down, drag-out street fight over cookie territory sounds funny to you, then you’ll probably find The Boss more to your liking.
Whereas Melissa McCarthy is best known for playing characters who are, we’ll say, less than brilliant, Michelle Darnell is absolutely not this. While she may have become The Boss by taking opportunities, even when they sacrificed relationships, there is never any indication that Michelle is not the sharp, focused, business woman that she appears to be. It’s the slightest of character shifts for McCarthy, but one worth noting.
Not every joke lands, or even makes sense. Michelle Darnell is your standard “out of touch rich person” cliche. She’s the character who is so rich that she has no conception of how normal people live. It can be a funny joke, but since the movie told me that isn’t how this character grew up, the gimmick doesn’t work. Not wanting to live outside of her rich lifestyle is one thing, not understanding how to do so, is something else entirely which the movie doesn’t properly justify.
While the movie does a serviceable job holding itself together for the first two-thirds, the movie’s third act goes completely off the rails. Peter Dinklage, who had been an enjoyable supporting character as one of the people Michelle Darnell stepped on, on her way to the top, becomes a real part of the story and while Dinklage is almost incapable of not being entertaining, his character doesn't fit in the rest of the film. He increases the ridiculousness by an order of magnitude that hopes to distract you and keep you from asking how the movie got to this climax, because there is no good answer. The end of The Boss is a great ending to a movie. I’m not sure it’s this one.
In the end, Melissa McCarthy makes a film that would have otherwise been hot garbage an entertaining diversion. The Boss is profane, but it’s not profound. It’s humorous but not hysterical. It’s not the comedy you’ve been waiting for, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one you’ll enjoy.