Since breaking out in Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy has built her leading film roles around big, broad comedic characters. While the films themselves have varied in quality, McCarthy is still able to largely make these characters work as distinct creations, rather than simply variations on McCarthy herself. Her most solid collaborator so far has been Bridesmaids director Paul Feig, who reunited with her for The Heat, Spy, and this summer’s Ghostbusters reboot. Surprisingly, her weakest collaboration to date was with husband Ben Falcone, her co-writer and director on Tammy. Tammy is easily the biggest dud in McCarthy’s leading role work, which doesn’t make their creative reunion on The Boss seem like a good idea. But while their work still isn’t quite on par with McCarthy’s work with Feig, The Boss is a considerable step up from Tammy, in both humor and structure.
We first meet Michelle Darnell as a child who’s routinely dumped by her foster families, eventually deciding that she’ll support herself instead of expecting a family to ever help. Years later, Michelle (McCarthy) is sickeningly wealthy as a businessperson (who does…something) and motivational force, though she’s also endlessly frustrating to her assistant Claire (Kristen Bell). When Michelle is busted for insider trading through the machinations of business rival Renault (Peter Dinklage), she’s sentenced to a prison sentence that, even though is white collar and for under six months, leaves her homeless, broke and without a friend. Claire and her daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) agree to take her in temporarily. When Michelle takes Rachel to a Dandelion Troop meeting, though, she gets a business idea that could put her back on top.
Structurally, The Boss really isn’t all that complex. There’s a lot of time spent in certain scenes just letting McCarthy do her thing, so when the plot does progress, it tends to jump suddenly. That being said, it’s a more cohesive structure than Falcone and McCarthy developed on Tammy, and the actual comedy plays to McCarthy’s strengths. That means there’s a healthy mix of physical comedy and verbal insults and threats, both of which find new forms with Michelle. Michelle has a confidence to herself that may very well be unparalleled in McCarthy’s oeuvre, which brings new levels of laughter to her work here. It helps that she’s assembled a strong supporting cast of players, though outside of Bell and (to a lesser degree) Dinklage, most of them are pushed far into the background.
Falcone, unfortunately, hasn’t improved drastically as a director. With a stronger eye for directing comedy, some of the scenes here could play strongly without relying solely on McCarthy’s strengths as an actress. Any sort of visual joke in this film, outside of an extended street fight scene, underwhelms a bit. To the film’s credit, though, there’s a funny character at the center of the film, with a funny performance, so the filmmaking is excusable. And like much of McCarthy’s work in the past few years, there’s plenty for audiences to enjoy. The Boss never reaches the heights of her work with Paul Feig, but this is nevertheless a notable improvement for her work with Falcone.