The things that propel us to success are so often...a mystery.
Not for Michelle Darnell, the anti-heroine CEO that Academy Award-nominated comedy superstar Melissa McCarthy plays with zeal and aplomb in The Boss.
An indelible character that McCarthy developed during her time at The Groundlings, the famous L.A.-based comedy club, Michelle is the wealthiest woman in America, a self-made titan of industry with a penchant for theatrics, whose brand and empire were built on a signature off-putting no-holds-barred approach to business and the art of the deal. She’s Oprah by way of Suze (y’ know...Orman), with a hearty splash of Trump and a soupçon of Paula Deen; large and in charge, and larger than life; and about to learn a big lesson for life – one that won’t come without plenty o’ the funny.
Soon after making a grand entrance you’ve sort of already seen in the trailers (an intro that had me in stitches, because I kept picturing Madonna doing it in real life), Michelle is arrested on an insider-trading charge painstakingly orchestrated by the conniving Renault (Peter Dinklage). Renault is a revenge-seeking old flame she once wronged, who also has re-invented himself, with affectation, as a giant corporate rival (with a personal assistant/hysterical walking visual gag portrayed by tall Timothy Simons, from HBO’s Veep).
Where Renault’s drive comes from indignant heartbreak, though, hers stems from a deep-seated desire to avoid hurt. Michelle has spent the better part of her life and her entire career making herself impervious to abandonment (her childhood was not a happy one; there was a lot of shuttling between the convent that took her in as a young girl and the transient families who didn’t know how to love her). As you can guess, that is why she is so super-rough around the edges.
The hard time she spends – ha! – fending for her life at a Camp Cupcake-type prison, leads her once again to make something of herself. Easier said than done when everyone who only used to put up with her s--- when she was at the helm, because it was convenient for ’em, has forsaken her.
Well, not everyone. Kristen Bell’s Claire, Michelle’s old assistant, is still there – but simply to teach her young daughter, Rachel (Ella Anderson), an important lesson in (reluctant) compassion.
Her straight man in place, Michelle is free and well supported to reenter the scene meaner and hungrier than ever, by taking Claire’s winning recipe for brownies and combining it with the untapped global resources of the Dandelions (standing in for dem male-gazed Girl Scouts). Her impressively repacked Darnell’s Darlings are an empowered money-making machine that teaches girls how to be bad bitches. No useless, ultimately meaningless badges for them, thankyouverymuch.
Directed by McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone (Tammy), and co-written by the couple, The Boss is quite the thematically ambitious offering – feminism! celebrity! competition among and within the sexes! – as well as a flawed movie. While a cool showcase of McCarthy’s ability for throwback-y screwball and physical comedy (thanks to an extended bit involving a teeth-withener mouth guard, the actress reaches new Jim Carrey-like highs with this one), a lot of Falcone’s set-ups and the script’s punchlines are so seamless they almost morph into one and another, which delivers an uneasy, yet sustained amusement. It’s almost like a threat: You’re about to laugh, we promise – you are about to laugh.
Laugh we do because the boss of The Boss is deeply committed to her creation. This woman that McCarthy has imagined is fully realized from the get-go. She is dark, but fully capable of it all, including love, and the movie goes out of its way to allow for incredible situations that demonstrate her complexity. I mean it: One moment we’re served a West Side Story-esque street showdown between Darlings and Dandelions, the next we’re boldly taken into Mission: Impossible territory for a hilarious break-in followed by an extravagant katana fight.
Clever as it all is (the Bechdel test is refreshingly passed with flying colors), like for the embattled Michelle Darnell, it all proves just a bit too much.
My Rating ***
Photo: Universal Pictures.