Of the many things The Boss gets wrong, the most glaring is that it presumes general audiences are capable of hating Melissa McCarthy. That they want to see her be embarrassed, debased, bruised, and abused has been proven, but they don’t want to hate her. Here, McCarthy plays the loathsome Michelle Darnell, a self-made financial guru who sells out arena showcases for her fiscal advice, laced with cameos by T-Pain. Her primary flash point is telling people that to achieve beaucoup bank, they have to rid themselves of all human relationships because, as the former foster-home reject argues, people are baggage, and baggage will hold you back from wealth. But what she really means is that empathy will hold you back from wealth.
From the moment the words pass Michelle’s lips and she’s served a wrist-slap sentence for insider trading, it’s pretty clear that the script, by McCarthy and her director husband, Ben Falcone, is setting her up to start feeling some type of way, but The Boss spends its sweet, shapeless time getting there. And, for a while at least, the lack of narrative strategy ironically works for the film, giving McCarthy carte blanche to gleefully get ugly in the name of comedy.
Upon Michelle’s release, she finds all her assets have been seized, and she’s forced to crash on her former executive assistant Claire’s (Kristen Bell) couch while she tries to piece together her shattered empire. Her efforts begin with shouting down a table of investors about what assholes they all are, homing in most viciously at the one whose wife just died. From there, she takes Claire’s daughter, Rachel (Ella Anderson), to her Scout troop meeting, squares off against another mother with a litany of whispered four-letter words, and hatches a plan to pinch girls to sell brownies instead of cookies, the recipe for which she more or less steals from Claire. (Oh, and while babysitting, she also introduces Rachel to the joys of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.)
So long as the film remains committed to the amorality of McCarthy’s character, who’s indeed a vision in her tight Suze Orman pixie cut and turtleneck blouses yanked up to meet the jawline, it’s at least funny without being particularly entertaining. The incongruity between McCarthy’s eagerness as a performer and her character’s total lack of compassion makes the film somehow both restless and tedious, no more so than when the two competing mother-daughter groups square off against one another in an extended, vicious turf war. (It’s worth noting that The Boss, with a cast almost entirely made up of female actors, would pass the Bechdel test without breaking a sweat.) But, in keeping with a trend that’s ruined many a harmless time-killer film before it, The Boss clips its own wings and tames the force of nature at its center, short-circuiting its potential as a rude-tempered star vehicle.