Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Ella Anderson, Peter Dinklage, Tyler Labine, Kathy Bates
Rated R for Sexual Content, Language and Brief Drug Use
Watching "The Boss," you get the sense that it was heavily improvised. That's fine. After all, some of cinema's best scenes and lines were improvised. But there's good improv, and bad improv. Good improv is where actors and filmmakers make up lines and scenes that fit in with their characters and story. Bad improv is when actors say whatever is on their mind without knowing what they are doing (i.e. repeating yourself over and over again). Some of the best improvisers are Bill Murray, the late Robin Williams, and the late Chris Farley. Some of the bad ones are Seth Rogen, James Franco, and the like. Comedy, like all drama, has to move forward, evolve, whatever you want to call it. Merely saying the same thing over and over again may be improv, but it's not funny. Unfortunately, that's the rage these days in comedy, and it's a mistake that the people who made "The Boss" make. Repeatedly.
Michelle Darnell (McCarthy) is the most powerful businesswoman in the world. The's the CEO of three Fortune 500 companies and more money than God, apparently. Her seminars have more pizzazz than a Beyoncé concert. However, her lover-turned-rival Renault (Dinklage) catches her doing a little insider trading and after he tips off the cops, she's arrested. While in Club Fed, her assets are frozen and her possessions are sold off. Essentially, she's in the poorhouse. And the only one she can count on is her old assistant, Claire (Bell). Out of options, she is forced to share the apartment with Claire and her daughter Rachel (Anderson). However, she sees a way to get back on top when she tastes one of Claire's brownies, and enlists Rachel's friends to help her.
When the bits are short, they work. However, Ben Falcone (McCarthy's husband) doesn't cut off his actors when they're grasping at straws. I guess it's meant to lead to "awkward humor," but it doesn't work. It's just irritating, and brings up to mind Seth Rogen and his crew of stoners when they are left to their own devices.
The biggest laughs come during the parts where Michelle is rebuilding her empire. There's some inspired comedy here, especially her rivalry with Helen (Annie Mumolo, co-writer of McCarthy's breakout hit, "Bridesmaids"). Seeing the foul-mouthed Michelle stick it to a helicopter mom from hell is hilarious. How this ends up in a full-on brawl on the streets of Chicago is something best left unspoiled.
McCarthy is the central character, but she's supported by an able cast. Few actresses are more adorable than Kristen Bell, and while Bell doesn't have a better feel for improv than anyone else in the cast or the director, she does understand the concept of comic timing and light drama. Ella Anderson manages to be endearing without being so cute you want to strangle her. And Peter Dinklage appears to be enjoying himself as an effeminate, samurai-obsessed villain, but he's not that funny. Since he's so talented, I fault the script.
"The Boss" is by no means a terrible movie, and it's not going to come anywhere near my Bottom 10 list. But it frequently loses focus (that there are three credited screenwriters may be to blame) and Falcone doesn't know what works and what doesn't. If you want to see it, better wait til Netflix.