‘I’ ON CULTURE
There are times when nastiness in comedy really works. Check out the career of Don Rickles, who loved to snap at the rich, glamorous and powerful people — and his targets loved it along with his audiences. But the new film The Boss uses relatively defenseless young women as its main target for humor. It is a classic example of where mean-spiritedness breaks down.
That is a shame, because Melissa McCarthy, the movie’s star and one of its writers, is usually very funny, but this movie has very little humor at all. Her popularity will bring in a lot of people the first weekend, but I would guess that word of mouth will weaken the film afterward.
Michelle Darnell (McCarthy) is first shown as a constantly rejected orphan, handed off from one family to another. That leads to her decision to never depend on anyone else. She uses her drive to become a super-celebrity, the “47th richest woman in the world,” with all of the perks involved. She is a cross between Martha Stewart and Tony Robbins, speaking before huge paying audiences and telling them to use other people’s weaknesses to get ahead. Exploitation is fun!
Then an old boyfriend and rival, Renault (Peter Dinklage), sends some information on her insider trading to the government, and Michelle winds up going to prison and losing all her money. Previously she had been everybody’s target for suck-up, except for her assistant Claire (Kristen Bell), who understood that she is simply a big baby and treated her as such.
Once Michelle has lost her money, all the friends are gone (if this does not sound much like a comedy, so be it) and she winds up living with Claire and her daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson), almost as a charity move. Michelle at first is almost pleasant, giving life lessons to Rachel, but then, after tasting Claire’s brownies, sets up a new organization of young girls to sell them, disciplining them like a cult.
One of the film’s “fun” parts is her snapping at the pre-teen girls, telling them that most will probably do at least some lesbian action in college and give it up, but names one girl as likely to be gay all her life. No one in the audience seemed to find that particularly laugh-worthy.
That led to the “comic highlight” of a gang fight between her girls and a competing troop. As the father of daughters, I was not laughing, watching girls giving each other low blows or seeing McCarthy pick up a girl by her heels, whirl her around a few times, and toss her a good distance. But near the end, the filmmakers obviously realized that they needed a fun ending, so Michelle gets a lot nicer. And that ended most of the comedy.
I generally like McCarthy’s work. She has done some of the funniest movies made in the last few years. Last year’s Spies was hysterical, one of the best comedies in recent memory. But that was a spoof of spy movies, and watching the plus-sized comic mock the conventions and herself was funny. In this movie, she was simply mean. You have to root for the lead person in a film. Here, she mostly got her laughs by being nasty. Crude is fine these days; we’ve gotten used to it. But in this movie, just about everyone is nasty.
Bell was the contrast, and she did very well. But she was so meek and tolerant that she could not be a real foil, the job of the second banana. The movie might have been better if it focused on her dealing with the “crazy lady” instead of focusing on a narcissistic sociopath.
There were actually a few scenes between the two female leads that were amusing. Anderson, who was able to keep up with all the craziness despite her youth, was about the only actor who really stood out in a smaller role. She was quite good.
This is a movie to skip. If you like McCarthy, hope that she gets a better vehicle. She should understand that people want lead characters they can love, not want to avoid. Maybe next time will be better.