If you’ve ever attended an improv show, you know that sketches run for a short length of time, highlighting a character’s strongest and funniest points and keeping the bit tight in order to maximize the amount of laughs. Saturday Night Live and MAD TV are prime examples of this formula, creating iconic roles for actors that, when strung together over the length of their careers, might not amount to more than an hour of material. Occasionally those characters are successfully brought to the big screen – think Wayne’s World – whereas others are better left in brief snippets. The latter, unfortunately, feels appropriate to Melissa McCarthy’s Michelle Darnell in her new film, The Boss.
Created on the stage of The Groundlings here in Los Angeles, the character is a brash businesswoman who wears high-necked sweaters and has no filter. The film centers on McCarthy who, as the 47th richest woman in the United States, watches her empire crumble after she’s imprisoned for insider trading. Upon her release she moves in with her former assistant Claire, played by the always charming Kristen Bell. When it’s discovered that Claire’s daughter is part of a Girl Scout-type organization called the Dandelions, Darnell decides to create her own company selling Claire’s brownies, and a group of girls is recruited to assist in the venture and receive a portion of the profits.
The bad guy in this scenario (aside from Darnell, who struggles with letting anyone get close to her) is a man named Renault, played by Peter Dinklage. He spars with Darnell throughout the film as the two are fierce business rivals, and he threatens to steal her brownie company, resulting in – and I swear I’m not making this up – a sword fight.
Audiences love McCarthy because she’s in the same camp with actors like Will Ferrell, who aren’t afraid to do anything to make a scene funnier. Unfortunately, this is an instance where less isn’t more. The comedy falls flat for the most part, and a few gems like Darnell being thrown against a wall by a faulty sofa bed and a twisted version of a heist involving Claire’s co-worker/kinda boyfriend Mike (played by the very enjoyable Tyler Labine) are too brief to make up for the rest of the film. Even a brawl in the street between the two rival sweets-selling organizations feels as though it’s missing something, despite being one of the stronger moments in the movie.
The best comedies are those that bring some emotion to the table, and this one offers up a strong helping. Darnell’s struggle to let anyone get close is played throughout, though it’s difficult to feel sorry for her. Several exchanges between her and Claire’s daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) are nice, but like the comedic elements, they’re too brief in an otherwise soft telling of this story.
It’s no easy task to create a character that’s meant for short sketches and expand it into a feature film, and while the effort is certainly worth noting, the result, in this case, is just okay.
The Boss is in theaters now.