It’s hard to define good taste, but it’s easy to recognize its absence. That’s the problem with The Boss. So much of Melissa McCarthy’s new movie is hilarious that it’s frustrating to watch it cross the line and never quite recover. Even the punchline gag is unfunny and left the audience I saw it with audibly uncomfortable—and strangely silent. That’s not how you want to have people leave a theater.
McCarthy is in top form as the world’s 47th richest woman, a self-made billionaire whose unhappy childhood at an orphanage and a series of foster homes has made her ferociously self-reliant and ruthless in her business dealings. Just ask her onetime boyfriend, Peter Dinklage, with whom she is now engaged in a blood feud. He rats her out to the government and looks on with smug satisfaction as she is imprisoned for insider trading. When McCarthy emerges from the hoosegow she has no one to turn to except her longtime, long-suffering assistant, single mom Kristen Bell and her wide-eyed daughter (nicely played by Ella Anderson).
The premise of The Boss, written by McCarthy, her husband Ben Falcone (who also directed) and Steve Mallory, is pretty good. McCarthy creates an outrageously funny leading character whose non-stop, potty-mouthed insults are hard to resist, even if you’re embarrassed to be laughing at some of them. But when she starts a Girl Scout-like organization to sell Bell’s delicious brownies the film takes an unexpectedly ugly turn, especially in one scene that I won’t describe. You’ll know it when you see it.
If you’re a dedicated McCarthy fan you’ll still want to see The Boss. It made me laugh out loud, which doesn’t happen all that often. But I came away discouraged that the talented people who made it couldn’t deliver the solid, satisfying comedy it might have been. McCarthy’s talent deserves, and demands, better.