There is no doubting that Melissa McCarthy is talented. She can play sweet and kooky (just look at her seven seasons as Sookie St James on Gilmore Girls) or just plain funny – as she was in films such as Bridesmaids, The Heat and 2015's terrific Spy. But she seems to flounder when she turns her hand to nastier characters – such as 2013's Identity Thief, or 2014's Tammy. And now in The Boss – co-written by McCarthy and directed by her husband, Ben Falcone – she is once again trying to wring laughs out of a nasty persona, it it doesn't quite work.
Abandoned as a child, Michelle Darnell (McCarthy) was bounced around from foster home to foster home, but raised mainly in an orphanage. So in her teens, she decided that she was going to make something of herself, become massively successful and show the world what for. Unfortunately, along the way, she failed to learn how to also be a nice person. When we meet Darnell as an adult, she's a self-made millionaire and corportate hotshot – the 47th wealthiest woman in America – doing a gig as a motivational speaker. But when she's convicted of insider trading and sentenced to four months in jail, she soon learns that being a tough, nasty bitch does not win you friends. When she gets out of prison, she's penniless and all her assets have been siezed, so she turns up on the doorstep of her former assistant Claire Rawlings (Kristen Bell) looking for a place to crash. So she bunks in with Claire and her daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson), and when Michelle learns that Claire bakes a pretty mean brownie, a business plan is hatched.
There's some nice work from McCarthy as far as physical comedy goes – she's certainly not afraid to throw herself arlound or make herself look stupid. And there are some funny lines, too. But the character of Michelle really has no redeeming qualities and remains mostly unlikable throughout the film. The saving grace of The Boss is the always watchable Kristen Bell, who here tends to outshine the star of the film for most of its running time. She plays the perfect foil to McCarthy's wackiness, and works hard to keep things grounded, and if it wasn't for her the entire film would really go off the rails. There's also a somewhat amusing subplot involving a fellow corporate giant named Renault (Peter Dinklage), Michelle's longtime nemesis and former lover; Dinklage is always fun when he pops up in a film. But the script just lacks oomph, relies on crudity a bit too much (when it comes to grossout comedy, Hollywood, less is more, OK?) and the genuinely clever gags are too few and far between. Talents such as McCarthy, Bell and Dinklage deserves a lot better.