Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Boss (2016) - Movie Review

I have grown weirdly out-of-sync with the rest of the world when it comes to cinema, specifically when it comes to Melissa McCarthy. It took a long while for me to get into her style of comedy and by the time I did, it was with Tammy, the film where people began to stop liking her. It’s some strange anti-hipster effect where I liked it only after it was cool. Whatever; if I liked all the films I’m supposed to like, not only would things get really boring but my annual list of critical disagreements wouldn’t even exist. Sure, Spy came around shortly after and we’re suddenly on the same page again, but it still feels like I’m stuck in the late phase of her career… yeah, we grow bored of people rather quickly in the Internet age. So, as part of some cosmic attempt to confuse me even further, her latest film has come out and it has somehow gotten an even worse overall reception than Tammy. Am I going to stick to my guns and find something to like about it, or will I join the pack and admit that Melissa McCarthy isn’t funny? Only one way to find out.

The plot: Superstar financier Michelle Darnell (Melissa McCarthy) hits rock bottom when she is arrested for insider trading and all of her assets are liquidated. Once she is released from prison, she seeks the help of her former PA Claire (Kristen Bell) and together, they begin work to bring Michelle back to her place of prominence through a brownie-selling business venture. However, it seems that Michelle’s rival Renault (Peter Dinklage) is waiting for his time to strike and ensure that she stays exactly where she is.

I’m still the late guy to the bandwagon, so the whole McCarthy routine hasn’t really worn out its welcome with me yet and, thankfully, McCarthy herself does a decent job here. She still pulls out the insult-a-rama shtick in a few scenes, but for the most part she coasts through the film with a lot of just one-off jabs. Honestly, it fits in with the tone of the film. Bell is probably the only person in the movie who needs to take events seriously and she is more than able to do that, even if quite a few of her conversations with McCarthy seem to drag on for far too long. Dinklage is given a profoundly silly bad guy to play, and unlike in Pixels he doesn’t want to waste it. Maybe it’s because he’s regularly on a show that features dragons and epic crownings, but he pulls off this very self-serious wannabe samurai like it’s just another day at the office. Tyler Labine as Claire’s boyfriend Mike is a tad underutilised, but he has a surprising amount of chemistry with Bell that makes for some rather cute scenes. And speaking of cute, good God, Ella Anderson is amazing in this thing. She gets just as involved in the madness as everyone else with alarming ease, while also tugging at the heartstrings at times. Seriously, it’s a trite scene overall, but she absolutely sells it when she gives Michelle her present. Kathy Bates is in here I’m assuming because McCarthy is setting up to be the next her, I’m assuming, Cedric Yarbrough from Reno 911! needed more screen time, and T-Pain shows up to remind the world that he still exists.

After an introduction to show why our main character is so detached from other people, which up until an extremely minor point later on is pretty much just an informed attribute, we open properly on sheer bugfuck… well, by Hollywood standards at least. It’s the scene from the trailer where Michelle descends on a giant golden eagle, except it gets weirder from there: She also does a rap number. This is where T-Pain comes in, as it’s pretty much a freestyle over DJ Khaled’s All I Do Is Win. I mention all of this because this display of sheer lack of restrain is the perfect prelude to what follows it. Every aspect of this film, from Michelle’s success to Renault’s motives to the actions taken during the selling of Girl Scout Cookies (or brownies, whatever), right down to the final confrontation between Michelle and Renault, is made to run purely on extremes. Everything is taken all the way to 11 and, for the most part, it’s make for a very enjoyable ride provided that you realise that this entire thing is meant to be ridiculous. This is another one of those cases where it will depend on exactly how much of the ludicrousness you are able to take. Me personally, while I kind of wish that the girl scout fight was a prelude to some Warriors type shit where other groups get involved, I got some nice awesomely insane kicks out of this thing.

Where it starts to lose me, oddly enough, is when the insanity stops because, quite frankly, this film’s plot isn’t all that good in it of itself. Nevermind that it’s essentially a riches-to-rags-to-riches that, in today’s economy, won’t win that many of us over; that can be somewhat ignored under right circumstances. What I mean is that whenever this film tries to be serious, it keeps shooting itself in the foot. Or, given this film’s level of maturity, shooting itself in the taint. I brought up how good Ella Anderson is in this movie and how she delivers on pathos, but that’s in spite of the script, not because of it. If it’s not incredibly contrived plot beats to keep conflicts high, right down to pulling the third-act misunderstanding break-up card, it’s attempts to make these characters have some form of arc and/or growth that just doesn’t deliver. Michelle’s whole thing about people being close to her? It is dropped like a heavy brick after one display of affection, and then is never brought up again yet is somehow resolved. I’m guessing this is purely because the plot needed Michelle and Claire to be allies again for the pseudo-heist finale. There’s also the fact that, of all the character pairings in this film, the least tolerable is definitely Michelle and Claire; they offset each other a little too much in direct confrontation, and the strings of insults start to feel tired before they’re even said in some scenes.

With the big hip-hop concert of a seminar Michelle was giving near the start and the general histrionics going on around her throughout the film, is there some attempt to make fun of the line between the rich and the poor? This might just be me reaching for meaning in a sea of nonsense, but there has to be more of a method to how this film portrays business dealings like the most full-on battles to the death. Given how more dramatic works usually like to tighten the divide between tax brackets, typically to give some thematic common ground that people can help relate, maybe this film was aiming for the exact opposite. Rather than connecting dots and making the concept of wealth more relatable, this film widens the divide even more and depicts the life of business, through the eyes of Michelle, as this big live-action Tex Avery cartoon with more coarse language. I’d almost say it’s a satire on corporate America with a touch of celebrity culture thrown in, except a lot of it is laughing with the characters, not at them. This is what I’m getting at about the fun rush of how much “is this even real?” that runs through most of this film: Once the high dies down and you’re trying to think over everything that’s going on, it starts to fall apart.

All in all, this is just a big ball of Looney Tunes antics, which is a ton of fun when it isn’t trying to take itself too seriously. As in, trying at all to reach for pathos. The acting is solid, the comedy mainly comes out of the absurdity of the various situations taking place and the jokes in the dialogue may drag on sometimes, but when they’re funny they’re still really damn funny. This is another one of those films where you have a higher threshold for nonsense than the general public, you’ll probably get a kick out of this film as I did. Far as I’m concerned, McCarthy is still a plus in my book.

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