The best joke in The Boss is the one that no one talks about. Whatever Michelle Darnell (Melissa McCarthy) is wearing, her outfit includes a turtleneck jumper pulled up over her chin. Whether it's meant to be slimming or is simply an eccentric style option, it looks as ridiculous as it sounds — and while there's no avoiding the silly sartorial sight that greets viewers every time the protagonist graces the screen, the unusual clothing choice is actually among the film's most subtle elements. The fact that it remains hilarious while never earning a mention or explanation is refreshing, particularly in a movie that takes every other chance it can to either state or rely upon the obvious.
At the beginning of the film, which McCarthy co-wrote with her director husband Ben Falcone, Darnell is a self-made titan of business. After wheeling and dealing her way to the top, she's the 47th wealthiest woman in America, and at the filling stadiums, splashing cash around and dispensing self-help advice stage of her career. Alas, all it takes is an insider trading charge and a stint in prison for her fame and fortune to disappear. With nowhere to go upon her release, Darnell turns to her former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell) to help get her life back on track — and seizes upon a brownie-selling opportunity inspired by Claire's young daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson).
The Boss is an awkward film, and not just because it pairs a predictable storyline with clumsily inserted scenes of outlandish behaviour. It's the kind of movie in which school girls brawl with their mothers in the street, and swearing and physical antics are presented as the height of comedy. Yet the bulk of the awkwardness stems from McCarthy herself. Arguably The Boss ranks alongside The Heat and Spy as one of the actresses better starring roles, but with Identity Thief and Tammy also on her resume, that's not saying much. As committed as she remains to doing whatever it takes to garner laughs, there's no escaping the feeling that she's done it all before.
The fact is, audiences may well be getting tired of watching McCarthy bear the brunt of violence, become the butt of jokes and deliver expletive-filled dialogue. Showcasing rather than stretching the energetic performer's many talents is the movie's main aim, however it actually fares best in quieter, less exaggerated moments. There's an astuteness and understanding in the ever-changing dynamic between McCarthy and Bell, even if the latter frequently threatens to steal the show from the former. Dissecting the ways women can both come together and tear each other apart, their exchanges provide The Boss with its much-needed heart.
Of course, such moments of depth are few and far between, as is demonstrated by McCarthy's other main adversarial relationship with an over-the-top Peter Dinklage as her ex-boyfriend turned rival. That the end result proves a jumble of earnest sentiment, too-easy gags, one-dimensional characters and inconsistent absurdity is hardly surprising. But at least there's always those unexplained turtlenecks to keep you chuckling.